“… brutal flicks of peaky blinders …”


The historical drama series Peaky Blinders is named for a fearsome Birmingham street gang armed with razor blades sewn into the rims of their flat “peaky” caps.  But did that really happen?  And even if it did – would a razor blade cap actually work as a weapon in hand-to-hand combat?

The series takes some liberties with history; for example, whereas the Peaky Blinders were a real Birmingham gang, their heyday had been during the late 19th century rather than during the post-WW1 period. Also, as noted by Birmingham historian Professor Carl Chinn, the historical record seems to make no reference to Peaky Blinder gangsters using razor blade cap weapons:

The hooligan gangs active in 1890s Birmingham were infamous for wielding steel-capped boots, stones and sometimes knives; they also used heavy belt buckles as flails and kept their pockets full of iron bolts to be thrown as projectile weapons. Straight-razors (rather than razor caps) were used as weapons by street gangsters in cities as far-flung as Glasgow, Sydney and Sao Paolo during the early decades of the 20th century.

The first documented reference to razor blade caps, however, actually appears to have been in a popular novel written by Birmingham author John Douglas in 1977.

In A Walk Down Summer Lane, which is set between the two World Wars, Douglas describes the bills of the gangsters’ “peaky” caps as being “slit open and pennies or razor-blades or pieces of slate inserted and stitched up again.” In close combat, according to Douglas, the cap would be “whipped off the head and swiped across the opponent’s eyes, momentarily blinding them, or slashing the cheeks.”

pb2 pb3

Douglas also refers to this nasty street-fighting trick in his poem, The Legend of Summer Lane:

I was born in Newtown Row – down Summer Lane we dursen’t go,
To show our face because, you know, they’re always fighting drunk, lad.
They’d shop their gran for two and six, or blind your eyes with brutal flicks,
Of ‘peaky blinders’ – just for kicks – but only just in fun, lad.

Douglas may have been referring to a bit of real Birmingham history that went unreported at the time the Peaky Blinders were most active, or simply repeating a colourful local urban legend. It’s also possible that he invented an improvised weapon out of whole cloth, as it were, for storytelling purposes. However, A Walk Down Summer Lane undoubtedly spread the folklore of the razor cap, especially when it was serialised in the Evening Mail newspaper during the late 1970s.

But would it work as a weapon?

Regardless of its historicity, is a cap with razor blades sewn into the rim a plausible weapon in hand to hand combat, as described by John Douglas and as shown in the Peaky Blinders TV series? What sort of damage could it do?

We stitched two relatively heavy antique razor blades into the brim of a tweed flat cap and set about testing the weapon. Our first observation was that, in order for the blades to be sufficiently exposed to serve as weapons, they have to be stitched so as to project at a particular, dynamic angle relative to the cap brim. While the razors might not be noticeable at a distance they are quite obvious (and potentially intimidating) at close range.

Gripped by the rear of the cap and swung with force, the blades consistently slashed cleanly through braced sheets of 1/4″ cardboard, leaving 3″ long cuts. Covering the cardboard targets with light cotton fabric reduced the depth and length of penetration and heavier fabric reduced it to negligible levels, so exposed-skin targets such as the face and hands are the most plausible.

Although the Peaky Blinders series often shows a single slashing attack with the cap dealing several parallel wounds simultaneously, our experiments suggest that to be impossible if the razors are all stitched into the cap brim in parallel.

Our conclusions are that the razor blade cap could plausibly be used as a weapon in surprise attacks, albeit not an especially effective weapon when compared to knives or straight razors. It is, however, unquestionably potent in works of dramatic fiction.

6 thoughts on ““… brutal flicks of peaky blinders …””

  1. 30 years ago someone told me about some bit of military head gear people would do this to. The cap had a ribbon you could swing the whole hat by. Razor blades in hats seems to be more wide spread than imagined, or imagined in a wide spread.

  2. it could be effective, if you use it as a first strike.
    head wounds bleed heavily, even slight ones, so, with a proper hit (a cut in the forehead) you can blind your opponent.

  3. NC, a drunk guy started shit and just began attacking my friend in a bar one night, the guy held his ball cap the same way as described in the article, holding the back of the cap and whipping the front brim back and forth across my friends face and forehead, my friend smacked the asshole hard, and the guy ran off, I had grabbed and held on to the drunks friend, who I saw was about to jump in, and told him he wasn’t jumping in their fight. My friend was bigger than the drunk asshole who started shit, actually I figured my friend was going to give this guy a real, well deserved beat down, but it all happened so fast, it was over in seconds and the guy ran off as soon as my friend hit him in self defense, I let go of the assholes friend, and went to the aid of my friend, they ran off and we’re gone, nobody seemed to know them. My buddy was bleeding heavily all over his face, that’s when I saw all the cuts on his face, grabbed some paper towels and began putting pressure on his cuts, it didn’t make sense, the guy didnt have a knife, he didn’t even hit my friend with his fist,ruling out rings, bracelets or a watches, he just swing his hat in his face, my friend had no idea, I then realized that the drunk asshole had razor blades in the brim (front) of his ballcap. Other witnesses agreed and heard of that before around there, about people putting razor blades in their ballcaps brim. That hats (brim)was the only thing that came in contact with my friends face. So, it is true, there is such a thing as asshole punks out there who put razor blades in the brims of their hats. This happened at a bar outside of fayetteville NC back somtime in the summer of 1985. Took my friend to the hospital, he got many stitches and looked like hell the next day lol, but he survived, the punk got away but I’m sure he finally got the karma he deserved. True story.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *