Friday, 13 February 2015

James Rooke

I mentioned in my post about Phoebe Hessel (yesterday) that she had given evidence in the trial of the highwayman James Rooke.

Now, I don't know about you, but whenever I hear of a highwayman I picture a man on a horse, wearing a tricorn hat and a mask, and waving a couple of long-barrelled pistols in the air.  A Dick Turpin-like figure who would waylay stage coaches and relieve the travellers of their valuables.  That, after all, is what highwaymen did, isn't it?  So having had the bait dangled in front of me (as it were), I went hunting.  But I came up with very little - and what I did discover is a little bit disappointing.  James Rooke, it seems, did not fit my picture of the "ideal" highwayman.  Not that there is a wealth of information readily available, and what there is raises almost as many questions as it provides answers.

What I did learn is that on 30 October 1792, a crook by the name of Edward Howell undertook the robbery of the mail coach at the Goldstone Bottom, (now in Hove but then a lonely crossroads on the South Downs) with his accomplice, James Rooke. Rooke gave away his involvement at the Red Lion, Shoreham, and the two highwaymen were arrested for the robbery from John Stephenson (the boy delivering the mail) of half a sovereign. They were tried and found guilty at the Spring Assizes at Horsham and sentenced to death. The hangings took place on 26 April 1793 before a crowd, alleged to be 14,000-strong, at the Goldstone. After the two guilty men were hanged, the bodies were saturated in tar and enclosed in a gibbet, an iron frame with the chains fastened to the bodies. To make the story yet more grisly, after stormy nights Rooke’s mother would climb to the Downs and remove pieces of dislodged corpse for interment in Old Shoreham churchyard – burying her boy one piece at a time.

2 comments:

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip, said...

"... whenever I hear of a highwayman I picture a man on a horse, wearing a tricorn hat and a mask, and waving a couple of long-barrelled pistols..."

I have the same image.
I guess we should blame the poets.

joeh said...

a grisly story on several levels.