Strange goings on on Otmoor – 1824

Strange goings-on on Otmoor


From Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 13th March 1824


Richard Higgs, an old man of 70, and Thomas Higgs, his son, stood charged with stealing a gelding, the property of Mr Coates, so long ago as August 1817. The date of the alleged offence excited great surprise, when mentioned by Mr Cross, who conducted the prosecution.

   William Gibbard then told the following story:-

In the summer of 1817, I worked for the prisoners. In August in that year, Richard Higgs, the old man, said to me, “I am going to fetch a horse off of Otmoor; if you tell, I’ll shoot you.” This was between nine and ten o’clock at night – I was then in his yard – afterwards I saw the horse of Mr Coates brought in by the father and son, one collaring, the other leading him – I had known the horse from a foal – the son shot him in the forehead, which did not kill him, and then the father stabbed him to the heart with a knife, used for killing pigs – the horse was skinned, boiled, and given to the pigs – some part was boiled in the morning, and the other part was hung up – the skin was put in a room at Richard Higg’s house, where the son’s wife and young children then were living – I did not tell this story before, because I was afraid of my life – I was on and off in their employment till about a year ago.

Cross-examined by Mr Curwood – I never heard that I was the greatest liar in the county – I esteem myself an honest man – Mr Coates lived close by, and I could have told him in half an hour – I told this secret about three weeks ago – (A laugh).

   Mr Justice Park here stopped the case, and said, it was quite trifling to go further, the story was most ridiculous and unworthy of a moments credit.

The Jury immediately acquitted the prisoners.

   Thomas Higgs, the son, was then charged with arson, in setting fire to a hay-stack, the property of Mr Thomas Horn and Mr John Price, on 19th of August 1818.

   Mr Cross stated the case and imputed as a motive revenge for the inclosure of Otmoor, in which the prosecutors took an active part.

   Mr J Price said, in August 1818, he was, jointly with Mr Horn, possessed of a hay-stack, on one of the allotments of Otmoor. The witness had taken part in the act of inclosure. The prisoner resided in a neighbouring cottage, where he had lived ever since. On the night of 19th August the rick was all on fire – it had been safe the day before. There was haum* all around it, which was not so before – about half the rick, worth about 40/-, was burnt – the rick was made in October twelvemonth.

   Ann Higgs, a distant relation of the prisoner, said – On the evening of a hot summer’s day, about three years ago, I walked down into Otmoor to look after geese. Thomas Higgs was lounging on the ground – we talked of various subjects, amongst others of the flourishing state of the hedge of one of the inclosures. He said “I did a little job down here.” I replied, “You had better keep your thoughts and actions to yourself; I want to hear nothing about it.” He said he was not afraid to tell me, for I never told anything. He then all at once said, “I set fire to the hay-cocks.” I said “Good God, do you know the consequences of what you are saying.” He said he had carried a bundle of haum down, and with that he lighted it all round, and he then ran away as fast as he could – he never looked back but it flared like hell. On Monday the 16th of February last I heard his father and him, as I stood on my own door-way, out of doors talking. The father said “You rogue, you set the ricks on fire, you rogue; don’t you remember how you called me out of bed to see how it towered up?” I heard no more. Mt husband and I are first cousins to the prisoner – we were very good friends once – I ceased to associate with them because I thought them dangerous, two years ago – I told in consequence of a quarrel which I had with his son.

   Mr Justice Park here stopped the case, and directed an acquittal, observing that the testimony was quite awful. The Jury immediately found the prisoner Not Guilty.

*haum is stalks