The remarkable story of Sheffield gang wars and how the police brought peace to the streets.
As you can figure out by the date stone, Burton Road Police Station was operational in 1892, just one of many police stations that were built to combat the growing crime rate in Sheffield.
I don’t know exactly when this station was deemed redundant, possible the late seventies but that’s just speculation on my part. Crime in Sheffield hasn’t really dropped, it’s just got more diversified.
In the 1920s, as everybody in Sheffield should be aware, we had the Gang Wars.
I urge everyone who hasn’t read J P Bean’s book The Sheffield Gang Wars to go out and buy it to give you an insight into the thuggery that was rife in Sheffield.
The history of the Sheffield police force can be said to date from 1818 when, after considerable debate, an Improvement Act was passed which transferred the lighting, watching and cleansing of Sheffield from the Town Trustees to a body of commissioners.
Colonel Fenton was appointed as the first superintendent of the police and on his death in 1835 he was succeeded by Thomas Raynor.
In 1836 the first policemen were appointed.
On April 4, 1844 responsibility for the police force was transferred from the Improvement Commissioners to Sheffield Town Council, under the supervision of the Watch Committee.
In June that year the area covered was extended outwards from the centre of the town.
At first the force was housed in the Town Hall and it was not until 1864-1865 that a police station was built in Castle Green.
The force grew steadily. By 1900 there were eight police stations in addition to the central station and by 1921 this number had risen to 13.
A major problem for decent people living their everyday lives in the Town were the violent gangs,
During the First World War, with much work in munitions factories, everything went smoothly but after the war with munitions work gone there was less money to go round so George Mooney, the leader of the Skye Edge ring, jettisoned his erstwhile associates from Park district where their pitch was.
This led to a war for territory to avenge the loss of profit and hurt pride.
Bookmaker Sam Garvin formed a gang from Park and a gang war developed.
Garvin was a promoter of bare-knuckle boxing matches in pub yards where fighters bound their knuckles with straw that had to be picked from wounds to the face between rounds.
The first attack in the gang war was Mooney’s mob invading the home of William Furniss.
As a reprisal Frank Kidnew was slashed 100 times near Skye Edge then helped to hospital, where he was more worried about his ruined suit than himself.
Then the Park mob returned the compliment with a visit to Mooney’s home and tried to smash their way in.
The Mooneys defended themselves with guns and one attacker, George ‘Ganner’ Wheyall, was shot in the shoulder.
Police found a double-barrel shotgun, a rifle, revolver and ammunition, which earned Mooney a £10 fine.
These vicious tit for tat attacks went on through 1923 with Garvin’s mob attaining control while Mooney’s mob disintegrated with members fighting among themselves as well as against the Park Gang.
One Christmas Eve the Park mob stormed Mooney’s home.
Sam Garvin and three associates broke in and terrorised not only Mooney but also his wife and six children.
One thug ironically advised Mooney’s 15-year-old daughter: “We’ve come to wish your father a merry Christmas.”
Mooney escaped being carved up by hiding in a cupboard upstairs. He then left Sheffield for a year.
The Park mob were now the ruling gang but still kept up the attacks.
In December 1924 they raided former Mooney follower William Furniss’s home, firing bullets and throwing bricks through the windows, smashing up the house and a visiting friend with chair legs.
The murder of William Plommer in 1925 proved something of a turning point.
Four days later the Chief Constable of Sheffield Police, John Hall-Dalwood, reacted to a public outcry and orders from the Home Office to crack down on gang violence by forming the Special Duty Squad, a group of four police officers given the task of eliminating gang activity in Sheffield.
The squad’s tactics were aggressive and confrontational and they were proactive in seeking out trouble but ultimately they were successful.
The extra large, extra tough plainclothes police officers spent the next three years copiously beating up everyone associated with the known criminal gangs, or at least being present while “suspects repeatedly fell down stairs”.
Percy Sillitoe replaced Hall-Dalwood in 1926, consolidating his predecessor’s work.
When in 1928 the Special Duty Squad (known popularly as the Flying Squad) was disbanded, it was because the gangs were broken and the squad’s services were no longer required.
So in just two years Percy Sillitoe and his special squad sorted the gangs out by using the same brute force that was the tool of the gangs.
It’s a pity this tactic cannot be used today on the felons that walk Sheffield’s streets.
The activity of the tossing rings makes Mr Dawson and Mr Sorsby’s tough game of Happy Families look very, very lame in comparison.
Sir Percy Sillitoe went on to crush the Glasgow razor gangs and subsequently was made the head of MI5.
He died in Eastbourne in 1962 at the age of 74.
Pic caption: Some of the Mooney Gang.
Pic caption: Burton Road police station.
Pic caption: The white building is a former Police Station on London Rd, near Sharrow Lane.