Jack Upperton Highwayman and Pensioner.


Jack Upperton Highwayman and Pensioner.

The local story of Jack (John) Upperton of Lyminster, West Sussex is known well to the Downland people. Thought to be aged over sixty and too old for heavy farm work, Jack (John) decided to draw down his pension in his own way. In 1770 Jack (John) concocted a plan to rob the mail coach on the old road between Arundel and Findon, likely to be today's A27.  . It was thought there was another accomplice, possibly Jack's brother, Richard Upperton but this was never proven. 

According to East Grinstead Assizes court papers (Worthing Occult & Paranormal Investigations (Facebook) written at the trial of Upperton on the 18th of March 1771, deep into  Clapham woods where Upperton still haunts today (see bibliography for you tube video)  laid in wait for the mail coach to make its way down through the wooded highway to Steyning. It was there at around 8pm on the 26th of August 1770 (26th of September 1770) our reluctant highwayman presented his flintlock mounted on his horse standing in the road and stopped William Bowles, Postboy and robbed him of one hundred and twenty pounds. According to the Bank of England inflation calculator this would have been about  seventeen thousand pounds in today's money. 

The Olde Lock up, East Grinstead.

One night in his local Tavern, Jack was spending his ill-gotten pension and ended up a little worse for wear. He confessed to a fellow patron his sinful deed. This information was brought to the attention of the local authorities. He was arrested in his home and remanded into custody at the Old Lock up, East Grinstead, West Sussex pending trial.  

Upperton was convicted, executed at Horsham on the 18th of March 1771 and Hung in Chains at Burpham common. The original gibbet post finally rusted away in the 1920s. A post is erected in the woods marked JU 1771 to mark the spot.

The Gibbet by Daphne Belt.

The Gibbet by Daphne Belt

A poor man through idleness lost his work
Jack Upperton never was good for much,
then his slow efforts caused him to shirk
with light fingers, others goods he’d touch.

He knocked so loud at the work house door
looking for charity and a nights warm haven,
thrown a shabby coat, food and nothing more
filthy skin the colour of the tree top Raven.

He left ‘The Spike’ in East Preston’s village
and scrounged some dregs of ale nearby,
dull brained thoughts then turned to pillage
the unfair world would not question why.

Slow he ambled into Upper Wepham Wood
there he fed by catching rabbits in a snare.
A dream befell him by night that seemed so good
dark plans of wrong doing came in to him there.

Grand ideas seeped slowly from a simple mind
one big robbery and he’d be made for life,
a mail coach route with Monarch’s Way aligned
he’d be rich enough for to take him a wife.

A coach house was nearby where worked a barmaid,
Jack tried to woe her with his hair brained plan,
she said she’d tell of him, but he made her afraid
then he struck her head hard with an old iron pan.

Oh God, Sweet Jesus what have I done here
in panic buried her deep in that dark wood.
Sweating like a pig his heart raced with fear
had he her bright smile so misunderstood?

He saw now that his robbery must be perfected
‘twixt Steyning, Findon and Portsmouth town,
Monarchs Way through these places connected
his love lay deep in Bluebell topped ground.

A mile from Arundel Castle’s stern high wall
Jack lay in wait with his wicked young brother.
To stop a coach with the highways men’s call
tied the Post Coachman then ran off into cover.

Leaving the post man alive was a dreaded mistake
he had seen Jacks ruddy face somewhere before
and made it his business and a statement to make
hoping to send Jack to the Horsham gaol door.

Sure enough it happened and Upperton remanded,
his swift trial was held at East Grinstead assizes
Sent to Horsham to hang as the judge commanded
Gibbets made to measure in all shapes and sizes.

Hung in public to warn and most horribly entertain
after the ‘Short Drop’ to slow the hanging death
causing shock to family and the maximum pain
as the prisoner struggles to take his last breath.

Condemned men were measured before the noose
to ensure the heavy cages most perfectly fit
the dead are held stiff and upright, not loose,
lowered from the gallows after life at last quit.

The Gibbet was then hung at the place of the crime,
dipped in hot tar for the sake of lasting longer.
Flesh rots away, slowly picked by birds in time.
Agony, of loved ones, who can bear it no longer.

The Gibbet post stands still, after hundreds of years.
That was the custom; it was the thief’s fate,
no soft feeling for family or their sorrowful tears.
Descendants bring flowers but regret is too late.

John Upperton was finally buried at that place
his ghost often seen walking along with a lady
they hold hands sadly and turn to stand face to face
then slowly walk on through the woods so shady.



  1. What a brutal way to be executed... atleast he had his final drink 😂.

  2. Thank you Khalid for your contribution again ! I wondered if He toasted the Royal Mail for his fortune ! :-)

  3. Fascinating read , enjoying your work Sir. Looking forward to your next piece.


Post a Comment

Our most popular posts this month !

The story of the Wreck of the VOC Ship The Amsterdam, Bulverhythe, Hastings, East Sussex.

The Hawkhurst Gang Season 1 Episode 2

The Hawkhurst Gang Season 1 Episode 1.

Sir Martin Frobisher by Taliesin Trow.