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A Local Tale: The Robber’s Stone

A robbery gone wrong

Images in our collection of the Robbers Stone, parish of West Lavington.

Volunteer Tabitha tells of a gruesome Wiltshire story...

On the A360 of West Lavington you will see an unusual limestone marker with an iron plaque. However, this is not a road marker but commemorates a dashing and grisly tale of crime and justice. Can you also spot the spelling mistake in the plaque?

The story is from 1839, when Matthew Dean was returning, with heavy pockets, from the market in Devizes to Seagrams Farm in Imber. Along his route at Gore Cross Farm he was confronted by four men: Benjamin Colclough, Thomas Saunders, George Waters and Richard Harris. The men pulled Dean from his horse and robbed him. They escaped, leaving him in the mud. Dean eventually pursued the robbers on foot with the help from those who had heard the commotion from the farm. William Hooper from Gore Cross also joined the pursuit, bringing along a gun.

The chase was on. One robber had disappeared, but the remaining three were surrounded by the vigilante group. Hooper gave the order to seize the robbers, to which one shouted back “I’ll blow your brains out!”. Chaos ensued and the robbers escaped. The pursuing group were joined by others, including a Mr W Sainsbury.

The pursuit raged on for three hours. Robber Benjamin Colclough fell and was left behind. The last men standing, Thomas Saunders and George Waters, were exhausted and finally surrounded. After being threated by Mr Sainsbury, the robbers surrendered and the money was recovered. Colclough was found dead where he fell. Richard Harris, the only robber who got away, was later apprehended and brought to Devizes Prison to join Saunder and Waters.

At trial all three men were found guilty and sentenced to 15 years transportation. They embarked on board the convict ship Lord Lyndoch for Hobart, Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), on 5th September 1840 arriving on 5th February 1841.

The marker at West Lavington, called the Robber’s Stone, was put up as a deterrent. At the place of Benjamin Colclough’s collapse and death a second marker was erected at Chitterne with the quote ‘the robbery of the wicked shall destroy them’ (Proverbs 21.7).

Visit Parish Council of West Lavington for more details on the story.

Also visit Market Lavington Museum's blog post about a Robber's Stone postcard here.

DZSWS:2010.7020

Written by Tabitha Lawrence, digtial volunteer.