The Cole Green Robbery of 1824
By Ian Fisher
Our story starts some twenty or so miles from Cole Green, at a public house known as The Wheatsheaf in Amelia Street, Bermondsey. William Jones, Robert Davis, Thomas Blacket and James Thomas (alias Davis) sat waiting for the arrival of George Gregory who was bringing important information. This information was vital to their plans, for they were planning to rob Lord Cowper of the last six months rent owed by his tenants. These were to be collected by his steward, John Haines, sometime in June. Gregory had now obtained the exact date from relatives in nearby Tewin: it was to be on Wednesday the 9th. The takings were to be kept overnight in the steward’s house before being deposited in the bank the next day and Gregory knew where the money was likely to be kept. He also appears to have had a score to settle with Haines stating, ‘he did not care if the steward were murdered as he was a great enemy of his father’s’ and he further stated, ‘that Mr Haines had met with an accident by a fall from a horse and they need not be afraid of him’. George Gregory decided he would need an alibi, so he arranged for someone to come and say the he was at his work on the Wednesday night.
Later the initial five men were to be joined by James Green, George Weaver and James Harris also known as Long Nedd. Others involved in the affair and cast more in the role of accomplices were Ben Jacobs, John Hawley, William Coulter and George Nicholls. All these first twelve were described as labourers from the parish of Hertingfordbury. The last three are of little importance as far as the story is concerned.
In an interesting aside, the documents reveal that while most if the robbers travelled by horse and cart to Cole Green some of them chose to walk part of the way as far as the sixteen mile-stone in Kentish Lane. Having set out on foot about 3 o’clock from Amelia Street they stopped at a public house on Highgate Hill on the left side of the road where they ate part of a knuckle of ham, which they bought in London, and bought two pennyworth of bread from the landlord. They arrived at The Kings Head at Barnet between 5 & 6 o’clock where they had some beer, tea and eggs and stayed there till after 7 ‘clock; then walked on the road till they came to the 16 mile stone where they stopped till about 11 o’clock’. They met up with the others in Kentish Lane about 11.45pm and then made their way through Essendon and on to Cole Green by 12.30.
Cutting themselves some sticks they crept into the yard of the steward’s house. At Gregory’s suggestion they disabled the lock on the stable door. Having found a ladder they entered via a first-floor window at the end of the house while Gregory stayed behind to keep a look out. The steward’s son who was the first to be alerted, was swiftly dealt with and locked in his room, but in the process they woke the remainder of the house. Mrs Haines rang the alarm while her husband locked the bedroom door. Knowing they had a limited time the robbers used a crow bar to open it and, although they had expected little resistance, were met head on by the steward who attacked Bob and James Davis causing them to stop in their tracks. Four or five of the robbers then set about Mr Haines driving his head through a nearby window and beating him severely before holding a gun to his head and threatening to shoot him. With his life at stake Haines pointed to a nearby chest, which was soon broken open by Jones and having taken the money they tied up the steward. One of the robbers again threatened to shoot him if he made trouble. They were about to tie up Mrs Haines when noises were heard at the front of the house. In what seems to have been almost a touch of comedy, James Thomas (alias Davis) walked over and shook hands with her before they all made their escape. Making their way through the garden they were tackled by two of the estate labourers, George and Benjamin Venables and by Samuel Chapman the shepherd. The robbers then had to fight their way out of the garden. In desperation an attempt was made to shoot the shepherd, but luckily the pistol failed to fire. In the event he was very badly beaten. The pistol was later found in the garden.
Using the two carts to escape they made their way back via St Albans and Edgeware to London. They passed through the turnpike gate between St Albans and London at ten minutes to two, paid 8d toll and drove off a high speed without waiting for change. They arrived back at Bob Davis’s lodgings at 6 o’clock in the morning and proceeded to count the money, which came to some £1300