Street gangs and Scuttlers

downloadI guess I became aware of gangs around the age of 13 or 14 in a couple of ways.

Firstly it was the era of real music and fashion sub-cultures.

I was into heavy metal music and was therefore a ‘headbanger’, there were ‘Skinheads’ who listened to Two Tone music, ‘Mods’ who listened to Northern Soul and ‘Poseurs’ who like soul music. We were affiliated to a particular type of music…fights happened, people got hurt…seems rather silly looking back.

There was also a successful TV series called ‘Hill Street Blues’ which dealt with street gangs that were america who were affiliated by race such as Irish, Italian or Black.

But gangs are nothing knew and were rife across the country during the late Victorian Era. The Scuttlers, for instance, tended to be members of a neighbourhood gang formed in slums and working class areas of Manchester and Salford.

Alexander Devine believed they were a blight on society and they probably were. Devine, a British educator blamed the gang culture to a ‘lack of parental control‘ (sound familiar) a ‘lack of discipline in schools‘ (blame the teachers) ‘and the monotony of life in Manchester’s slums‘ or any slums in my opinion.

He defined a ‘scuttler is a lad, usually between the ages of 14 and 18, or even 19, and scuttling consists of the fighting of two opposed bands of youths, who are armed with various weapons’

Gang members fought over territory in the slums. They all carried knives and wore heavy buckled belts, often decorated with pictures such as serpents, hearts pierced with arrows or women’s names, big and bulky – good use in a fight.

The thick leather belts were their most prized possessions and were wrapped tightly around the wrist at the onset of a “scuttle”, so that the buckle could be used to strike at opponents.

The use of knives and belts was designed to maim and disfigure rather than to kill.

According to the Gorton Reporter in May 1879 a ‘scuttle’ involving more than 500 people took place and by 1890 more gang members were held in Strangeways Prison for scuttling than for any other offence.

However the street gang of that era, like mine declined. We grew up but the Scuttlers slum were cleared and the youths were encouraged by churches to join football teams which of course led to the Football Association we have today.

Funny old world ain’t it!

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