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Murder of a Highwayman

The George Inn, 1718 - shown in red [X1/97/5]
The George Inn, 1718 - shown in red [X1/97/5]

A letter from Philip Birt to Philip Yorke, 2nd Earl of Hardwicke, husband of Jemima, Marchioness Grey held by the British Museum and transcribed for Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service by Mary Phillips [CRT100/27/3, page 5] reads, in par: "on Monday the 21st of last month [April 1751] (being the day of the Ampthill Fair) three men came to Abraham Perrin at the Flying Horse at Clophill, well mounted, about 5 in the evening, and stayed there all night. Their Discourse turned chiefly upon business of the fair, pretending to be sealers in Horses, and exclaiming much against Highwaymen saying they were afraid to go from Fair to fair for fear of them: and that Hanging was too good for them etc.; they were not extravagant in their expenses there, drinking nothing but malt liquor; except eighteen pence in hot punch at going to bed. The reckoning for themselves and horses was about twelve shillings. About six o'clock the next morning, they set out (as was imagined) for Ampthill and probably stayed some few hours there; about eleven o'clock they reached a public house at Houghton Conquest kept by a butcher [perhaps the Butcher's Arms, later the Knife and Cleaver], and had cold roast beef for breakfast, upon enquiring what they could have for dinner the landlady told them there was a sheep hanging up in the shop, but she seemed to be at a loss for a person to cut it up (her husband being at the Fair) that they might have a joint of it. Upon which one of them (the man who was killed in Silsoe Lane) bad her be under no concern about the matter; he would take off the shoulder, which he did very skilfully after the London manner from which it is inferred he had been brought up a butcher. About four o'clock they left that Place and between five and six began robbing upon the road between Ampthill and Bedford in the parish of Houghton Conquest. The man who was killed rode first with a blunderbuss in open view, the two others followed at a distance of about twenty yards. When the two last stopped the travellers and demanded their money the man who was first halted and swore that if they attempted to ride away his blunderbuss should soon fetch them back. They robbed four people upon that road, viz. a tenant of the Lord Ashburnham of about £17, a dealer in hogs who lives at Elstow of about £15, a man of Cardington of about £5 and a tradesman of Bedford of about fourteen shillings and his watch".

"They returned to the first one guinea and to the second two guineas and a brown. These people as soon as they reached Bedford made affidavit on their respective losses before Mr. Edwards and the hue and cry reached Silsoe the next morning about six o'clock. After the above Robberies the highwaymen betook themselves to the road leading from Ampthill to Woburn and near Millbrook robbed two farmers of about £30 and a joiner of a few shillings and his watch. About nine o'clock they called at an ale house in Maulden and drank each a glass of gin; thence they went to the George at Silsoe and sat on horseback at the door, whilst they drank three pints of wine and eat a crust of bread. No words of anger were heard between them, but the man who was killed seemed more silent and reserved than the others. The blunderbuss was at this time in his possession. When they had got thence about quarter of a mile, the man was shot in the back (it is presumed) with the blunderbuss and a considerable quantity of blood visible in the road. Thence he was dragged.

Through a gate into a close just by the road-side, and shot with a pistol through the head. John Green, as did several others, heard the blunderbuss soon after they went from the George, it is supposed that it had been taken to pieces and screwed together, for it was not seen either at Abraham Perrin's or at Houghton Conquest. A farmer at Barton rode by, between the discharge of the blunderbuss and pistol, and heard both; but, as the body was removed into the close, he saw neither men nor horses. He smelt the powder and with difficulty got his horse past: but says he thought somebody was shooting wood pigeons. The Toll-Gate man say the farmer had not passed two minutes before the highwayman came. The first horse that came was the horse of the man shot, which the Toll gate man would have turned back, but the men bad him let him go thro, they would pay for him. They seemed much in haste, but staid to take change. They left the saddle upon the downs and the horse at Luton. The horse has been claimed and the owner (I am told) thought the man who had stolen him and was killed had formerly been a servant of his, who had been for some time past amongst the Smugglers. As soon as the man was found which was very early the morning after he was shot, John Green came to acquaint me, and I went and saw his pockets searched, but found nothing whereby it could be discovered who he was; a seal with part of a watch chain was left, and only a half penny in his pocket. The Coroner sat upon the body and it was exposed to Public view a considerable time. It is now buried. Abraham Perrin and several of the persons robbed viewed it, and were entirely satisfied it was one of the highwaymen. A ticket of the turnpike at Maidstone in Kent was fount in his Boot".

The man was supposedly buried at Beaumont Tree in Flitton.