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Monday, 23 November 2015

The Lancashire Highwayman


Masked highwayman George Lyon held up the Liverpool mail coach by firing shots and forcing the driver to stop. Then, having robbed the passengers of their valuables, he retired to the pub at Upholland, where he had been drinking earlier. The distraught passengers arrived a little later, bringing with them their tale of robbery and their narrow escape from death, and Lyon must have been entertained by their version of events.

According to local legend, Lyon once tried to hold up a coach that was transporting wages to a coal mine. He was waiting by the side of the road, but it was pouring with rain and the gunpowder in his pistol got soaked. When the coach finally rounded the bend, his pistol failed to fire. The driver, seeing the highwayman, whipped the horses into a gallop and the coach sped by him, throwing up a wave of water,  leaving Lyon bedraggled and no richer.
Lyon's subsequent career involved more petty crime and burglary until he was eventually caught in 1815. His career ended after burgling Westwood Hall, at Ince near Wigan (below).

Westwood Hall
Unknown to Lyon, the landlord of the pub was an undercover constable acting as a 'fence', and the silver that  Lyon was trying to sell was easily traceable.

Lyon was hanged at Lancaster Castle, but was allowed to be taken back to his home village for burial. Usually it was the custom for executed criminals to be given to local surgeons to dissect, in the interests of medical advancement. Lyons' body was brought back in a thunderstorm, a suitably dramatic end for the Upholland Highwayman.

Lyon called himself a 'prince of thieves' and in time, because of this phrase, he came to be remembered as a Robin Hood type of figure - though there is no evidence at all that he gave anything back to the poor!
Lancashire beneath
Most of the information about the Upholland Highway man came from a great little book: Lancashire: Who Lies Beneath, by Elisabeth Ashworth, about the stories behind the gravestones  of Lancashire churchyards. The book is a treasure trove of fascinating characters and covers many Lancashire graveyards. Visit Elizabeth's website

And tonight, find out more about the history of Gentlemen of the Road, watch the BBC 4 programme,


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