Wednesday, May 09, 2012

History Corner: the New Cross Boys

Gangs are not a new phenomenon. In his book Gangs of London (2010), Brian McDonald mentions numerous South London teenage gangs from the 1950s: Balham Boys, Brixton Boys, Bermondsey Boys, Borough Boys, Rotherhithe Boys, the Elephant and Castle Boys, Wandsworth Boys, Lambeth Boys (yes it was a bit of a boy thing!). Then, as now, there was sometimes violent conflict between gangs - in 1953 for instance a gang fight on Clapham Common led to the death of 17 year old John Beckley.

New Cross Boys

According to McDonald, 'perhaps the largest of London's 1950s teenage gangs, the New Cross Boys... roamed from Canal Bridge to Deptford, causing mayhem at Millwall Football Ground, youth clubs, cinemas and dance halls. The only noted puncher among them was Freddie 'Ginger' Simmonds, who gave a creditable performance in a stand up fist fight with future gangster Eddie Richardson. This occurred on a snow-filled pavement outside the Trocadero cinema at Elephant and Castle, after a snow ball fight got out of hand... In a clash with rivals from Peckham's Goose Green, over 200 teenage youths fought running battles over a period of three days in 1956'.

In another of his books, Elephant Boys, McDonald mentions a fight involving the New Cross Boys in the New Cross House pub.

Deptford Red Hands

He also mentions 'An earlier Deptford gang, the Red Hands, so named for the red armband that identified members, came unstuck in 1926 when one of their team was stabbed to death after attacking a rival Rotherhithe Boy. William Shillibeer, aged fourteen, was convicted of the manslaughter of thirteen-year old Albert Hannah'.

This case was discussed in Parliament after the trial in March 1927, with  Frederick Pethick-Lawrence MP asking 'the Home Secretary whether his attention has been drawn to the remarks made by Mr. Justice Acton in the trial of William Arthur Edward Shillibeer, of Rotherhithe, at the Central Criminal Court, for murder, to the effect that it was quite clear that he was in the first instance wantonly and gratuitously insulted and provoked by a gang of boys gathered together for such purposes, and afterwards assailed by a number of those boys, who gave every indication of an intention to act together in attacking and doing violence upon him'.


Michael said...

I have written a book closely based on the 1905 murders of an old couple who ran an oil shop at 34 Deptford High Street. The book contains a great deal of Deptford history and social history.
The book can be read on ebook readers and your computer. Here is the link:

Good reading, and tell everyone about it!!

Anonymous said...

I've read Gangs of London and I do recommend it. We had postcode wars in London before we had postcodes. One of the interesting things was the sentences that people got given back then for quite serious crime were not particularly long by current standards, even when you take the lack of remission into account.