The Highwayman’s House.
In the small Cheshire town of Knutsford can be found a short road named Gaskell avenue, if you travel nearly to the end of it you will see two white coloured houses numbered 19 and 20 which have been known by various names. Today they are known as “Heath House”, in the past they were known as “Heathfield” and prior to that it was used as a weights and measures house back in the late 17th early 18th century when it was known as “Cann Office House”. It was probably around 1757 when Edward Higgins moved into this area as his marriage to Kathleen Birtles is recorded in the parish register so it is assumed he moved into Heath House around that time. What the local population were unaware of was Higgins chequered past. It is said that he was tried for sheep stealing in Worcester, which if found guilty would have meant the death penalty, however he was acquitted through lack of evidence. However two years later he was not so fortunate as he was caught breaking into a house in Worcester and sentenced to be transported to the American Colonies for seven years.
After arriving in the Colonies he decided it was not for him, so he promptly broke into a house in Boston and used the proceeds of the crime to buy a ticket back to England, under an assumed name I assume (excuse the pun). After a short time in Manchester Higgins eventually settled in Knutsford where he took on the persona of a gentleman, we know this because when his five children were baptised this is what he gave as his occupation.
Higgins must have been convincing in his role as a gentleman as he wined and dined with the local Gentry and at the same time took the opportunity of eyeing up their valuables, of which he relieved them of at a more convenient time. Higgins would leave Knutsford for a month or two every year and would explain this absence too his rich friends in that he was having to travel extensively to collect rents on the many properties he owned. These absences were the times when he would indulge in his favourite hobby of housebreaking which would take place as far afield as Bristol, Camarthenshire and Gloucester.
Higgins luck ran out while breaking into a house in Camarthen in 1767, he was caught red handed and sentenced to be hanged on the 7th of November of that year, however Higgin’s wasn’t going to the gallows without a fight, he paid an accomplice to forge a reprieve letter and have it delivered, unfortunately the authorities must have seen through the ruse as the hanging went ahead. He left a wife and five children who were totally in the dark to his criminal activities.