Who were Ferguson's Gang?

Ferguson's Gang members Shot Biddy, Kate O’Brien and Bill Stickers enjoying a picnic, 1935

Ferguson’s Gang was formed in 1927 with five core members, all of whom were women. Their aim was to raise awareness of the need to protect rural areas and they supported the organisation they considered to be the most dedicated to preserving England’s heritage: the National Trust. The Gang raised huge sums to protect and preserve important buildings and land that could otherwise have been destroyed.

Eccentric donations and campaigns

The Gang’s ‘swag’ donations to the National Trust were delivered in strange ways: Money inside a fake pineapple; a one-hundred pound note stuffed inside a cigar; five hundred pounds with a bottle of homemade sloe gin.

Their stunts were avidly reported in the press, and when they made a national radio appeal for the National Trust, the response was overwhelming.

Causing a scare

In 1939 the Gang unwittingly caused a bomb scare at the National Trust’s AGM. They hired a messenger to present their donation, a one-hundred pound note inside a metallic pineapple.

An anxious game of ‘pass the parcel’ followed until the Chairman spotted the label: ‘Open this fruit and you will find a kernel greatly to your mind.’ The Gang had struck again and a flurry of newspaper headlines meant more publicity for the cause.

The famous five or the secret six?

Looking closely at ‘The Boo’, the group’s detailed minute book recording their activities reveals further intrigue. The Gang’s members hid behind pseudonyms such as ‘Bill Stickers’ and the ‘Bludy Beershop’. But was ‘Shot Biddy’ really the same person as ‘White Biddy’, or ‘Red Biddy’ before her?

Through the process of researching our book, Ferguson’s Gang: The Remarkable Story of the National Trust Gangsters, we actually discovered a sixth member.

Solving the mystery

Ferguson’s Gang was a group of fascinating women, some from troubled aristocratic backgrounds, others the daughters of wealthy merchants and industrialists.

They were fun and food-loving philanthropists, undaunted by bureaucracy and public opinion, breaking through legislation and gaining mass appeal. And above everything, they were dedicated to serving their cause of protecting England’s heritage.

Places saved by Ferguson's Gang

 

Three members of Ferguson's Gang - Red Biddy, Sister Agatha and Bill Stickers - at Shalford Mill

Read more about Ferguson's Gang 

Read more in Polly Bagnall and Sally Beck's book, 'Ferguson's Gang: The Remarkable Story of the National Trust Gangsters', available from our online shop. With the help of relatives, colleagues and family, Polly and Sally reveal the identities of these unlikely national heroes and tell the stories of their fascinating and often unconventional lives.