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Ask Joan
Joan Leach is a local historian, a volunteer at the Heritage Centre, a founder of The Gaskell Society, and much more besides.


How was Highwayman Higgins caught?
Edward Higgins HouseJoan answers: Edward Higgins was more a confidence trickster and burglar than Highwayman, too clever to make random raids in the hope of loot. His alias as a gentleman while living in Knutsford enabled him to 'case the joint' in the gentry house he visited. He ranged further afield to 'gather his rents'. How much his wife knew of his hidden life and misdeeds we do not know.

Right: Edward Higgins' house on Gaskell Avenue

Having lived in Knutsford since 1757 he left hurriedly in late 1764. He had been tracked back to the town after robbing a house in Gloucester and was arrested by the local constables, in his own house. He asked leave to prepare a few items to take with him and was allowed to go upstairs, the constables never saw him again and this is when the story of his escape tunnel originated. No-one could find how he had escaped his captors.

His wife was left to sell up and follow him. She was told not to sell the board, painted in gold letters ,'Do Not Steal', which hung over his dining room fire place!! He called himself Edward Hickson and set up house at French Hay, near Bristol again living as a gentleman.

Early in 1767 (?) he robbed two houses in Carmarthen and was tackled as a suspicious character out late at night and up to no good, by two butchers. He put up a good fight but the dog did for him and he was put under lock and key in Bristol. He could find no way to protest his innocence because he had in his pocket a piece of the broken key and other items from a chest in the house he was robbing; the other piece of the key was still in the lock.

There is a lot more to this story, some of which you can read in Green's History of Knutsford but that is not entirely accurate. I really must get a booklet written!