IN THE decades between the two world wars they terrorised much of Glasgow - and staged bloody battles with each other using razors, coshes and broken bottles.

The gangs went under such names as the Brigton Billy Boys, the San Toy and the South Side Stickers.

And in the 1920s and 1930s they held sway over many of the poorest areas of Glasgow.

They had territorial battles with each other. Street fights were common, as were organised clashes between gangs.

Religious bigotry played its part, too.

The Brigton Billy Boys took their name from William of Orange, 'King Billy', whose triumph at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 secured Protesant rule not just in Scotland but in England and Ireland too.

The Bridgeton gang had bitter sectarian feuds with a handful of Catholic gangs in streets only a few minutes away in the overcrowded East End.

The Catholic gangs went under such names as the Kent Star, the San Toy and the Calton Entry Boys. There were also the Shanley Boys from Bridgeton, the Cheeky Forty from the Garngad, and the Norman Conks - or Conquerors - from Dalmarnock.

Other gangs flourished on the South Side, including the Liberty Boys and the South Side Stickers, who waged war on each other for more than 10 years, beginning in the early 1920s.

No-nonsense Chief Constable Percy Sillitoe was brought in to curb the gangs after dealing successfully with similar outbreaks in Sheffield. But Glasgow's gangs proved much more difficult to handle - even for Britain's toughest cop.

In the end, the gangs were overshadowed by the Second World War. Many gang members signed up to fight Hitler. There were even times when deadly rivals from the city fought side-by-side against the Germans.

Now, 80 years after the gangs and their razors were swept away, they are the subject of a gripping new book.

City of Gangs: Glasgow and the Rise of the British Gangster is by Andrew Davies, a senior lecturer in Modern British History at Liverpool University. The book has taken him 15 years to research.

He hunted down many thousands of old newspaper articles and consulted dozens of books, memoirs, reports and academic articles in order to come up with a detailed picture of the gangsters who terrorised much of Glasgow.

Andrew will discuss his book at an Aye Write! event at the Mitchell Library next Wednesday.

The gangs usually insisted that no outsiders were harmed, Andrew says, but this was not always true.

"There were some pretty strong reports on intimidation of shopkeepers, of petty racketeering.

"But from some of the shopkeepers' revelations, it is clear that even if the extortion involved quite small sums, the intimidation could be quite nasty - there were threats made against their family members.

"Jewish traders around Bridgeton Cross in the 1930s complained that they were being targeted more severely than anyone else, on the basis of their faith.

"Parents, too, would complain that their young people could not freely move around to visit cinemas and cafes if they were perceived as belonging to the wrong 'side'.

ON the cover of Andrew's book is Billy Fullerton, the leader of the Brigton Billy Boys - the largest and most powerful of the city's gangs in the 1930s.

"He was clearly a very powerful personality," says Andrew. "He was, without a doubt, charismatic, and was skilled as an organiser.

"He worked his way up through the Billy Boys by organising their 'brakes' - their Saturday trips in motorised charabancs to watch Rangers - and he seems to have built the Boys into quite a powerful force.

"They were unique in their numerical strength and they also had followers in different parts of Glasgow.

"Fullerton was aware of his high profile in the newspapers.

"When he sold his story to a paper in 1932 he depicted his gang in a chivalrous light, saying it had looked after the wives and children of members who were jailed.

"He depicted himself not as an outlaw but as someone who shared mainstream values, as a family man. "

When Fullerton died in July 1962, at the age of 56, more than 2000 people paid their respects outside his single-roomed flat in Brook Street.

The Glasgow gangs flourished for all sorts of reasons but sometimes, it seems, their members found it hard to escape.

"There was a lot of peer pressure on young men to become involved in gangs," says Andrew.

"There was certainly a degree of status, glamour and romance associated with the gangs, but there was also a sense in which people were aware of the costs.

"It was easier to get into the gangs than to get out of them. Once a young man had a reputation as a gangster, or even had the merest association with a gang, his cards were marked.

"Certainly, some of the young men who gave interviews to newspapers in the 1930s actually told poignant stories about how desperate they were to leave that world behind. But once your reputation had been established, it was almost impossible to shrug off."

l City of Gangs: Glasgow and the Rise of the British Gangster, Hodder & Stoughton, £20.