The Fowler brothers - Sheffield gangsters.


Parts of Sheffield were gang infested slums in the 1920’s, during a time of high unemployment and poverty.  25 year old Lawrence and 23 year old Wilfred Fowler were members of the Park Brigade gang, led by Samuel Garvin, that had been terrorising the East End and Park areas of the city for some time and who considered themselves beyond the law. One of the gang's members, Trimmer Welsh, had got into a fight with 27 year old William Francis Plommer, an ex-boxer, over his treatment of a barmaid in the pub where they were both drinking, and Plommer gave the man a good hiding. On the 26th of April 1925, Plommer and his friend and fellow boxer, Jack Clay, were ambushed by another two members of the gang, including Wilfred Fowler, but they were no match for this powerfully built and courageous man either. Two defeats for the gang were more than its pride and arrogance could stomach so on Monday the 27th of April a mob of a dozen or so went to Plommer's house in Princess Street in Norfolk Bridge. When he came out to face them, they beat, stabbed and kicked him in the street outside in the street with clubs, chain and knives.  He was taken to Sheffield Royal Infirmary where he died shortly after arrival.  Thousands of people lined the streets at William Plommer’s funeral and he was considered a hero by many.

Here is a photo of the Fowler brothers.

Wilfred and Lawrence Fowler stayed at the crime scene, sitting on the steps of a nearby chip shop until the police arrived.  Lawrence Fowler admitted to hitting Plommer on the head, which he later denied.  Police were able to interview a number of witnesses who had seen the attack.  Samuel Garvin escaped on a tram, travelled a short distance and then got off and assaulted a man, in the hope of creating an alibi.  The rest of the gang, comprising eleven men, were soon rounded up and taken to West Bar police station.  The knife or bayonet used in the murder was never found.

All seven men involved came to trial at Leeds before Mr. Justice Finlay on the 28th to the 31st of July 1925.  In court the Fowlers suggested that the killing was in self defence and that William Plommer had attacked them.  This was contradicted by an eyewitness who testified that Lawrence had said to Plommer “You’ve done our kid and now we’ll do for you.” 
Lawrence and Wilfred, being convicted of murder, were sentenced to hang.  Other gang members, George Willis and Amos Stewart got 10 years each in prison and Stanley Harker got seven years, all for manslaughter.  Two other gang members, Frederick Goddard and Samuel Garvin, were acquitted of the murder but Garvin got 20 months for the separate assault. 


The Fowlers appealed their conviction and this was heard on the 18th of April 1926 in the Court of Criminal Appeal in London and was dismissed.


On the 3rd of September 1925, Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by Robert Wilson and Henry Pollard, carried out a double hanging at Armley prison. On the following day a further single execution. The first two to die were 25 year old Alfred David Bostock who had killed his mistress, Elizabeth Sherratt and Wilfred Fowler.  Lawrence Fowler was to die on the same gallows the following day, hanged by Thomas Pierrepoint, this time assisted by Lionel Mann.

Both Fowler brothers were of similar size and build, Wilfred was 5’ 6” tall and weighed 133 lbs.  Lawrence was a little shorter at 5’ 4 1/2” but also weighed 133 lbs.  Pierrepoint gave Wilfred a drop of eight feet and Lawrence eight feet two inches.  In both cases there was fracture dislocation of the 3rd and 4th cervical vertebrae.


It is unclear why Bostock was hanged alongside William Fowler and not alone. One surmises that the prison authorities thought there would be trouble between the Fowler brothers so had decided to hang them separately.  A brief summary of his case follows:

Alfred Bostock and Elizabeth Sherratt both worked for the Parkgate Ironworks in Rotherham and had fallen for each other virtually on sight. Albert was married but had a passionate affair with Elizabeth which went well until Elizabeth announced that she was pregnant, a setback that Alfred could simply not accept. On May 3rd, 1925, her body was found floating in the river at Rawmarsh - she had been battered to death. Bostock was the prime suspect and quickly arrested for the murder.  He was tried at Leeds on the 24th and 25th of July 1925, before Mr. Justice Finlay.  He presented a weak alibi in his defence and although the evidence against him was circumstantial, it only took the jury 15 minutes to convict him.


On the 1st of May 1925, four days after the Plommer murder, the Chief Constable of Sheffield, Colonel John Hall-Dalwood, formed the Special Duty Squad, later known as the “Flying Squad”. This comprised four of his toughest officers. It was led by Sgt. Robinson who had served in the Coldstream Guards, with P.C. Walter Loxley who was a 6ft 2in, 19 stone 8lb constable who had served in Royal Garrison Artillery, in France, during World War I as had P.C. Herbert Lunn, who won the Military Medal at Bullecourt for rescuing wounded comrades while under fire. The fourth member was Irishman P.C. Jack Farrily, who was experienced in street fighting. Their mission was to break the gangs and although their methods would certainly not be acceptable today, they were successful.


In due course Captain Percy Sillitoe, who had served in the South African police, took over a Chief Constable.  Sillitoe became famous as the “Gang breaker” and went on to tackle Glasgow’s “Razor gangs.” He finished his career as Director-General of MI5.

In his autobiography “Cloak Without a Dagger” Sir Percy Sillitoe commented on the gangs as follows: “There is only one way to deal with the gangster mentality. You must show that you are not afraid. If you stand up to them and they realise you mean business they will knuckle under. The element of beast in man whether it comes from an unhappy and impoverished background, or from his own undisciplined lustful appetites, will respond exactly as a wild beast of the jungle responds – to nothing but greater force and greater firmness of purpose.”


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