Little else has had the same impact as the sensational BBC series Peaky Blinders to make Birmingham ‘cool’ in the eyes of the world. The TV series was loosely based upon a notorious criminal gang with the same name at the beginning of the 20th century in Birmingham. The real Peaky Blinders were nothing for the city to be proud of nor celebrated. However the BBC series does leave one feeling intrigued by the gang. The cinematography in the TV series was simply incredible, yet have you ever wondered what these Peaky Blinders locations are like in real life today? We sum up what some of these sites, that have done so much to give Brum a ‘cool’, ‘edgy’ reputation are like in real life and where they were actually filmed.
The Series: During the first series, The Garrison was a central point in the Peaky Blinders story, the scene of much mayhem, deal brokering and general plot thickening! It provided the location for the heart and soul of the early days of the TV series and has featured in all four series.
The History: It is believed The Garrison Tavern in Small Heath was frequented by the Peaky Blinders at the turn of the 20th century and was a favourite drinking location of the gang. The real The Garrison is located on Garrison Lane in the Small Heath area of Birmingham, close to the St Andrews football stadium. Before filming for Peaky Blinders started in 2013, Cillian Murphy was taken there by the production crew so he could get a feel for the true Peaky Blinders stomping ground and help perfect his accent.
Today: The real Garrison sadly no longer plays host to anything as interesting or glamourous (or as criminal). It sold at auction in 2014 for just £183,000 after it had closed its doors as a pub. There was a planning application to turn it into flats, however this was rejected and it is hoped it will now remain a pub, however at the time of writing it was very much still derelict.
The Series: There is no doubt the industrial backdrop of the series, set in 1920s Small Heath gives it a dark, edgy feel, pulled off brilliantly by the production crew. One key element across all series was to see firing furnaces lit up at night during key moments of the show. This was the setting for Charlie Strong’s Small Heath Scrap Metal Yard and the fictional Small Heath shown in the series was central to everything that happened of note in the series.
The History: Historians agree that the industrial areas of Small Heath in Birmingham were key places where the Peaky Blinders would conduct their ‘business’ and was central to their activities. Indeed, as in the series there was once a Charlie Strong scrap yard, and the sites portrayed in the series, including the canal moorings, back to back houses, shops and streets were portrayed loosely on what used to exist in Small Heath.
Today: The area of Small Heath is vastly different from what would have been present early 1900s, largely due to a government initiative to clear ‘slums’ and later the building of major roads. Visiting Small Heath of today gives little away about its’ murky history of street gangs, including the Peaky Blinders.
However, you can still get a real taste for the history of Small Heath and the firing furnaces as much of the Peaky Blinders series has been filmed at the Black Country Living Museum (BCLM) in Dudley, with the Chain Making Shop, Rolling Mill and canals at the museum playing key parts in the filming of Peaky Blinders. This is largely due to the authentic look and feel of the living museum. Almost all scenes representing Small Heath in the TV series have been filmed at the BCLM. Many other key scenes continued to be filmed at the BCLM including Canal Street Bridge, The Back Alley’s and The Workers Institute, with many key scenes from the series taking place in these dimly lit, smoky areas with some clever CGI thrown in for good measure. Did you know, this is even where Thomas Shelby used to send illicit goods to London by canal (at least according to the TV show)?
Why not take yourself along to the Black Country Living Museum and see for yourself, they offer excellent Peaky Blinders focused tours, and even have a Peaky Blinders shop to kit yourself out in the right Peaky attire! BCLM is considered the home of the Peaky Blinders series.
The Series: Particularly in earlier series the gypsy family the Lees played an important role in the events, with indications lead character Tommy Shelby comes from a gypsy background.
The History: Whilst the Lees are understood to be a fictional gypsy family, there were numerous gypsy families in Birmingham at the time of the Peaky Blinders. One notable gypsy settlement was the area known as The Black Patch in Smethwick which was a large Gypsy camp in the early 1900s. It was a patch of land covered in a deep barren layer of furnace waste, which, after their eviction, was cleared down to grass growing soil to create a park. There is even disputed evidence that Charlie Chaplin was born at The Black Patch! In 1909, thousands of gypsies were forcefully evicted from The Black Patch, and it also the location of the undisputed queen of Romany Gypsies in this country, a lady by the name Henty Smith, wife of Esau Smith who was king of the gypsies.
Today: The Black Patch was actually filmed at Brooke’s Mill, Huddersfield. However, at the real-life Black Patch in Smethwick in 2014 a memorial in honour of the historical gypsy connection and Henty Smith was placed at St Mary’s church closely to The Black Patch, which is where many gypsies were buried in unmarked graves. The Black Patch is now a park which separates Handsworth and Smethwick, and to this day still attracts the occasional gypsy temporary settlement, and it is a famous space within the Romany Gypsy community due to the historical significance.
The rest of the Peaky Blinders has been filmed outside of the West Midlands as Birmingham unfortunately lost much of its industrial past due to war and later development. Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool have played a role in filming many locations, with Liverpool playing an important role in the series, providing many iconic period locations.
The Series: In the TV series, the Shelby family all lived along a street known as Watery Lane, where the Shelby HQ was located and their illegal betting offices were located.
The History: Watery Lane is considered to indeed be a place where the Peaky Blinders had a strong presence at the turn of the 20th century. This was a central part of Small Heath and the setting as portrayed in the TV series would loosely resemble that of Watery Lane in Small Heath, circa 1900.
Today: Filming of this street actually took place in Powis Street in Toxteth, Liverpool as it best resembles what Watery Lane would have looked like in the 1920s due to much of pre-war Brum not surviving. The real Watery Lane in Small Heath no longer exists, the only serving reminder being the Manzoni’s Middle Ring road which was driven through the area, and the names survives as Watery Lane Middleway. However, the Peaky Blinders may yet be coming home to film in Brum as their Toxteth fake setting is being revamped, and so the producers are looking for a suitable replacement closer to Birmingham for the fifth series.
Although not much remains of the early 1900s Birmingham around Small Heath and the Peaky Blinders stomping ground, it’s fair to say Birmingham has been given a much needed cool makeover in the eyes of the world and its stock has risen the world over. Although the real Peaky Blinders were not people to look up to due to their dark ways, the series portrays early 20th century Birmingham well. Furthermore, the industrial heritage of the city, which is so prevalent in the grit and story line of the series can still be witnessed across the city today in other forms.
For all true Peaky blinders fans, the upcoming Peaky Blinders festival is coming to the West Midlands. Taking place at the BCLM in September 2018, with 1920s themed cocktails, live street theatre and a chance to have a pint at the Garrison Pub.
Sales Director of Warm Welcome Homestays - passionate about Birmingham and a long track record of working with students.