Monthly Archives: April 2017

The Highwayman’s Accomplice

At our meeting on Thursday, 13th April,  Tom Lane will reveal  notorious characters from the past in “Lincolnshire Crime and Criminals”.   He will be accompanied by folk singing duo Steppin’ Stones,  to entertain us with local ballads about some of the villains.

Exploits of  the infamous highwayman, Gamaliel Ratsey, who was born in Market Deeping and hanged in 1605, will be included in the talk.  His wit and style made him nationally renown, but it’s less well known that one of Ratsey’s accomplices, Henry Shorthose, was also from Market Deeping.  The Shorthose family were respectable and prosperous yeomen, butchers and shopkeepers in the early 1600s.  Henry was well educated but got into debt and turned to criminal ways.  He teamed up with Ratsey and another man called George Snell to waylay wealthy travellers and rob them.   A favourite place for their ambushes was Helpston Heath.

On one occasion, their victims were nine Lincolnshire men riding to London. Shorthose and Snell hid in a copse, while Ratsey convinced the travellers they risked losing lives or limbs unless they handed over £200.  Sometimes he befriended victims first by passing himself off as a gentleman. He would be mounted on a high quality (stolen) horse while Shorthose and Snell rode in front and behind him like servants.  They stayed overnight at inns, discovering who was worth robbing and which direction they were riding, before setting off in advance and laying in wait.

When he was not on missions with Ratsey, Henry Shorthose’s speciality was robbing London shop-keepers by deception.  He and George Snell  would enter a shop carrying a parcel and convince the person serving them that it contained goods of high value.  They then selected items worth slightly less and explained they needed to show them to a relative who lived nearby, before completing the purchase.  A clothier once accompanied them to the Castle Inn, Cornhill, and was happy to wait outside, holding their parcel which supposedly contained silk and lace, while the men took a suit of clothes inside, under pretence that the innkeeper was Shorthose’s brother.  The thieves left the inn by another door and when the clothier realised their trick and opened the parcel, he discovered worthless flax and tow.  They performed similar deceptions on a stationer and ironmonger, among others.

George Snell was the more hardened thief and had already been branded twice on his hand.  His luck ran out again when he was arrested for stealing a horse in Kent. At the same time, he and Shorthose and Ratsey were all wanted for a robbery they had committed in Bedfordshire.  To obtain leniency, Snell revealed where Ratsey could be found and both men were imprisoned in Newgate.   Henry Shorthose was still free, but a few weeks later while in London, he confided in a man he knew from Deeping St James, named Walter Skellington, who tipped off the keepers of Newgate.

Henry Shorthose and his partners in crime stood trial at Bedford and were all hanged at Gallows Corner on 26th March 1605.  Due to Ratsey’s fame, within a month of their deaths, two books were published describing their exploits – “The Life and Death of Gamaliel Ratsey” and “Ratsey’s Ghost”.

It will  be a welcome return visit by Tom Lane and Steppin’ Stones, who are sure to give a lively account of the county’s wrongdoers.  The meeting starts at 7.30pm in the Conference Centre, Deepings School.  Everyone is welcome.  There is a charge of £2 for non-members.