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Gangs of Soho
Goodge Street tube station, London
Short version. An overload of menace & titillation. Crime and capers and cons and coppers and collars and escapers.
Long version. Soho may have cleaned up its act in recent years but scratch the surface and we come face to face with the organised gangs that ran Europe’s most famous red-light district and England’s epicentre of organised crime, each gang with its own trademark method of settling scores and engendering terror. Come, if you dare, and meet the gun-toting Elephant Boys and England’s first Sicilian Mafia style gangsters and visit the sites where pitched battles broke out between them in their bid to maintain control over illegal drinking and gambling in Soho.
If home grown gangs were a little squeamish about controlling the sex trade, gangs from every corner of the continent (and beyond) had fewer qualms about being very ‘hands on’ indeed and we meet the Algerian Assassin and unscrupulous snake-hipped tango dancers practised in the art of ‘white-birding’ (trafficking). We meet the fabulously chic and very visible ‘French Fifis’ applying their distinctive trade and, more ominously, hear about the scarcely visible working girls kept in check by notoriously vicious groups of men using a potent mixture of beatings and razor slashings.
On this Gangs of Soho Walk the guide recalls how gang culture has been affected by changing legislation and specific events (or specific murders!) and focusses on the best remembered gangs (yes, the Krays crop up) charting their rivalries and the rise and fall of the ‘Mr Bigs’ in the background. But it is Soho itself that does most of the work by providing a backdrop where all the flavour of seedy brothels and strip-clubs, sordid gambling and drinking dens lingers on and suspicious characters with big firsts still hang around shop doorways. Against this backdrop thick with menace and titillation you’ll have no difficulty believing a gangster may be around the very next corner.