STANDING unobtrusively on Boxmoor Common, Hemel Hempstead, a white stone is said to mark the grave of James Snooks, reputedly the last highwayman in England to hang.

Snooks was born in 1761, at Hungerford. Before he was 40 he was well established in his career as a highwayman, and became a wanted man, forever on the run.

In May, 1801, Snooks robbed a postboy, John Stevens, who was carrying the mail between Tring and Hemel Hempstead. He then fled to London.

The robbery was reported to High Constable John Page, of Berkhamsted, who posted "Wanted £300 Reward" notices for Snooks' capture. Snooks remained at liberty until December, when he was captured and taken to Newgate Prison, thence to Hertford Assizes for trial.

Snooks was sentenced to death, whereupon the High Constable, who obviously also had high powers, stipulated he should be hanged as close to the scene of the crime as possible.

So James Snooks was hanged and buried at Boxmoor, an event reputedly witnessed by thousands of people who came from far and wide especially for the occasion.

Evidently, the officials at the "ceremony" repaired to the Swan public house, by the side of the old A41.

This was a fitting location, since this was the road where highwaymen would accost the stagecoach while it was on its long journey between London and Markyate.

Strangely, the white stone-marker on Snooks' grave bears the name Robert, possibly deriving from Robber Snooks.

This is fitting, too.

After all, that's exactly what he was.

January 30, 2002 19:30