The Highwaymen of Swinbrook Manor
13 January 2023
The year was 1806 and the locals of Swinbrook had started to notice something a bit off about the new tenants of Swinbrook Manor...
Swinbrook Manor is put up for rent
The Fettiplace family was at one time the most wealthy family in Oxfordshire. They built themselves a grand manor house at Swinbrook along with the beautiful church next door as well as founding a number of charities that benefited the local area.
However, by the early 19th century their fortune had dwindled away, the male line had died out and the aged Miss Fettiplaces who occupied Swinbrook Manor decided to downsize. They moved into a nearby cottage and let it be known that the manor was available to rent.
Swinbrook Manor was soon tenanted by Mr Freeman, a wealthy gentleman from London who arrived with his own retinue of servants and staff. It wasn't clear where Mr Freeman got his money from, but he certainly wasn't shy of spending it and he made himself popular by inviting the local gentry to the the Manor for lavish parties.
The highway robberies begin
However, around the same time, a spate of highway robberies began to plague the Oxford-Gloucester road. None of these occurred particularly close to Swinbrook, but it was clear that there was a new gang operating and the busy road became perilous to travel at night.
These robberies went on for more than a year, with the perpetrators successfully avoiding capture and pocketing a large amount of stolen booty.
During this time, people started to notice a few unusual things about the Freeman household. A number of people remarked that the servants Mr Freeman had brought with him from London were rather rough and uncouth. People who called at the manor in the mornings would often find the whole household very tired and sleepy, almost as if they had a very late night.
A local lad employed as a stable boy was perplexed, finding that he would often put the horses to bed at night well groomed and fresh, only to return in the morning to find the horses exhausted and splashed with mud. When he asked about this he was told sharply to mind his own business, and he was strictly forbidden to set foot inside the manor house itself.
The shocking truth is revealed
Swinbrook Manor's mysterious goings-on were eventually explained in dramatic fashion. During a botched highway robbery one of the robbers was shot, and while his accomplices fled, the injured man was apprehended. He was identified as none other than Mr Freeman's butler!
The truth came out: the occupants of Swinbrook Manor were a wanted gang of highwaymen who had seen it prudent to move their base of operations west into Oxfordshire when there usual home counties stamping ground got a little too hot for them.
Mr Freeman and his butler were tried for highway robbery at Gloucester and hanged. According to Katherine M. Briggs, the curious stable boy from earlier managed to acquire the dastardly pairs pistols, which he proudly kept as a memento.
Notes of the location of Swinbrook Manor
Although I've used the location of the modern day Swinbrook Manor as the location for this story, according to Roger Long in Curious Oxfordshire, the original manor house fell into disrepair after its last occupants left for the gallows, and was eventually pulled down. It's not clear if the present day manor house stands on the site of the older as Long states that 'not a stone remains' of the previous house.
- 'Folklore of the Cotswolds' by Katherine M. Briggs (B.T. Batsford Ltd, 1974, ISBN: 0713428317)
- 'Curious Oxfordshire' by Roger Long (2008, The History Press, ISBN: 9780750949576)