From the Archive: Highgate Village Robbers Fund
CATCH A LOCAL CRIMINAL AND YOU SHALL BE REWARDED
While locating materials for a Year 3 visit to the Archive, we came across a number of documents relating to the ‘Highgate Village Robbers Fund’, set up in 1737.
By the 18th century, the School Foundation catered to many local needs: the Governors saw themselves as eminent local leaders with a duty to the welfare of the Village. By 1719, they had paid for the construction of the almshouses in Southwood Lane for poor women and had established a school there for poor girls. In 1731, they permitted a fire station to be built next to the School Chapel and in 1737 they began administering the Robbers Fund.
The Fund, set by public subscription, offered rewards to anyone who caught local criminals and brought them before the Law. A flyer dated 22 November 1737 (pictured) was pinned up in Highgate’s public houses, both providing information to local inhabitants and as a deterrent to those of a criminal mind. It sets out in detail the rewards given:
‘For every Highwayman or Footpad who shall commit any Robbery within the said Hamlet, or any Person who shall break into any Dwelling-House in the Night-time, or send any Incendiary Letter, the Reward or Sum of Ten Pounds. For every Person who shall steal any Horse, Mare, Colt, or other Cattle, within in the said Hamlet, belonging unto the Subscribers, or commit any Theft or Robbery in the Day-time in any Dwelling-House, or break into any Out-House thereto adjoyning within the said Hamlet, and feloniously take away to the Value of Ten Shillings, the Reward or Sum of Five Pounds. For every Person who shall commit any Theft or Robbery to the Value of Five Shillings, out of any Garden, Orchard, Court-Yard, Backside, Fish-pond, or shall steal any Fruit, Poultry, Fish, Linen, Lead, Iron, Gates or Gate-Hinges, or the like, the Reward or Sum of Forty Shillings.’
The names of five Governors appear in the records, but it was Governor John Edwards who managed the fund from its inception until his death in 1769. He was a prosperous merchant who lived at Ashurst House in South Grove. The House was demolished to make way for St. Michael’s Church, which opened on 8 November 1832. His memorial tablet stood in the School Chapel until 1833 when it was moved to St. Michael’s. It survives on the site of his living room!
The accounts of the Robbers Fund show many payments. One name in particular standards out: several payments were made for conducting Susanah Matthews to Hick’s Hall and the Old Bayley (pictured). She was a difficult girl who had escaped the previous month on her way to court. No highwaymen were apparently caught.