How Billy Kimber forged 'England's first major gangland war'

The story of how Billy Kimber’s anti-Semitic Boys gang prompted ‘England’s first major gangland war’ by beating up a Jewish bookmaker has been revisited in a new documentary. 

The gangster, best known as the inspiration for a character of the same name in drama , was head of the violent Birmingham Boys gang from the 1910s to the 1930s. 

After making a name for himself as a horseracing racketeer in the North and Midlands, the mobster turned his attentions to the south, routinely terrorising the Jewish bookmakers of the East End. 

But when Kimber angered Edward Emmanuel, the ‘godfather’ of the Jewish criminal underworld by violently attacking a bookie at Sandown racecourse, the network forged an alliance with the Sabini Gang of Clerkenwell’s Little Italy.  

BBC2 documentary The Real Peaky Blinders, which airs tonight, tells the story of how Kimber rose though the criminal underworld to lead hundreds of gangsters into battle for control of Britain’s racing tracks in 1921. 

The story of how Billy Kimber’s anti-Semitic Birmingham Boys gang forged ‘England’s first major gangland war’ after forging an alliance with the London Elephant Boys (both pictured) 

BBC2 documentary The Real Peaky Blinders, which airs tonight, tells the story of how Billy Kimber (pictured) rose though the criminal underworld to lead hundreds of gangsters into battle for control of Britain’s racing tracks in 1921

Despite being portrayed as a London native in the popular TV drama, Kimber was born in a tough working class neighbourhood in Birmingham, and in his youth acted as one of the original Peaky Blinders. 

‘We know him in the drama as a Londoner, but in reality, Billy Kimber was a big burly Brummie from Summer Lane,’ said historian Professor Carl Chinn.

‘He had been a Peaky Blinder, he was birched when he was 12. He got done for attacking people and assaulting the police, situs togel online he was a petty criminal, he became a pickpocket.’ 

As a Peaky Blinder Kimber formed the feared Birmingham Boys gang, who would later begin to pickpocketing around horse racing tracks as the sport boomed in the early 1900s. 

Pictured, Billy Kimber (left) and Darby Sabini (right) as portrayed by Charlie Creed-Miles and Noah Taylor in the popular BBC programme Peaky Blinders 

The prohibition of off-course gambling had fuelled organised crime and meant that bookies at the racecourses were a prime target for criminal gangs.  

‘Peaky Blinders may have been disappearing in Birmingham in the early 20th century, but gangs from Birmingham were becoming more prominent on the racecourses, travelling the country making their money from pickpocketing and blackmailing bookmakers,’ said professor Chinn. 

Kimber, described as both a ‘formidable fighter’ and astute businessman, began to think about more lucrative opportunities in the south of England – but his plans were foiled by the arrival of the First World War.   

In 1915 Kimber signed up to be a soldier, but he soon deserted and spent the following years in Dublin, working as a ‘racecourse ruffian and rogue’ for businessman Thomas Day.     

In the years following the end of the First World War, plus the Spanish flu pandemic, horse racing returned with punters splashing the cash more than ever before amid an economic boom.  

BBC2 documentary The Real Peaky Blinders, which airs tonight, tells the story of the Victorian mobsters who inspired characters in TV show.Pictured L-R; Henry ‘baby faced Fowler, who was convicted of numerous crimes including theft; Ernest Bayles who was sentenced to two months in prison for stealing a bike; Stephen McHickie who was arrested for home invasion and v88toto Thomas Gilbert for false pretences.

‘There are huge crowds at horse races and lots of people with lots of money, the soldiers and sailors with gratuity from the army they’re spending cash freely,’ said professor Chinn.

The booming post-war race course scene caused Kimber to return to the North of England to extort bookmakers, where he and the Birmingham boys quickly took control of the region. 

‘The Birmingham gang ramped up the blackmailing of bookmakers by extorting money for supposed services’ explained professor Chinn. 

‘The bookies have to start paying for the spot in which they stand, their pitches.They have to stand on a stool, they have to pay the Birmingham gang to rent the stool.  They have to pay for link alternatif v88toto the chalk they use to write the name of the horses and odds on the board and the bucket and the sponge to rub the odds off the boards.’   

By the end of 1920 Kimber was the head of ‘one of the biggest network of thugs and criminals ever assembles on British soil’. 

The documentary explores Sam Sheldon, the real life inspiration behind Tommy Shelby, the character played by Cillian Murphy in the BBC series who rose to prominence in the 1880s

‘The Birmingham gang controls the rackets in the Midlands and the North with a rod with a rod of steel’, said Chinn. 

Kimber decided to expand into the South, forging an alliance with the south London gang Elephant Boys and their allies, an all-female shoplifting network called the 40 Elephants. 

Brian McDonald, an author whose uncle led the Elephant Boys up until the First World War, said of the group: The Elephant gang dates back many years. 

‘A large sprawling gang of originally pickpockets who used to haunt the Elephant and Castle Tavern. Of course it developed into one of the major gangs in London, had a reputation for violence but also a reputation for organisation.’ 

Kimber began his push into Southern racecourses at the end of 1920 and were particularly brutal when it came to extorting Jewish bookmakers. 

‘The Birmingham gang are extorting protection money from all of the bookmakers, but they are anti-Semitic’, said professor Chinn.

‘They really hate the Jewish bookmakers, so they are squeezing even more money out of the Jewish bookmakers who are overwhelmingly from the East End, Whitechapel in particular’. 

‘Anti-Semitism is absolutely rife in the late 19th and in the early 20th century’, said Dr Eloise Moss. ‘The Jewish are themselves stigmatized and really demonised as having links with organised crime in this period. 

‘Whether it’s because they’re seen to populate the bookies trade, or the whether it’s because they were regarded prominently in the Jewelry trade to be working as fencers of stolen goods, and then so much racial prejudice against them’. 

In 1921, members of the Birmingham boys visited Sandown racecourse, where they brutally attacked Jewish bookie Alfie Solomon, beating him in the face with a pair of binoculars and knocking out his teeth.  

Solomon had connections to the Jewish community’s small criminal underworld and turned to Edward Emanuel, a gangster dubbed ‘The Godfather’ who ran a network of illegal gambling clubs throughout London.

Emanuel turned to the notorious Darby Sabini, of the Sabini Gang, for help and a deal was done to take on Kimber and the Elephant Boys.   

‘The Birmingham gang gets wind very quickly that Darby Sabini is going to be coming in to support the Jewish bookmakers.’ said professor Chinn.’They’re not happy and they’re not going to stand for it, so they confront him’. 

Soon around 20 members of the Birmingham Boys attacked the rival gang at a racecourse, however no members of Sabini’s gang were arrested – fuelling suspicion Emmanuel had paid off some members of the police.  

Following their first gang war incident, Sabini extended an olive branch to Kimber, inviting him over to his home in Colliers Wood – where they stayed up till the early hours of they morning singing and drinking. 

However things went awry when Solomon showed up at the meet, causing Kimber to ‘launch himself at him’ and curses him with horrible langage about Solomon being Jewish’.  

After a struggle, Kimber was shot in the back and both Kimber and Solomon were arrested – however neither refused to give away details of the crime and both men walked free.  

By spring 1921 the two gangs were at full blown war, with several members on both sides stabbed and beaten in violent attacks.  


Police records show that baby-faced Harry Fowler was actually 19 when his mugshot, right, was committed to police records.

Basic information about the youth, who was born in 1885, is recorded – a note was made that his hair is light brown, his eyes grey and that he has a ‘pale’ composition.

It lists a round scar on his left cheek as a distinctive feature.

He gave his occupation as ‘barman’, but police had caught up with him thanks to his membership of the Peaky Blinders.

The charge, which dates from October 5 1904 sheet says Fowler had been taken in for stealing a bicycle.

It also notes that he was given one month in prison for the offence.

Ernest Bayles, right, is listed as a co-prisoner – taken in for the same crime of stealing a bicycle, which was left unattended outside a factory for just four minutes when the larcenous pair laid their hands on it.

They were spotted almost immediately afterwards trying to make easy money selling it on the street.

The sheets show that Bayles, born in 1885, was also 19.

His is also said to have had light brown hair and grey eyes, but, unlike his companion, he had a ‘fresh’ complexion.

It notes a mole on his right cheek, near the nose.

He received two months in prison for the theft.

Stephen McHickie, right, is listed next.His year of birth is given as 1879, making him 24 in the picture.

The record notes his black hair and brown eyes, and says he has a ‘sallow’ complexion.

It lists his distinctive features as tattoos of a woman on both his left and right arms, one of whom was labelled ‘Louisa’.

McHickie said he was a metal roller by occupation, but was recorded on October 24 1904 as having broken into a shop – reportedly a drapers just a few doors down the road from his own home.

For his crime, the record states, he received eight months behind bars.

Thomas Gilbert was the final entrant in the row of entries.

His year of birth, listed 1866, makes him 38 – significantly older than the other Peaky Blinders listed on the record.

The bald man is listed as having brown eyes and also brown hair – presumably deduced from his full moustache.

The record says Gilbert, who said he was a fishmonger, had missing fingers and a distinctive mark on his right knee.

He was charged on 18 October 1904, and his crime is listed as ‘false pretences’ – perhaps suggesting that he not involved with the more physical crimes like younger gang members.


On June 2nd, 1921, situs slot online the gangs inflicted what the programme called ‘perhaps the biggest gangland clash in its history’ when the Birmingham Boys attacked their rivals at the Epsom Races. 

A group of Jewish bookmakers from Leeds were violently attacked as they left the track by 50 to 100 gang members wielding hammers, iron bars, hatchets and concrete blocks. 

While nobody was killed in the attack, 17 members of the Birmingham Boys were arrested and given lengthy prison sentences.   

‘It’s England’s first major gangland war between two gangs from different cities’, said Chinn. 

Despite being weakened by their battle, the Birmingham Boys made another show of strength and attacked Solomon and another Jewish bookmaker outside Bath train station.  

The war came to an end when Emmanuel outmanoeuvred Kimber by pulling together the leading bookmakers in the south and forming a board to help legitimise the London gang’s activity. 

When their organisation gained the support of the Jockey club and the police, Sebini’s ‘muscle was legitimized’ and Kimber had no choice but to retreat back to the North and form a truce with the London gangs. 

‘There’s the Sabini’s, the police, the racecourse authorities, the Birmingham gang can’t take them on, they have to give up’, said Chinn.   

Solomon was convicted for manslaughter in 1924 after fatally knifing a rival thug.After a stay in prison he lived out his days on Gerrard Street in the West End of London.  

Emmanuel eventually went straight and died in 1943, v88toto togel aged 63, while Sabini gave up his criminal career in 1926 and lived out his life in Brighton. 

Kimber was said to eventually have fled to America, where he worked for associates of Al Capone in Chicago.On his return to England he reinvented himself as a legitimate bookmaker and died a wealthy man in 1945.  

The Real Peaky Blinders airs on BBC2 this evening at 9pm