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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

Christian Auer

XVII. Economic and social conditions

124. Gangs in Glasgow, 1959

Texte intégral

1In the following text, the urban sociologist Tom Brennan describes the gang system of Glasgow in the late 1950s. Gangs were indeed one of the many social problems that existed in big cities.

2Thomas Brennan, Reshaping a City, Glasgow: House of Grant, 1959, p. 75; p. 138-139.

Govan is the name given to Ward 29, one of the 37 municipal wards making up the City of Glasgow. It is situated immediately south of the river and to the west of the city centre. It has a total population of 35,000 and is known in Glasgow as the centre of the shipbuilding industry, an average to lower-then-average working-class district, and the home of the Glasgow Rangers football team.


The most interesting problem associated with the area, and the one which receives most publicity is that of juvenile delinquency. The most easily recognizable focus of the trouble is a loosely organized gang of boys who refer to themselves as the ‘Bingo Boys’.

According to the Probation Officer responsible for the area the gang, which he regards as one of young hooligans rather than vicious criminals, is directly descended from the ‘Kellybo Gang’ (probably ‘Kelly Boys’) of the 1920’s and 1930’s. This former gang of twenty and thirty-year-olds congregated at Govan Cross, and spent their time drinking and fighting with rival gangs or individuals. They were a particularly vicious lot, and got into serious trouble one after the other—assault-petty theft—homicide – wife beating, etc.

Few of them really reformed in the sense that they made an effort to change. Many are still in the district, but have settled down sufficiently to keep out of the hands of the police. In case the character of the gang and its activities have changed. The real reasons for the break in the tradition of inter-gang fights were thought to be more efficient police work on the one hand, and the outbreak of war in 1939, which gave jobs to some and took others into the Army. Though many of the original gang members married, few of them succeeded in establishing a satisfactory life—many of the marriages broke up, others continued on the basis of perpetual rows at home. Many of them have produced sons who now follow in their fathers’ footsteps. ‘Aggressive’, ‘against any authority’, and ‘wanting to be tough’ seem to be the main categories of behaviour. The original gang was only rarely concerned with offences involving property. Housebreaking was not indulged in by the Nethan Street gang, or by other delinquents in Govan until long after this particular kind of criminal behaviour had been well-established in adjacent divisions. Fighting rather than thieving was the Govan speciality.

The present gang is made up of younger boys, ranging from 13 years of age to 18 or 19, and though as individuals they are probably as objectionable as their predecessors, their crimes are not so serious. They indulge in rowdy behaviour, and are insolent to any adults who try to restrain them. In twos and threes they break into shops or other premises where they can steal money, cigarettes or sweets. Occasionally they join together in slightly larger groups to create a disturbance at youth clubs or other gatherings which seem to offer opportunities for a fight. The younger ones are more often found guilty of theft than of crimes of violence.

Outsiders discussing this kind of behaviour like to think of ‘a gang’ which has to be ‘broken up’ and it is true that the boys concerned often refer to themselves, and those like them, as the ‘The Bingoes’. Latterly they have reverted to the generic title of ‘The Neds’ a term used in Glasgow for at least the last forty years (but which has no connection with ‘Teddy Boys’), for those aimless youths and young men who hang about at corners and are always available for trouble, though not active trouble-makers. When a boy says now that he or someone he knows is one of ‘The Bingoes’ or ‘The Neds’, he is probably saying no more than that ‘he is now one of the boys’. Just as in the Welsh towns with a strong tradition of choral music ‘every man-child born is either a little tenor or a little bass’ so in Nethan Street every boy is an honorary member of ‘The Bingo Boys’, ‘The Neds’ or whatever happens to be the current title.

There may, of course, be in Nethan Street and the surrounding area, a gang with a definite structure of a boss, or bosses, lieutenants, apprentices and the rest. It has, however, been impossible to discover any such structure, and though this is not proof that such a structure does not exist, it seems more reasonable to regard the delinquent youths as belonging to a delinquent society which accepts this behaviour to be more or less normal.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

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