On Location With Peaky Blinders: Discover The Gritty Gangster History Of The Midlands

4 October 2017

Push out from London on your next trip to the UK and get amongst some real-life underworld history as you explore the filming locations of mega-hit historical crime drama, Peaky Blinders.

It All Starts In Birmingham

Actors from Peaky Blinders on street Irish actor Cillian Murphy (centre) plays Thomas Shelby, flanked here by on-screen brothers John (Joe Cole, left) and Arthur (Paul Anderson, right). Image: Robert Viglasky | © Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd

The first series of Peaky Blinders begins on the streets of post-war Birmingham, in 1919, where a notorious gang is led by the fierce Tommy Shelby – a crime boss set on moving up in the world, whatever the cost. The gang’s chilling nickname is popularly said to be derived from the practice of sewing razor blades into the peaks of their flat caps, so that they quite literally had an unexpected edge on rival gangsters when things got rough. They are said to have ruled the industrialized and extremely poor slums of Bordesley and Small Heath from the 1880s to the early 1900s, when the city was a major manufacturing hub.

Row of terraced houses in Smethwick, Birmingham, UK From the outside, not a whole lot has changed in areas like Smethwick, Birmingham. Image: Getty

While the Shelby family’s exploits are entirely fictional, the violent street gangs of Birmingham, known as Peaky Blinders or Cheapside Sloggers, were very real. Creator Steven Knight first had the idea for the drama years ago, based on stories he had been told by his parents, who grew up in Small Heath.

Black Country Living Museum

Black Country Living Museum Black Country Living Museum is just 16 kilometres west of Birmingham in the Midlands. Image: Getty

Despite being set in Birmingham, very little of the series is actually filmed in the city due to location challenges. The scenes filmed closest to Birmingham are the ones which feature the canal, the rolling mill, the stables and the blacksmith’s forge – all of which were filmed at the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley, West Midlands. This is an open-air museum of rebuilt historic buildings, where visitors can see almost 300 years of history and get to know the story of the Black Country which emerged in the 1830s, becoming the first industrial landscape in the world.

The Streets Of Liverpool

Women in character on 1920s street of Birmingham Much of the series was filmed in Liverpool due to its well preserved Victorian architecture and accessibility. Image: Robert Viglasky | © Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd

While Birmingham had its Blinders or Sloggers, Manchester had its Scuttlers and Deansgate Mob, and Liverpool had its High Rip Gang. According to reports, the High Rip Gang stalked the streets of Liverpool in the 1880s, with most of their victims being sailors, dockworkers or shopkeepers. The gang was known for using heavy belts and knives known as ‘bleeders’. They were an organized and ruthless force – so much so that the police at the time often let them have their way rather than risk a confrontation.

Cillian Murphy as Thomas Shelby Photo of Cillian Murphy as Tommy Shelby from the as-yet unreleased Season 4 of Peaky Blinders. Image: Robert Viglasky | © Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd 2017

Peaky Blinders is filmed in a number of key locations across Liverpool and its outskirts. Without giving away any juicy plot twists, we can safely let you know that…

Liverpool location set dressed as 1920s Filming on location in Liverpool, which has been given the ‘1920s Birmingham’ treatment. Image: Robert Viglasky | © Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd
  • In Season One, the Camden Lock scenes were filmed at a canal basin called Ellesmeer Port, just outside of Liverpool, with a blended cityscape being dropped in behind using CGI.
  • The headquarters of gang lord Alfie Solomons (played to perfection by Tom Hardy) is scripted as an illegal alcohol business masquerading as a bakery. These scenes were filmed at a deserted rummery in an old part of Liverpool, which was bursting with abandoned casks of rum and spirits from all over the world.
  • In Season Two, Seacombe Ferry Terminal in Liverpool was a key location, as well as Rodney Street, Falkner Street and Stanley Dock.
  • The cast and crew have been spotted filming on Formby Beach, just north of Liverpool, for Season 4.
Narrow laneway in Liverpool If these streets could talk... historic laneways and backstreets in the cities of the Midlands have seen it all. Image: Getty

Manchester And Beyond

Man in front of old car Paul Anderson as Arthur Shelby, Tommy’s older brother in Peaky Blinders. Image: Robert Viglasky | © Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd

With filming for Season 4 complete, the Midlands can now lay claim to a pretty lengthy list of location set-ups for Peaky Blinders. Here are few more to include in your travel schedule if you’re up that way and fancy dropping in on ‘the real thing’:

  • The scenes outside the posh Eden nightclub in London were actually filmed at a crescent in Bolton, northwest of Manchester. The street was transformed simply by filling it with vintage cars, covering up the yellow lines with a gravel surface, masking ticketing machines with police boxes and replacing the heads of light fittings. Smoke machines and a wet down were used to create atmosphere.
  • The horse fair scene was filmed at the old Victoria Baths in Manchester.
  • From Series 3, the Shelby’s country mansion is Arley Hall in Arley Village, Cheshire. It’s only open to the public during special events such as antique fairs, however the chapel and gardens are open from March to October.
  • The wedding scene (not mentioning any names of course) was shot at St Peter’s Chapel in Tabley, South of Manchester.
  • This year, filming took place on the streets of Toxteth, Liverpool. Kinmel Street, Powis Street and South Street were all transformed to recreate 1920s Birmingham.
Cillian Murphy as Tommy Shelby on street Tommy the streetfighting man returns to the mean streets of Birmingham in Season 4. Image: Robert Viglasky | © Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd

Peaky Blinders is expected to return for a much-anticipated Season 4 later this year on BBC 4, with Adrien Brodie and Aidan Gillan (Littlefinger from Game of Thrones) joining the cast. Australian audiences can watch Peaky Blinders on BBC First (Foxtel and Fetch TV) and Netflix. Season 5 is due to be filmed in 2018.

Feature image: Robert Viglasky | © Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd


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Erin Bennion

Based in Brisbane, Erin is a writer with a penchant for using fancy old French words wherever possible and an insatiable hankering for trawling through vintage markets in small Scandinavian towns (no really). One of her dreams is to take her family to see General Sherman in Sequoia National Park and give that old guy a group-hug. Don’t follow her, she could end up anywhere. Twitter @erinbennion