Sansbury, his relatives and gangs

Highwayman Sansbury PNL-140905-152314001
Highwayman Sansbury PNL-140905-152314001

Following last week’s Back to the Past column on Castle Gaol, Ed Grimsdale has been contacted by readers who have found more information on Highwayman Sansbury who was executed in Buckingham in 1743. Here is his response:

Reg Doble of Maids Moreton notes the website Ancestry has more details about the highwayman, Mansel Sansbury. It records that he was baptised in 1726 and his father was called Samuel. Mansel was trained as a cuttler (knife-maker). Ancestry claims that he was hanged at Aylesbury Prison in 1743 for being a highwayman although he was trading in Aylesbury as a grocer, highwayman being his part-time job.

Although we can be certain that Mansel was hanged along Moreton Road, by rights he should have been taken back to Aylesbury for execution. He was fast-tracked because of the lax security at Buckingham’s lock-up – its sole gaoler would lock its door and go home each night, leaving his inmates unguarded!

The Francis Woodcock that I mentioned was the gaoler at Aylesbury Prison. He would have travelled to Buckingham for the summer assizes with those to be charged and, poor man, remained responsible for the ‘county’s’ prisoners while they were lodged in our borough’s rotten lock-up.

Lyn Robinson has been researching and confirms that throughout the period under review (the 1730s) Francis Woodcock was the Aylesbury gaoler and he was paid £7.10 a quarter for providing food and necessaries for the poor prisoners.

He was also allowed his expenses for nursing sick prisoners and for conveying them to the assizes at Buckingham…

By 1743, that Francis Woodcock had died, and a fresh Francis Woodcock had become gaoler.

It sounds as if the gaoler’s job was handed down from father to son. In Buckingham, our greatest gaoler, William Giles, appointed his son as his assistant gaoler and his wife acted as matron.

Drink was Mansel’s downfall. After a successful ‘heist’ near Banbury, he bought brandy and settled down in a cornfield to have a quiet drink. Soon, all that could be heard was Mansel’s heavy snoring.

His faithful horse did its best to rouse him as pursuers closed in, but Mansel remained in the land of nod. Buckingham’s justice was swift and summary.

Folk in Banbury claim Sansbury to be ‘their’ villain. They can point to his family house. Evidence suggests there were several Sansburys operating across Bucks and Oxon each with a gang.

When one of them was caught, all turned out for the trial, as at Buckingham. What a threatening sight they must have been – imagine being Buckingham’s lone constable confronted with an unruly courtroom full of gangsters, armed to their teeth!