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60 Years Since the Great Train Robbery

Authored by Niamh Franklin
Published on 8th August, 2023 2 min read

60 Years Since the Great Train Robbery

Today (08/08/2023) is the 60th anniversary of the Great Train Robbery, an event which has since taken on increasingly fantastical dimensions in popular media. On 8 August 1963, fifteen men set out to rob an overnight Royal Mail train. Intercepted at Cheddington, the group proceeded to steal almost £2.6 million from the train. After altering the signal lights and cutting the wires to the nearest railway phone two of the robbers entered the train, captured the fireman, and injured the driver before forcing him to drive the train to Bridego Railway Bridge, later known as Train Robber’s Bridge. The group then stole 120 High Value Packet sacks of mail. They returned to a safehouse at Leatherslade Farm in Buckinghamshire with a £260,000 bounty hanging over their heads. Yet they made one key mistake which had the police department hot on their heels. Just before fleeing, one member of the gang told the hostage postal workers not to move for half an hour, indicating that the safehouse was within a 30-mile radius. After hearing this reported on a radio, the gang realised that they could not stay as long as they had originally planned at Leatherslade farm and it was decided that they would leave the next day. This shortened time scale allowed the robbers to distribute their loot and, bizarrely, to play a game of Monopoly with the stolen money. 

Meanwhile, farmer John Maris grew suspicious of his new neighbours who had blacked-out the windows to Leatherslade farmhouse. Maris called the police twice to alert them of the group. When some officers were finally sent, more evidence implicating the fifteen men was uncovered. Despite the robber's attempts to clean the property for fingerprints, the police found multiple prints on the Monopoly board, a mistake that only amplified the theatrical heights of the robbery. Fingerprints were also found on a used ketchup bottle after the plans to burn down the farmhouse fell through. Ultimately, the police were left frustrated by this case and its elusive perpetrators until an informer, who has not been named to this day, gave them key information which facilitated the arrest of the robbers. Eventually, all the members were sentenced in court, their total imprisonment adding up to 307 years. The case earned further notoriety when one of the members known as Ronnie Biggs escaped prison in 1965. After getting face-altering plastic surgery Biggs went on to live as a fugitive for a further thirty-six years, during which he featured on the 1978 Sex Pistols song ‘No-one is Innocent’. He returned to Britain in 2001 to serve the remainder of his sentence, thus bringing the case of the Great Train Robbery to a close.

Authored by Niamh Franklin

Niamh Franklin

Niamh Franklin is a History graduate from the University of Bristol.

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The British Online Archives Notable Days diary is a platform intended to mark key dates and events throughout the year. The posts draw attention to historical events and figures, as well as recurring cultural traditions and international awareness days, in both religious and secular contexts.

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