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Author Topic: The Great Train Robbery 1855  (Read 2266 times)

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Offline CommanderChuff

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Re: The Great Train Robbery 1855
« Reply #3 on: November 30, 2017, 10:27:50 »
This episode is one of the interesting features which I am planning to model on my Folkestone Harbour railway layout so I have been looking at the background of this event and would like to offer some additional info for your review and comment.  These are my observations from interpreting the photos and info which I have found so far.  Please do add to this or challenge any of my comments,

1.  The sequence of events for the 1855 robbery as described by Nemo is that the London - Dover mail train had a brake van with guard onto which gold bullion boxes were loaded.  During the stop at Folkestone Junction some bullion was unloaded and transported to the harbour station for loading onto the Bolougne ferry.  How this was done is unclear at the moment.  At Dover the bullion boaxes were unloaded and carried to the ferry.

2.  The NRM and Police Archives have a picture of the actual bullion box from the robbery, which is a plain wooden box about 20 inches square,18 inches deep, with lid and iron clasps.  The Dover Historian has posted pictures of metal bullion boxes which have the appearance of an ammunition box from the Great War, and may have been later versions of the box. In this photo are some very well dressed gentlemen one of whom is in a glossy top hat.

3.  The Folkestone Harbour station was completed and opened in 1950, and Brian Hart's book shows a Alan Taylor photograph of the station taken in 1856.  The railway has built a bullion shed with a carriage and horse loading dock.  This small shed was designed to be be a close fit for a bullion van.  A member of the Folkestone MRC club has said that there were sliding doors on the side of the shed which, when opened, gave access to the matching doors on the van.  The intention of this special building appears to make it impossible for any person to be inside the shed, or on the outside of the van, to be able get at the bullion boxes when the van is berthed.  The shed is rail connected to the branch line at the harbour station by a wagon turntable.

4.  I have found drawings for two types of special bullion van in the HMRS catalogue.  These are for a 4 wheel and 6 wheeled van.  The vans are built with a metal strongroom in the centre of the body.  The 6 wheel version of 30 tons has external doors at the ends of the van and access to the strongroom appears to be from inside the van.  This wheelbase of this type would appear to unsuitable for the bullion shed or on a standard diameter wagon turntable so may have only been employed on the London-Dover mainline.

5.  The 4 wheeled van could have been the vehicle which was used to take bullion down to the harbour. These could have been shunted into the bullion shed for unloading via the wagon turntables.  At the time of buildng the harbour station a turntable was installed to link the sidings on the South Quay to the down branch line.  A second TT was added to the up line to connect the carriage and horse loading dock. A third TT was added between the two branch lines to connect the bullion shed.  The TT's were lifted in 1897-1904 (x2) and 1933 (x1).

6.  Bullion and other precious specie was an important cargo for Folkestone as there are references in some sources, but I do not have details of these at the moment nor the timelines of when this cargo was shipped out or received.  However, a special traffic notice of the SECR dated 1918 states that several 6 wheeled guard vans have been modified to install a bullion safe into the body.  These are accessed from the outside by small doors at floor level at the end of the vehicle.  The arrangement is similar to the dog boxes of old.  The SECR railway society printed a photo of such a van at Dover and the safe door is clearly shown.  The bullion shed is still visible in a photogrpah of the harbour station dated 1934 from the Maidstone Museum.

Hopefully this is of interest and once again, these are only my observations of the information which is available to me at this time.  Please so comment with additions or changes. 

Royal Navy, Aircraft Engineer, Project Manager, Yachtsman, Eroica Cyclist,  Railway Modeller

Offline Sentinel S4

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Re: The Great Train Robbery 1855
« Reply #2 on: May 12, 2016, 21:14:02 »
You mention the stops, possibly for water. That is very probable as the locos were quite small compared to modern (sic) machines. However as it was a Mail that does not denote a fast train. You only have to remember that the train lost in the Tay Bridge Disaster of 1879 was also a mail that stopped at most stations along its route, a mail train set down and collected the mail throughout the journey.

It was probable that this was a specific Guards Van that was detached at Folkestone Junction and taken down to the Harbour later, don't forget that the train ran to a time but the Chanel Packets ran to Tides, probably why they did not hit the Boat Train.

The main reason for hitting this train as the Gold was the Soldiers pay for the Crimea, we were at war with Russia at the time and the French were our Allies (another reason the Gold was sent to France). Had they hit the train as little as six months earlier they would have almost doubled their haul as, by the time of the robbery, the army was winding down and coming home.

Sadly much has been lost due to time but there is still enough to make it a damn good, Boys Own read. Michael Chrichton managed to gloss the story up enough for a reasonable film to be made (a book I have read the cover off several times). If you ignore the gloss and get through to the Court Room section it becomes quite interesting.

A day without learning something is a day lost and my brain is hungry. Feed me please.

Offline Nemo

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The Great Train Robbery 1855
« Reply #1 on: May 12, 2016, 16:00:46 »
We don’t appear to have had a thread on this subject before.  In brief the story appears to go like this…

In the 1850s there was a traffic in gold bullion from London to Paris that was conveyed by the SER to Folkestone, crossed the channel to Boulogne and travelled onwards by train to Paris.  In 1855 a gang of criminals, including ‘inside help’, successfully substituted lead shot for bullion during the journey from London to Folkestone and made off with gold, worth c.£1m today.  The absence of the gold was suspected upon arrival of the strongboxes at Boulogne, but not definitively established until they were opened in Paris.  The SER was forced to compensate the despatchers without discovering how the heist had been pulled off.  However, one of the gang was subsequently convicted of an unconnected offence and turned Queens Evidence; the story came out and the gang was identified, prosecuted and convicted in 1857.

The above précis comes from these web articles: and its link to a 1955 article

There are a couple of points from these accounts that I find interesting.

First of all, although the gold traffic crossed the channel from Folkestone Harbour, and the gang had conducted much research there, they opted to steal gold that was specifically on a Dover Mail train rather than a Folkestone Boat train.  I would’ve thought that gold was gold.

Secondly, the substitution and removal were performed in essentially two stages – between London Bridge and Redhill/Reigate stations and between there and Folkestone.  At London Bridge one gang member joined his guard helper in the van, made the switch and passed the first lot of gold to an accomplice on Redhill/Reigate station during the (scheduled) stop there.  The pair in the van were joined by another gang member and proceeded to make a further substitution, the gold going into their carpetbags but remaining in the guardsvan.  During a further stop before Folkestone, the two “civilians” moved to a carriage elsewhere in the train.  At Folkestone they moved again and observed the SER unloading the strongboxes whilst leaving the carpetbags in place.  Finally, on arrival at Dover Town station, they retrieved their carpetbags from their guard colleague and returned to London with the gold.

This makes it sound as if gold shipments on a Dover Mail train were offloaded at Folkestone Junction and somehow transferred to Folkestone Harbour.  Further, that Dover Mail trains made at least 3 stops en route; I rather thought that Mail trains were limited stop – so would these stops have been to take on water?


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