The Highwayman’s Hoard.
A few weeks ago I was in my local charity shop (lets face it there isn’t much else in the high street these days) when I came across what I consider quite a rare book. One of the stories in this book tells of the bizarre story of a Highwayman who was caught and hung on the road which leads from Knutsford to Alderley Edge in the county of Cheshire. As the location is no more than ten miles away from where I live it caught my interest, the story is as follows although I have left out some clues for obvious reasons.
Ned Holden the highwayman in question was active in the Knutsford area and had managed to acquire a large amount of stolen goods and jewellery before he was eventually captured by the authorities and hung from a tree along the Knutsford to Alderley Edge road. However at this point the story becomes rather bizarre because a vagrant named Gammin observed two figures cutting the Highwayman down from the tree, under a full moon in the early hours of the morning.
The vagrant decided to watch what the two men were going to do with the corpse, and using the undergrowth managed to approach without being seen until he was within earshot of the two men. The following is taken straight from the book in question: The men were John Gough and Toby Rogers; two young dabblers in the Black Arts and avid students of the alchemist and mathematician, John Dee, who was, at that time, the warden of Manchester college, Gough and Rogers had read Dee’s books, which were branded heretical and blasphemous.
The corpse was laid out in a clearing, beneath a lantern suspended from a branch. One of the men started to recite unintelligible words, while the other one knelt down by the corpse and scrutinised its face. Gammin looked on, fascinated, eager to discover what they were up to. He was soon to find out.
By the lantern’s light, the corpse’s mouth was seen to flicker. Then the eyelids opened wide to reveal two vivid white eyeballs. Gammin felt faint as he witnessed the Highwayman being re-animated by the black magic. He didn’t know it but Gough and Rodgers were practising the ancient and well documented art of necromancy, raising a dead person back to life in order to obtain information.
One of the men was heard repeatedly asking the corpse where he had hidden the proceeds of his robberies. The Highwayman’s eyes rolled and, in a raspy, chilling voice, he asked, “Where am I?”
The necromancer told him he was dead and damned to spend eternity in Hell unless he revealed the location of his treasure. The corpse made a moaning sound and gave them clues (which I have omitted) as to where the treasure was located. At this point, Gammin was spotted and chased by the black magicians but he managed to lose them in the woods. He alerted the authorities but Gough and Rodgers could not be found. The notorious pair were later sighted in Manchester but never caught. It is known that Gammin searched for the location of the treasure, however he was unsuccessful in his attempt and as far as is known the treasure remains hidden to this day.
On Monday 11th of May I travelled to Knutsford library in the hope of uncovering more information regarding this story. Although I was unable to find any information regarding a Ned Holden I did find plenty of references to Edward Higgins a known Highwayman from Knutsford who I have written about elsewhere on this website ttps://ludchurchmyblog.wordpress.com/places-of-interest-in-cheshire/the-highwaymans-house/. Probably the reason I couldn’t find any information was that he was overshadowed by his counterpart and added to this was the fact that he was active a long time before Higgins was on the scene and the records don’t tend to go back this far. After this I concentrated my efforts on looking for possible locations where the treasure may have been concealed. I made a couple of assumptions the first was that Holden had been operating locally and had hidden the treasure fairly close to where he had been operating, this would have been for his own convenience as he wouldn’t have wanted to travel 20-30 miles away to add to his treasures, plus also he would have been more familiar with the area that he was operating in. The second assumption I made was that wherever the treasure was located, that the land had not been built on over the intervening years.
So by using the old county maps that I had found in the library, then by eliminating all the buildings and roads that had been built after the death of Holden and then comparing this to a modern Ordnance survey map, I then included the clues which I had omitted from the story, and after a few hours of studying I was able to pinpoint 3 possible locations as to where this treasure may have been placed. However over the number of centuries that the treasure has remained hidden and not giving to much away I believe that there is now many feet of silt which has built up over the years, and so if the economy takes a downturn I may just be reaching for my shovel!