The Cock Road Gang

The whole of the parish of Bitton was terrorized at the end of the eighteenth century by the Cock Road gang, who demanded an annual payment of protection money, with payment of half a guinea and sometimes five shillings, paid annually at Lansdown Fair, according to local newspapers. Despite two of the gang members, Joseph Fry and Samuel Ward from Bitton Parish, being executed for robbery in 1786, the crime continued to increase, particularly coin counterfeiting and robbery. The gang was led by members of the Caines family who liked to frequent the Blue Bowl Inn at Hanham. It led to the setting up of the ‘Kingswood Association for the prosecution of thieves, housebreakers, etc.’ and a group of vigilantes called the ‘Bitton Troup’.

When one of the alleged gang members, Isaac Cribb, was apprehended in 1815 the gang stormed the Lock-Up in Bitton High Street to try to free him, according to Ian Bishop in his book The Cock Road Gang, and two constables, Moses Batt and Charles Bull, barricaded the Lock-Up and were rescued by a posse of constables from Bristol.

A major turn-around was made when the city watchmen of Bristol, in 1815, surrounded in turn each of the houses of the gang members at night and took off 25 prisoners to Gloucester Gaol.

The Caines Family

The Caines family were the most notorious members of the gang. Rev. Ellacombe of St Mary’s Bitton recalls holding the funeral services for Benjamin Caines after his execution in 1817 for burglary, and how 12 members of the same family had been executed or transported:

‘The eldest son George was transported for life for housebreaking; Thomas and Benjamin were executed for burglary; Thomas, Joseph and Samuel transported for burglary; James, a grandson of old Benjamin, executed for murder; Francis and Thomas, grandsons, transported; other descendants transported or executed; three daughters had their respective husbands executed or transported.’

 

BlueBowl

A Reformed Community

Efforts were made to improve the education of the people of Cock Road, by a number of societies including The Bristol Methodist Sunday School Society who built a school house in 1813 on Cock Road. Religious education was particularly important in turning around the inhabitants from those that had a reputation as being lawless ruffians at the start of the nineteenth century. By 1840, crime was so low that the inhabitants petitioned against a tax for the establishment of the rural police. By the end of the century the same people were described in Braine’s History of Kingswood Forest as poor but contented and to have: ‘steady perseverance and plodding industrious pursuits’. The Rev. H.T.Ellacombe in 1883 described the dramatic change: ‘Kingswood (Cock-road especially, once a city of refuge for deserters from the army and outlaws of every kind) is now, by God’s blessing, as quiet orderly and peaceable as any place in the County of Gloucestershire.’