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Highwaymen and Respectable Highwaymen

From as early as the 13th century, highwaymen had been a problem in our area but there were severe penalties when such ‘gentlemen of the road’ were caught.

One such example was a resident of Oole who owned land there and at Itterby but nevertheless took advantage of the lack of protection and took to the road to hold up the odd wealthy merchant or the odd creaky coach, or fish cart, that passed down his way. Unfortunately for him, he was caught in the act, taken to Grimsby, had a very short (and probably unfair) trial, was taken to the gallows and hung – all within a few hours.

This speed seemed necessary to the Grimsby Burgesses, as otherwise he could have been rescued by comrades from his own area. There was, even then, little love between the two areas of Grimsby and Clee.

With the decline of the feudal system came another traveller’s problem – the growth of the ‘respectable highwayman’.

Both Cleethorpes and Grimsby were sorely troubled by such gentlemen who merely required a strong chain, made perhaps by the local blacksmith, to conduct their trade.

This chain they hung across roads or even rivers and streams and they charged a fee for anyone who wished to cross. This changed sometimes to extracting goods by force from local people who were proceeding to trade in neighbouring markets and fairs.

Often they claimed to own the area ( perhaps they did, perhaps not) but in the traveller’s eyes, they seemed to have the right to demand money for the removal of the chain.

Thus, in the 13th Century, grew up a type of war by the people of Oole and Itterby against neighbouring parishes and in particular Grimsby.

One such Oole resident was Simon Bond, who with Henry Leycurtes of Clee and with the added authority of Roger Stow, the Bailiff of the Earl of Lincoln, became notorious and extremely wealthy with this practice.

The three were up to all types of mischief and as an example the Court records of the time, tell the story of a porpoise that had been found by a Walter Unkel upon the beach near his home. At the time, porpoise was considered an expensive luxury and the three highwaymen heard about this, raided Walter’s house, seized the fish and took it to Thoresby, cut it up, sold the meat and divided the profits between them.

Grimsby burgesses, were informed by their tenant Walter Unkel of the happening and they took court action. The burgesses claimed fishing rights along the coast where the fish was allegedly found, but in this period, any wrecks or waifs and strays found on the beach, were the property of the Earl of Lincoln, and his Bailiff, Roger Stow, and therefore it was claimed the seizing of the fish was legal.

However the King’s justices found against the three and fined them. This was apparently the only time these ‘gentlemen highwaymen’ were brought to justice and otherwise all three carried out their profitable trade for many years.