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How members of the notorious Frimley gang stole a fortune from the Kennards in Haywards Heath

Updated: Sep 27, 2020

'The Frimley Gang became notorious after one of their burglaries led to a murder. They hit the headlines in 1850 when four them broke into the Parsonage of Rev. Hollest, The curate at Frimley Green in Surrey. Hollest had left his door ajar in case his sons woke, and two of the masked burglars were able to surprise him In bed. At first the clergyman thought it was his sons playing a trick. While one held back his wife another shot him in the stomach and then ransacked the house. Hollest died two days later.

Three of them were soon arrested in Guildford, having been seen in the village at the dead of night by a maid in another house. Magistrates were told that Hiram Smith was the leader, and this was not a case of balanced reporting: 'His face, which wears a sallow unhealthy hue, is extremely forbidding in its expression, the features having that sharp prominent character which marks the rogue, while doubtful and hesitating glance of the eye indicates a disposition at once cunning and irresolute'.

Perhaps it is surprising then that Smith was never found guilty of the murder, no evidence being offered at his trial. Three were tried for murder at Kingston where the judge explained they had been acting together for a felonious purpose and therefore were all guilty of capital offence; the jury found Levi Harwood and James Jones guilty and they were sentenced to death, though the jury agreed with the prisoners that they had not fired the shots. Jones confessed that he had helped in the burglary and watched Levi Harwood fire the shot.

The gang was known to have been large and prolific. It had included 17 members, who had all been arrested by April. One of them, James Hamilton, confessed and gave a detailed account of their criminal lifestyle–sleeping in tents on common land while looking for suitable houses to rob under the leadership of John Isaacs. They robbed house at Kirdford, then met up at Homewood before robbing an old farmer near Horsham. They went the Misses Kennards near Haywards Heath, a shop at Hambledon in Surrey, The old Pie public house near Groombridge, and Miss Farcombe's house near Uckfield– A wide area. Isaacs was caught at Frome with a ring from the Farncombe house still in his possession. It was thought that the gang had stolen £1500 in a two year period, shifting their goods through Guildford and then to London to be sold.' From Crime and Criminals of Victorian England By Adrian Gray This is an extract from the sworn confession of gang member James Hamilton that relates to the break in and theft from the Kennards at Haywards Heath........

Sussex Advertiser - Tuesday 29 April 1851


Since the committal of James Hamilton he has made a full confession of all the burglaries which he and the gang have been engaged in during the last 12 months. Hamilton, in the commencement of his confession, states, "that the gang consisted of himself, Levi Harwood and James Jones (hung for the murder of Mr Hollest), Samuel Harwood, John and Edward Isaacs, William Brooks, Joseph Carter, John and James Hones alias Smith, Hiram Smith, Thomas Toot, alias Morgan, William Hillyer, John Brooks, Mary Crowder, Sarah White, and James Jones.

'John Isaacs was duly elected captain, and they were all sworn to obey his orders and if any one attempted to back out, or refused to take part any robbery or murder, if necessary, he or she was to be instantly shot; and if any one left the gang without the consent of the captain, he or she was to be followed, and if overtaken to be shot'.

After giving the particulars of the burglary at Kirdford, which have already been published, he goes on to say:

—“The second day after this Isaacs and John Hones came to me again at Farnham-common, and agreed for me to meet them at Dorking Homewood-common. Isaacs' brother Ned came to me, also John Hones and James Hones. We all went to an old man's house (a farmer near Horsham). They heard he had got a good deal of money. We all went, two at a time, from the Homewood. Six of us met in a wood near Mr Broadwood's lodge, and then we went from there to the farmer's house. One got into the window and let the rest at the back door. We all went into the kitchen. The old man heard us, and hallooed out, and we all left the house.

Four of us, myself, William Brooks, and James and Edward Isaacs, went down to a house on Haywards-heath, near the Brighton station where two or three ladies of the name of Kennard lived. This robbery was planned by William Brooks who knew the name. There was man-servant who was ill, and a maid servant, who slept in the same room to watch him. Her bed was right against the window, where the light was. The servant burnt a light all night, because the man was ill. I found a long ladder, and put it up to the window. It was sash window, which moved on one side. We all got into the window. The woman-servant was lying close to the window, and we fell over her. They went into the ladies' room disguised with masks. After pacifying the two servants they left me to mind them. The ladies' room was locked, but they broke open the door. They collected all the property that was there. They threatened to blow out the brains of the ladies if they gave any alarm. We were there two hours, during which time I sat down in a chair with the two servants, and kept talking to them all the time. It was just getting daylight when we left the house. We came back two at a time until got to Copthorn. There we looked the property over, and shared what money there was; £4 5s each was shared. There was deal of foreign money, which I took to be French. This was put amongst the plate, and 111 guineas in gold, and that gold was put with the gold watches. There were two gold watches and three silver ones. One gold watch had a gold face and steel hands, the other had a white face. Of the silver watches two were small plain ones, and the other was a hunting watch with a silver chain. There was a double-barrelled gun taken from the house, and we had two guns with us. There were a great many rings, and brooches and trinkets, which were put among the gold and plate, all of which John Isaacs took away to Guildford to give to one of the Guildford men (Levi Harwood), to go up to London with him to sell, for which the Guildford man was to have a share, as Isaacs did not then know where to go and sell it. There was also some clothing brought away, two pair of trousers, one pair of cord breeches, and a large shawl. These were all hid and lost, as the policeman came after it. The three guns were hid by the roadside.

My three companions all went together to London, and they gave me some money to take back to their women at Copthorn-common, where we had four tents. About an hour after I had left the men, and had returned to Copthorn-common, and was packing up my things, two policemen came along. They searched the tents, but they did not search me, although I had the money on me which I had shared. This was the same morning as the robbery at Hayward's heath. While the men were sharing the money the women hid the clothes and that was why the policeman did not find them. The policemen knew the women, and watched them, and talked to them for half an hour. ......."

Wanted poster courtesy of Cuckfield Museum

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