This story is ends with a highwayman placing a curse on a blacksmiths workshop in Washington Village. Therefore, we are giving the story the simple title of The Curse On Washington Blacksmiths.
Long Bank, in the 1700’s was just a mud track. Indeed, it was a short-cut across Gateshead Fell between Sunderland, Newcastle and Durham. Today, the same road runs from the village of Wrekenton, near Gateshead, to the Western Bypass. Nowadays, the road is famous for its highway, but in 1770, it was more famous for its highwaymen.
Margaret Banson, a wealthy spinster, was returning from Durham in her carriage late one evening. When she reached Long Bank, a man rode alongside on a grey horse, he was wearing a long cloak and dark mask. He pointed a pistol at her driver forcing the carriage to stop. According to records of the time, on looking out of her window she discovered to her horror, that there was a real flesh and blood highwayman menacing the postilion with a pistol.
After the highwayman had gone, Margaret went on her way back to Newcastle. But just a short while later she met another man on horseback. This time it turned out to be a postman, William Roper, carrying two sacks full of cheques and other valuables. Margaret told the postman to be on his guard against the highwayman.
Again, according to the records, the postman would not turn back. However, in deference to the lady’s alarm, he inquired at a toll-house for a pistol. Not getting what he wanted, he boldly made up his mind to go forward regardless.
The postman met up with another man on horseback, and from his appearance, took him for a rustic making homewards after the labours of the field. To this simple peasant, he opened his troubled mind so far as to tell of the dreadful highwayman lurking about and to confess his regret that he was unarmed.
After a couple of miles, the horseman asked the postman for his bags and pointed a pistol at his head. Then he ordered the postman to move away from his horse and the bags. The horseman then chased away the horse, picked up the bags and rode off, leaving a very embarrassed postman.
Unfortunately for the highwayman, someone saw his first robbery against Margaret Banson at Long Bank. Indeed, that was a small boy who had been out walking. Furthermore, he recognized the horse, a grey mare which he had seen the week before at the blacksmiths in Washington village.
After seeing the robbery, the boy went to the constables of Gateshead to tell them about it. The boy told them that the horse was a powerful and spirited animal, such as a highway robber would have. Moreover, the animal had been taught sundry curious tricks likely to serve its master at a pinch.
The constables then went to see Bill Allison, the Washington village blacksmith. Yes he had a customer who came every Friday with a beautiful grey mare and he always paid well. The next Friday, the constables waited in the blacksmiths shed, but not for long, because at lunchtime, the man on his grey horse approached and jumped off its back.
As the blacksmith went out to meet the rider, he could tell something was wrong and made to get back on his horse. However, the constables came from the shed and forced the rider to the ground.
The constables knew they had caught the highwayman. This is because, when they searched his saddle bags, they found his pistol and black mask. They soon discovered that the man’s real name was William Hudson, but he had been using the name Robert Hazlitt.
He had been a clerk for a wealthy merchant in London, but for unknown reasons, had suddenly left. In an attempt to save himself from the hangman, Robert made a confession. He admitted to the robberies and also told them where to find the stolen post bags. But, fate it seems, was against him.
He was tried at Durham Assizes before Sir John Fielding, a magistrate from London. Unfortunately for Robert, Sir John recognized him as the highwayman who had also robbed him just a few months earlier in London. This might explain why Robert had left London in such a hurry.
Whatever his reasons for getting away from London, Sir John was not letting him get away with robbery. He was sentenced to death by hanging, and so, on Tuesday 18th September 1770, Robert Hazlitt was hanged at Durham. Then they took his corpse on a cart to Gateshead Fell and hung it in a gibbet.
Curse On Washington Blacksmiths
They say that a curse hangs over Washington’s smithy, which is now a restaurant. This is because, upon Robert Hazlitt’s arrest, he placed a curse on all its owners. Robert Hazlitt’s curse on Washington blacksmiths seems to be still working after all these years. This is because there has been many power cuts at the premises for no apparent reason. Moreover, on numerous occasions, visiting workmen have been unable to find any fault.
The curse on Washington blacksmiths is an interesting story on its own of course. However, we have another true story of the Sunderland Highwayman here. You may comment on either of these stories here, but you can also use the Sunderland Forums too. The massive Sunderland Message Boards are a great way to socially interact with other local people.