Beware, the ghost of highwayman Snooks

Snooks' headstone not long after it was erected, and as it appears today - photos and information courtesy of Joan and Roger Hands
Snooks' headstone not long after it was erected, and as it appears today - photos and information courtesy of Joan and Roger Hands

It’s Halloween on Friday, so why not visit the creepy grave of Snooks, England’s last highwayman to be executed?

Some say that if you you run around it three times at midnight, calling his name three times, his ghost will appear.

James Snook was hanged at around the age of 40 in Boxmoor on March 11, 1802, near the place where he robbed the Tring Mail on May 10, 1801.

He stole bags of letters, some of which contained large banknotes, from a post-boy.

One of the banknotes was traced back to him after he tried to get a servant girl in Southwark, London, to buy him some cloth for a coat.

A then-huge reward of £200 was placed on his head.

Law records state that his crime was committed on Box Moor, ‘near Bone (Bourne) End in the Parish (at that time) of Northchurch’.

He was caught after a thrilling chase by former schoolmates, who recognised him, through Marlborough Forest.

He had a brace of loaded pistols and a lot of money on him when he was captured.

He was described as aged 30 to 40, about 5ft 10ins tall, with short, light brown hair and a face pitted with smallpox when he was sent to Hertford Gaol on March 4, 1802.

People flocked to the moor to see Snooks hanged. He reportedly had a traditional last drink at the former Swan Inn and told passing crowds: “It’s no good hurrying – they can’t start the fun until I get there!”

Exactly where he was buried is a mystery, but the Box Moor Trustees put a headstone on ‘Snook’s Moor’ in 1904 and a footstone was added in 1994.

James Snook, who became known as Snooks, was born in Hungerford on August 16, 1761. He was the second of John and Mary Snook’s four children. He is sometimes called Robert – understood to be a corruption of ‘robber’.

He was wanted for highway robberies between Salisbury and Bath. He was indicted for horse theft at the Old Bailey in 1799 under the alias James Blackman, but was acquitted through lack of evidence.

Hemel Hempstead’s former Pavilion theatre had a bar named after him – Snook’s Bar, and Dacorum Heritage Trust cares for the paintings that once hung on its walls.

> You can learn more in Royalty to Comoners – Four Hundred Years of the Box Moor Trust by Joan and Roger Hands. It is available from the Box Moor Trust Centre in London Road, opposite Snook’s Moor.