1885 perhaps witnessed the most notorious robbery in Cumbria’s history. A notorious ladder gang met and plotted to burgle Netherby Hall, the Cumberland seat of Sir Frederick Graham. The gang members comprised of Anthony Benjamin Rudge, John Martin, James Baker and accomplice William Baker. This group of men proved to be totally ruthless and were not afraid to use brutal force in their life of vice.
All the gang had a criminal past. Rudge was wanted for a robbery in Brixton, Martin was wanted for the murder of an Essex Police Inspector, and William Baker was a suspect in the theft of the Duchess of Montrose Jewels a few years earlier in Newcastle. This was a criminal gang to be reckoned with.
The gang met on 27 October 1885 at the Longtown Coursing meeting. At 8.15 p.m. the following day the alarm was raised by a maid. The Hall had been robbed! The gang had executed a daring and audacious robbery. After creeping undetected into the grounds, they had climbed up a ladder and robbed some of Lady Graham’s prized jewellery, then stealthily escaped the crime scene. All this occurred while the Grahams enjoyed their evening meal.
The gang was first encountered at Kingstown by Sergeant Roche and Constable Johnson of the Carlisle Constabulary. After a struggle the officers were beaten with a jemmy (a short crowbar). Then the gang turned their revolvers on the police. Sergeant Roche was shot in the arm and P.C Johnstone was shot in the chest while in pursuit. The gang headed for the Dalston Road Crossing of the North Eastern Railway and was met by P.C. Fortune, who was beaten unconscious with a jemmy. It was clear the gang would stop at nothing to escape and were prepared to meet the police with force.
The men made it to Plumpton where they were spotted by the stationmaster and the local constable P.C. Byrnes was informed. After going in search of the gang, P.C. Byrnes was shot in the head and thrown over a wall. Byrnes was mortally wounded and died of his injuries.
The criminals made their escape on a goods train to Keswick Junction South but were spotted by the guard, Geddes. The London and North Western Railwayman remained calm and did not alarm the stowaways. He drew up a note, which was spotted by the driver of a passing engine. The note asked the police to meet the train at Tebay. At Tebay, Geddes mustered together several railwaymen, who armed themselves with sticks and shovels. After a chase and struggle Martin and Rudge were secured. Both men were armed with revolvers. A guard named Cooper at Lancaster station later captured James Baker. William Baker was then arrested in Manchester.
William Baker was not present at the murder of P.C. Byrnes and was given penal servitude. The three other prisoners arrived in Carlisle and were nearly lynched by an angry mob. Lady Graham’s jewels were recovered near Tebay station. A three-day trial followed and Rudge, Martin and Baker were hanged on 8 February 1886. The violent criminals had met a violent end.