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robbers


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Local oral history often preserved reasonably accurate memories of the crimes of robbers, smugglers, and highwaymen for several generations, especially if the inns they frequented and the gallows and gibbets where they died were still standing. Yet there was always a tendency for tales to grow in the telling. Sometimes the rogue is recalled as a hero for his physical strength, sometimes for his clever tricks to outwit the law: stolen sheep hidden in a cider barrel, horses shod backwards, smuggled goods carried in coffins, etc. The opposite tendency was to see the robber as a villain who met an appropriate fate, as in the story of the Hangman's Stone.

There are several tales from Victorian times, presented as true, in which a robber gains entry to a house in disguise, or hidden in a box or bundle left there by an accomplice, or by using a Hand of Glory; a young servant-girl, alone in the house, contrives to wound him, put him to flight, or even kill him by pouring boiling fat down his throat as he sleeps, or applying a red-hot poker (Briggs, 1970–1: A. i. 307; B. i. 171–2, 183–4; Charles Dickens, ‘The Holly Tree’ (1855).


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