Hello again Readers,herewith episode 5 of a planned 8 about Railway Crime 1830-1899..
In my previous blog I wrote about the background to the planning of an audacious robbery of gold bullion in 1855. This blog will complete the story. Feel free to go back and read part 1 if you missed it. The story will now resume with part 2 ……
Pierce waited patiently inside the cab for Agar’s return, growing increasingly restless. Eventually he heard the sound of footsteps approaching. The cab door opened and Agar climbed in. As he did so he shook his head. Pierce understood and shouted through the window for the driver to take them back to the coffee shop. From there they both returned to Pierce’s lodgings at Crown Terrace where they took off their heavy courier bags filled with lead shot. There was nothing more they could do. They could not catch the boat train until they knew for sure that the bullion was aboard and would have to try again the following night, and the next night and so on until they received word from Tester. There was no way of knowing when the carrier would transport the strong boxes to the station and they would have to be patient.
This journey out to the station was repeated every night for a fortnight. Agar now met Tester at the station itself and sometimes bumped into Burgess the guard. Each time the journey proved to be a disappointment as no bullion was on the train. Almost exactly two weeks after the first attempt Pierce and Agar set off again, loaded down with lead shot in carpet and courier bags. They made their way to the coffee shop in Camden Road and Pierce went down to the Red Cap and brought a cab up from there to collect Agar. He had been careful, making sure he chose a different driver for each journey. The cab made its way to St Thomas Street where Agar left to meet Tester. Pierce was left alone wondering when the bullion was ever going to be loaded onto the train. Lost in thought he heard the sound of two sets of footsteps approaching the cab. Fearing discovery by the police, Pierce gripped the handle of the door by the road, ready to jump out. The cab door opened and Agar jumped in with a big smile on his face. He was not alone and Pierce saw he had brought Tester with him. He approached the cab window and said a few simple words, “Its alright!” Tester turned and left to take his part in the plan, walking quickly back to the station. Agar instructed the driver to take the cab to meet the down boat train at the station. They left the cab and walked onto the platform, they already had their tickets. The men had the heavy courier bags over their shoulders under capes but their large carpet bags were taken by a porter down to the guard who put them in a luggage van connecting with his own. The guard was none other than their fellow conspirator Burgess. Pierce boarded the train, climbing into a first class carriage, shortly followed by Tester who took a seat in second class. Agar hung back as he wanted to join Burgess. He waited until the platform staff including Mr Weatherhead were busy before joining Burgess in the guards van. He was quick to inform Agar there was upwards of £12,000 in bullion and coin in the safe in three strong boxes.
The train left for Dover with all four of the plotters aboard and Agar wasted no time in opening the safe with his own keys. He took out an iron chest which he unlocked and found a stout wooden box inside. The box was covered in iron hoops which had been nailed in. He drew the nails out one by one and then forced the box open using iron box wedges and wooden mallet he had placed in his carpet bag. The box contained gold bars which he removed and replaced with bags of the lead shot they had been carrying around for a fortnight. He then carefully replaced the iron hoops, knocking back in all of the nails. The wooden box was put back in the chest and the chest back in the iron safe. The train slowed as it approached Redhill station and one gold bar was placed in black bag. As the train waited in the station at Redhill Burgess waited on the platform and a man approached him. Few people would have noticed him handing over a small black bag. Just before the train departed Burgess climbed back into his van. He was joined by Pierce. The train set off for Dover with three of the plotters together in the guards van. Tester was already making his way back to London with a gold bar. This was all part of the meticulous planning and Tester was lightening the load that Agar and Pierce would have to carry from Folkestone back to London.
Pierce now assisted Agar with removing the second box from the safe and watched him open it. It contained American gold coins plus some bonds from a foreign railway. The contents were emptied and replaced with lead shot in bags. It too was put back in the safe and the final box taken out. This contained Californian gold but the plotters now faced a problem. They were running out of lead shot bags so dared not take all the contents. They took only what they felt matched the weight of their remaining shot, then closed it up and returned it to the safe. On all three boxes were wax seals which had to be broken to get at the contents. The plotters knew about these so had come prepared. They had brought with them tapers, wax and even some seals they had bought in Shoe Lane. These were not the same as those used by the bullion companies but the plotters reasoned that they would pass a quick inspection by railway staff. They carefully replaced all the seals and the three boxes looked as good as new. As the train approached Folkestone the job was nearly done. Some of the gold had been in dust form and some had escaped onto the floor of the van. This was carefully swept up and placed into a bag. The train swept into Folkestone station and both Pierce and Agar took advantage of a cloud of steam to leave the guards van and step into different empty compartments of the first class carriage. Over their shoulders and beneath their capes their leather courier bags were filled with gold bars. Their large carpet bags filled with bags of gold dust and coins were stowed safely in the luggage van and guarded by Burgess. At Folkestone the three strong boxes were removed and taken to a ferry boat to Boulogne for onward transport to Paris.
The train pulled out of Folkestone bound for Dover. The plan had gone like clockwork but now Pierce and Agar had to get themselves and the gold back to London. At Dover station both men went to the guards van and politely asked for their bags. Burgess handed over two large and heavy carpet bags and his part in the plot was over. Pierce and Agar left the station and made their way to the Castle Hotel. Pierce had thought of every tiniest detail and he had come in disguise; he was wearing a black wig and whiskers. In the hotel they ordered some brandy and water and cigars. The waiter asked if they wanted a room but they explained they were about to catch the up night train. They left the hotel and returned to the station and put their carpet bags down briefly. A helpful porter wanted to carry the bags to the guard and began lifting them up. Pierce quickly stopped him and said they would rather carry their own bags. It was too late, the porter had felt the weight of the bags and had noticed they were unusually heavy. Growing more suspicious he asked the two men if they had tickets. They both showed their return tickets from Ostend which Pierce had previously bought through a man called Gower. This only made the porter even more suspicious. He pointed out that he knew for sure that no-one had passed through Customs from Ostend that day. Pierce was a quick thinker and replied that they had arrived the previous day and stayed the night in a hotel. At the same time he reached into his pocket and gave the man a few shillings. This seemed to calm the porter who left the men to carry their bags into a first class carriage. The train back to London was lightly loaded and they had the entire first class carriage to themselves.
On the return journey they opened their large carpet bags and threw all the hay in them out of the window. There were two smaller carpet bags inside the largest one. These were now filled with the gold bars which had been put into the leather courier bags. The courier bags were also thrown out of the windows. At a station near London, Pierce jumped off the train with the large and now empty carpet bag and placed it behind the door of the waiting room. He jumped back into the carriage and the train arrived at London Bridge station at five o’clock in the morning. They caught a cab to the Great Western station and got out and caught another can to Euston station. As they passed a coffee shop Pierce told the driver to stop and he paid the driver. Pierce was laying a false trail knowing the police would make enquiries about any men seen returning from Dover carrying bags. After leaving the coffee shop they walked to Pierces lodgings. Later that day they met Tester as arranged at the Borough Market. He gave back the bar of gold taken away at Redhill station. From the market they hired a cab to St Mary Axe where Pierce changed most of the American gold coins in a shop. They then went on to Haymarket where Pierce sold the rest of the American coins to a man named Spillman, who gave a £200 cheque in payment drawn on the Union Bank. They then returned to Pierces house with the gold bars.
As Pierce was quickly selling the proceeds of the robbery, the three strong boxes were arriving in Paris and were delivered to three different bullion dealers. When they had arrived at Boulogne they were all weighed and it was noted their weights were not consistent with those recorded in London, though all were heavy. The new weights were recorded. Upon arrival in Paris they were weighed again and no alarm was raised as the boxes weighed exactly the same as they did when they landed at Boulogne. It was only when each box was finally opened that robbery was discovered. Two strong boxes contained nothing more than bags of lead shot. One box contained some gold but most was missing and had been replaced by lead shot. Pierce, Aga, Tester had pulled off the most audacious of train robberies and got clean away with it! By the time the robbery was discovered all of the American gold coins had already been sold. Pierce and Agar were now busy at work in Agar’s lodgings building a furnace to melt down the remaining gold bars. Tester and Burgess returned quietly to their jobs on the South Eastern Railway.
The French and English police made enquiries and quickly realised the gold could only have been stolen from a moving train, somewhere between London Bridge and Folkestone. That said their early enquiries produced no named suspects and no knowledge of where the gold had gone. It seemed like the perfect crime had been committed and soon the newspapers all over the land were printing lurid accounts of “The Great Gold Robbery”. It would be many, many months before the police had any evidence and in the end a cruel twist of fate would lead to the identification of the four robbers………but that is another story which I shall leave for my forthcoming book!
NEXT EPISODE / CHAPTER – THE FIRST EVER RAILWAY MURDER!
Copyright@Michael Sheridan 2015. All Rights Reserved
This accounts is the result of my own independent research from primary sources. No part may be copied, stored or scanned or shared. This episode will form the basis of a chapter in my forthcoming third book about Railway Crime.