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A-Z of Gangs and Gangsters

With BBC crime drama Peaky Blinders set to return for a fifth series this summer, Julian Humphrys guides us through the dark alleys of Britain’s criminal underworld
ALAMY X1, MOVIESTILLS X1

A … is for ARMSTRONGS

In the years before the union of the English and Scottish crowns in 1603, gangs from reiving families like the Armstrongs would regularly descend on isolated farms on the AngloScottish border and carry away loot, livestock and hostages. In 1583, Willie Armstrong of Kinmont led 300 men of his clan on a raid across the English border, ransacking the farms of the Tarset Valley and murdering eight of its inhabitants. He returned ten years later, this time in an alliance with the Elliots of Liddesdale. In 1596, even though there was an immunity from arrest so that border families could attend a meeting, Armstrong was seized by the English and incarcerated in Carlisle Castle. Undeterred, 80 of his supporters broke into the castle at night and brought their leader safely back to Scotland.

Reivers would plunder almost anything, with cattle being a common prize
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B … is for BASINGSTOKE

The small town of Basingstoke in Hampshire seems an unlikely location for mass civil disobedience, but in 1881 matters there had got so bad that they were even debated in parliament. At the time, Basingstoke boasted 50 pubs and a reputation for drunkenness, so when the Salvation Army turned up in 1880 to preach temperance the new arrivals enjoyed the backing of many leading inhabitants. But Basingstoke also had a large brewing industry whose employees were alarmed that their livelihoods were under threat. Egged on by their employers, they formed a mob with the express aim of disrupting the Salvation Army’s activities.

The Massaganians, as they called themselves (because they would ‘mass again’ if dispersed), began with heckling and jostling, but as time went on their activities escalated into-full scale rioting. Troops had to be deployed before order was restored.

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About BBC History Revealed Magazine

He allegedly stole from the rich to give to the poor, wore Lincoln green and shot arrows with astonishing. But did Robin Hood actually exist? We take a closer look at the enigmatic hero and some of the medieval outlaws who may have inspired his legend Plus: The Jazz Age superstar turned French Resistance agent, Magellan’s circumnavigation of the Earth, when classified ads were front page news, three-day countdown to WWII, plus the definitive A-Z of gangs and gangsters