The End of the Racecourse Gangs. Part 1

Rare picture of gangsters that became involved in the Racecourse Wars in London in the 20s/30s.
Birmingham Mail
Club Stand at Brighton Racecourse, 1946: Group of spectators gathered outside the Club Stand of Brighton Racecourse. The Club Stand was built in 1936 by Yates, Cook and Derbyshire of London in Art Deco style. It was demolished in 1965 after the current grandstand opened.
Image reproduced with kind permission from Brighton and Hove in Pictures by Brighton and Hove City Council
Desperate: a family in Brighton during the 1930s downturn.
Daily Mail
Police Headquarters
WWII seafront defences
Image reproduced with kind permission from Brighton and Hove in Pictures by Brighton and Hove City Council
Darby Sabini, probably in his garden in Brighton, taken in the late 1940's.
Peaky Blinders: Pictures of terrifying real-life Birmingham gang
The original Peaky Blinders - some of whom are pictured here - are to be portrayed in BBC2's new six-part series
West Midlands Police Museum

 A story about Constable Stanley Janes. 

This is a story about the final end to the dreaded Racecourse Gangs and the people who were responsible. 

David Rowland

Stanley Janes

Stanley George Janes was born in Luton, 25th December 1904. He lived at No. 63, Langley  Road in Luton. As he neared the end of his school days he still wasn’t sure of what he wanted to do. He had various thoughts but they all came and went. He left school as the First World War was coming to an end and at 14 he entered the motor trade. He became a car-body trimmer but deep down he knew that really wasn’t for him. He looked around for a change of direction but what?

He was now 21 years old and thought of a police career, he was also single. He applied to join the Brighton Borough Police, excitedly filling out the numerous forms in order to apply. Then the interviews and then one day a letter arrived at his home saying that he had been accepted as a ‘Probationer Constable with Brighton Borough Police.’

His application form stated that he was a single man, 5’11’’ tall with a fresh complexion. He had dark hair and brown eyes. About this time he got married.


He was very proud of his police uniform as he patrolled the streets of Brighton. However, he hankered to be a member of the C.I.D. department. He was described as a ‘model policeman’ and had numerous arrests. This came to the notice of the C.I.D. heads and these numerous arrest did pay off as on the 14th January 1931 he was transferred from uniform department to join the plain clothes department. But, he wasn’t yet a member of the C.I.D. He began working very closely with a number of different C.I.D officers and it was generally felt that he would be a very good asset to the C.I.D department.

Towards the end of April 1932, his dream came true as he was transferred from the ‘Plain Clothes’ department to the CID.  He was now really excited, after all these years, he was at last a CID member. At this time he had served 8 years as a member of Brighton Police and he had so much valuable experience now.

On the 1st July 1940, aged 36 years old, he was promoted to acting sergeant and confirmed in the rank of sergeant on the 1st November 1940. He was very highly thought of, not only in the C.I.D but in the Force generally.

On the 17th June 1943 he was transferred to Police HQ in Lewes (at this time all the police forces in Sussex had been amalgamated to make up ‘Sussex Police.’ After the war ended then all the forces reverted back again as individual Forces.)

 Post War

At the end of the First World War, soldiers were returning back to civilian life by the thousands, there was not enough work at that stage to support them in a decent life. They and their families were almost on the ‘bread line’ at that time. And so there were a number of gang leaders who wanted to increase their gangs, and the more one gang would increase then another would too. There were two main gang leaders in and around London at that time, the part Italian, Darby’ Sabatini whose roots were in the Mafia in Sardinia. Then there were the Brummagem Boys, led by Billy Kimber who came from Birmingham. They often came down to London, invariably just to fight with Sabatini’s gang. These two gangs hated each other. Sabatini was not stupid enough to ‘visit’ Birmingham to find that gang. He liked to on ‘home soil.’


Meanwhile the attendances at many racecourses were reaching record levels, as the they had lost. The gang leaders saw ‘rich pickings’ on these racecourses and were soon ‘earning’ some money from these now rich bookmakers. More and more of these thugs started to turn there way of living via criminal ways. Pickpocket’s abounded every racecourse in the land, at almost every meeting these gangs would be present and reports of robbery shot up as well as serious assaults on bookmakers and punters alike. The police were doing their best but at times that wasn’t quite good enough.

During the 1920 and 30’s most racecourses were plagued by these violent gangs, who would attend these places armed with a variety of weapons and bully ‘bookies’ for a percentage of their money. These bookies were unable to refuse for fear of being badly injured with their weapons.

The gangs

When these gangs weren’t terrorising people at these race meetings, they ran their gangs in the large towns and cities throughout this country. The largest and probably the most violent gangs were situated in London. Daily murders were common place and the police, made no difference how hard they tried, hey rarely got to the bottom of who committed these murders. All the gang members, of which ever side, would just keep quiet and not know anything about them. They would settle it ‘their way,’ which meant someone from the guilty gang would either be badly beaten uo or in most cases lose their life. The terror these gangs brought to people, even ordinary people is very hard to put into words. The brutality was hard to believe. How could one human being inflict some terrible things to another?

Of course the police knew all about these gangs, how and where they operated but it was always that last little piece of evidence that stopped them getting these people in from of a court.

Now and again the police would strike lucky and although they didn’t get into court for the various murders, they were able to convict them for something, which in most cases would put them away for a good stretch in prison. At least it kept one gang member off the streets and in that respect made them slightly safer. Some gang members the police never were able to prosecute and put them away for a decent ‘stretch.’

Lewes races

About 12.30pm on Monday the 8th June 1936 D/Sgt Collyer and detective Stanley Janes were at Lewes Races. It was a warm and sunny day, one of those days when it was good to be alive. They were strolling about apparently not taking any notice of those few people who had arrived early for the races. There were an average number of uniformed policeman walking about and making their way to there various delegated positions at the course.

All of a sudden they saw a large gathering of men about 30 in total. Coming from the car park and they were more or less ‘marching in a military style.’ There was no doubt in their minds this was a large Gang, probably from London and hell bent in attacking someone or maybe a number of unfortunate individuals. The two detectives tagged on the end but kept in a position whereby they could see what was going on.

James Spinks

The leader appeared at this time to be a man called James Spinks, who having looked for someone couldn’t find them. Just then two men were spotted; these two unfortunate people were Alfred Solomon, a bookmaker and his clerk Mark Frater. The gang rushed towards them, brandishing a terrible array of weapons. One of the gang struck Solomon but he managed to escape leaving his clerk behind. Mark Frater’s arms were held tightly by Albert Blitz while he was struck on the head with Spinks’ hatchet. He fell to the ground quite dazed and then a number of the gang started kicking him as hard as they could. It was about then that someone shouted out ‘Top-hatters’ a name meaning policemen. The gang scattered leaving Frater lying on the ground semi-conscious. The two detectives chased them each grabbing two of them. Then the uniformed officers joined in, once they realised that the two officers were CID officers. In all 16 of this gang were caught and arrested. While the others escaped. D/Sgt Collyer wasn’t too happy about this as he thought they could and should have arrested more of them.

As the gang members ran away making for the car park they threw their weapons away. There were a motley collection of these weapons, which were soon recovered and later displayed in the courtroom for all to see. The gang members were taken to Lewes Police Station and locked away before being interviewed.


A newspaper write up on Stanley Janes.

This is copied, word for word from the Evening Standard on 11th April 1953. This was on the retirement of Stanley Janes. It states,” A man who helped smash the razor gangs on Sussex racecourses – burly Detective-Sergeant Stanley G. Janes- is retiring from Brighton CID. He is 49.

It was at Lewes three years before the war that the last gang was cleaned up. And it was almost by chance that they were caught.

Detective Sergeant Janes, then a constable, saw 35 men ‘marching like soldiers’ down the racecourse. He and a colleague followed the gang and eventually worked their way into the middle of the group.

‘It does not sound very complimentary’ said Detective Sergeant Janes today, ‘that the gang obviously thought we were part of them.’

Two members of a rival gang were surrounded. Hatchets, hammers, bicycle chains and razors were suddenly produced.

The two men who they had surrounded were about to receive a severe beating-up. Detective-sergeant Janes and his colleague went into action. They knocked out several of the gang, and were joined by other police colleagues.

A few weeks later, behind locked doors at the Sussex Assizes, sixteen of the gang were jailed for a total of some 45 years.

Detective-Sergeant Janes is known to his colleagues in Brighton as the man with a photographic mind. He remembers long lists of details about criminals without ever having to refer to any files.

He was concerned in many murder investigations in Sussex. He has now been appointed a security officer to a large business firm.

Special thanks Ted Janes 

Researched and written by David Rowland.

Welcome to the Finsbury Publishing

David Rowland has just launched his 15th and final book, “The Spirit of Winsome Winn II”, all about the B-17 Flying Fortress which crashed at Patcham after being hit by anti-aircraft fire over Germany

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