GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY 50th ANNIVERSARY: How crime of the century made Vale famous around the world

Share this article


This was the front page headline in The Bucks Herald of Friday August 9, 1963 which appeared the day after what was to become known as The Great Train Robbery.

The heist at Sears Crossing, Cheddington and subsequent trial in Aylesbury made the Vale famous around the world.

Great Train Robbery images from Bucks Herald

Great Train Robbery images from Bucks Herald

For a time it looked like as though those daring bandits might get away with their £2.5 million haul in old bank notes.

But, because the money was too hot to handle the gang had decided to hide out not far from the scene of the crime at Leatherslade Farm, Brill. The Bucks Police Force, as it was known then, were tipped off about suspicious activity at the farm by herdsman John Maris.

He was able to buy a new house in Quainton with the £10,000 reward he received.

More than 40 policeman surrounded the farm but no-one was there. Officers clambered through an upstairs window and made their way to the cellar where they found sacks stuffed with money from all the major High Street banks. But it was only part of their massive haul – the remainder had disappeared.

Great Train Robbery images from Bucks Herald

Great Train Robbery images from Bucks Herald

Aylesbury soon became the centre of the nation’s biggest-ever manhunt. The farm was checked for fingerprints and police also enrolled the help of local children.

They were checking with them to see if any had noted down the car numbers of any vehicles seen in the area of the farm.

‘Many of the children in the area collect car numbers and the police are interviewing every one of them who might have been jotting down numbers during the past week’, we reported.

Two weeks after the raid the arrests began and it was revealed that at the farm police had found ‘enough provisions to feed a small army’, including 170 eggs, 33 tins of baked beans, 19 tins of pork luncheon meat, knives and forks for up to 16 people and even 34 toilet rolls.

Arrests continued and the trial began on January 20 1964.

The committal took place in the Aylesbury Rural District Council Chamber in Walton Street because the Bucks Assizes building in the centre of the town was not large enough to accommodate the 20 accused along with 30 barristers and five rows of press seats.

A special dock had to be built for the defendants who included Charles Wilson, James Hussey, Douglas Goody, Robert Welch, Roy James and, of course, Ronnie Biggs. It was estimated that each robber had at least a £100,000 share from the robbery. The court saw more than 600 exhibits and heard a total of 240 witnesses over a five-week period.

It brought considerable business to the town with lawyers, police and press taking all the accommodation available in local hotels. In one pub, the Old Millwright Arms in Walton Street, a large wooden plaque was put up, with a train carved across the top. Many of those who ate and drank there during the investigation and trial signed their names below it.

After a 58-day trial, sentences were passed at the Bucks Assizes in Market Square and those responsible for writing the name of Aylesbury into the records of historic crime received a total of 573 years behind bars.

Even 50 years on, their crimes show no sign of being forgotten.

> Vale men who played key roles bringing gang to justice

> Rookie reporter was one of first on the scene

> Great Train Robbery exhibition at Railway Centre