On November 9, 1690 near South Mimms, several highwaymen stopped a London-bound convoy and robbed it of the £15,000 in taxes it was carrying from the Midlands. During the holdup the highwaymen waylaid other passing travelers, plundered them and tied the victims to nearby trees.
Despite some arrests and the threat of execution by hanging, bands of highwaymen continued to target travellers in the area. One of the most famous of these highway crimes occurred on the summer evening of August 23, 1692. John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough, veteran of the battles of Sedgemoor and Walcourt, was riding in his coach attended by an escort of dragoons along the St Albans Road (he had an estate in St Albans). The coach carried a treasure chest packed with gold and silver coins. A band of perhaps 40 highwaymen ambushed Marlborough and his retinue. In the ensuing melee with the dragoons, as many as 10 highwaymen were killed. The bandits nevertheless managed to relieve the duke of 500 guineas. The ringleader of this and other escapades in the area was ‘Captain’ James Whitney.
Whitney was born into a poor family in Stevenage in about 1660. He started work as a butcher’s apprentice in Hitchin, and later became the landlord of the George Inn at Cheshunt (some sources report the name of the establishment as the White Bear or the Bell). His position as a publican put Whitney in contact with a stream of colourful characters, and highwaymen were among his patrons.
The business however proved unprofitable, and some of his criminal friends tried to convince Whitney to join their ranks and ‘take to the road.’ Tempted by visions of adventure and riches, the landlord ultimately agreed. Whitney’s cleverness, and perhaps his penchant for fancy clothes and manners, soon had him promoted to leader of his own gang, and he came to be referred to as ‘Captain’.
The size of the band varied, and Whitney periodically broke up the group and operated alone – the latter a tactic intended to confuse the authorities. The number of Whitney’s gang is reported to have been anywhere between 30 and 80 men. He is thought to have had 50 by 1690 when he targeted the coach at Wash Lane in South Mimms carrying £15,000 of tax money.
James Whitney was arrested and sent to Newgate prison. He was eventually caught and hanged at Tyburn for his crimes in 1693.
As many of you may know, South Mimms contains the remains of a Norman motte and bailey castle. Historic England’s listing on the castle states ” South Mimms motte and bailey castle is situated on an east-facing slope overlooking the Mimmshall Brook, about 1.25km north-west of South Mimms village. It includes a motte, c.9m in height and 35m in diameter at the base, in the north-west corner of a kidney-shaped bailey which measures 125m north-south by 110m east-west and is surrounded by a bank and ditch. The entrance to the inner bailey was on the south-west side where there is now a causeway across a ditch and a break in the rampart. There are traces of an outer bailey to the south. The castle is thought to have been built by Geoffrey de Mandeville in 1141 with a licence from Matilda and was probably destroyed in 1143. Excavations carried out by J Kent in 1961-5 revealed that a timbered tower had been built on the ground with an entrance on the south and that the motte had then been constructed around the tower with spoil from the defensive ditches. Pottery from the 13th and 14th centuries was uncovered during the excavation and suggests that occupation of the site continued after the destruction of the castle.”
Following a dig at the site some years ago, London & Middlesex Archaeological Society published a paper on the castle, which included a fantastic painting by the artist Faith Vardy, which is reproduced under copy -write with the Society’s kind permission.
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While the Local Plan seeks to identify sites across Hertsmere for future housing and employment opportunites, please bear in mind that at present there is no agreement nor a definite proposal for mass development in or near South Mimms. It is however true that three sites, primarily to the west/north west of the village, have been submitted to Hertsmere Borough Council by landowners and developers for consideration for housing/employment under the Local Plan procedure. There are also a more widely dispersed number of other sites, some quite sizeable, included in the potential sites document. You can see the sites under consideration here – South Mimms is covered in section 9 from page 137.
Not all sites submitted will need to be allocated and in the current phase Hertsmere are looking at which are the most appropriate locations across the whole Borough that could be developed. Hertsmere should publish their draft Local Plan proposals in 2020 but no more specific date has been set yet.
The Parish Council is taking a keen interest in all stages of the Local Plan and will represent the views of the local residents at every consultation opportunity
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