Sunderland Highwayman

Indeed, long ago, Wearside had it’s very own Sunderland Highwayman who became a notorious figure. From petty crimes to hold-ups and murder, this was someone you didn’t want living near you. So, let us look back at Robert Drummond, The Sunderland Highwayman.

Sunderland Highwayman - Robert Drummond - came well before Dick Turpin

Scottish Connection

Actually, Robert Drummond was born in 1680 to a wealthy and titled Scottish family. However, following some trouble as a young man, and under pressure, he had to leave his home town of Perth. Eventually he made his way to Sunderland and made his home in the East End of the town. Within a few years, he started up a shop selling knives, combs, razors and jewellery. Indeed, Drummond’s business was doing reasonably well and he always had plenty of money for drink.

His favourite pub was on the edge of the Town Moor overlooking the sea. The landlady was a woman with the nickname, Lady Lowther. The pub was popular because of a ravine which extended from the pub to the water’s edge. Moreover, it was a popular route for smugglers. The pub was also a notorious drinking den for local scoundrels of the worst type. Indeed, Drummond had a cruel short-temper and the pub suited someone like him.


Drummond also kept a mistress at Ryhope, who stayed in a huge building called, the Three Bears Head. That later became Ryhope Hall, of course. Generally speaking, his reputation of being a bit of a ruffian was rising all the time. In fact, it’s hard to understand how he was still a free man up to now.

Even though his business was beginning to fall apart, it was noticeable that Drummond still had plenty of money. Meanwhile, a number of burglaries worried the people of Sunderland. Eventually, they discovered that Drummond was to blame for those as we shall see. But, a lot of his wealth presumably came from stagecoach hold-ups too. These hold-ups were by a masked man carrying a pistol on horseback.

The are was suffering quite a few stagecoach hold-ups and local lawmen became suspicious with Drummond’s behaviour. This is because, he would leave his lodgings late at night, not returning until sunrise. Indeed, they began to watch Drummond’s movements closely. However, he didn’t have the name of Sunderland Highwayman just yet.


Although they could not connect him to the stagecoach hold-ups, he was caught breaking into a house nearby his lodgings, then he was arrested and charged. Finally, they had reason to remove this man from the community. He was found guilty and transported to the plantations of North America where he would be working for life. Drummond however, decided otherwise. This was because, after a few months, he broke free of his chains and was on a ship back to England.

Once he reached London, he became a ruthless highwayman, prepared to shoot if in danger. He soon teamed up with another rouge, Ferdinando Shrimpton, and his cousin. Together they carried out more raids on stagecoaches.

One night on Hounslow Heath, the driver of a coach refused to stop for the gang. So Drummond caught up and shot him through the head. However, it only took a few days for the lawmen to find the gang. Shrimpton’s cousin turned King’s evidence linking the gang to dozens of robberies as well as the murder on Hounslow Heath.

Sunderland Highwayman – Sent To The Gallows

On 17th February 1730 at Tyburn, the Sunderland Highwayman and Shrimpton went to the gallows showing no signs of remorse. Indeed, neither would admit to their crimes. Drummond did once say, ‘What, would you have us take upon us all the robberies that were committed in the country?’ In other words, his cheek and rough nature continued until the very end.

Back in Sunderland, soon after Drummond’s death, the lawmen cleared out the criminals from Lady Lowther’s pub. Indeed, the pub then closed. Whether this was because of the pressure upon it or through the lack of maintenance, it is unclear. However, a few years later, the derelict pub, eroded by storms, began to crumble into the River Wear. With it, went a piece of Sunderland’s history, but we are able to document the story here of course.


Dick Turpin might be the most famous of all highwaymen, but as ever with Sunderland’s rich history, the town had it’s own. In fact, Robert Drummond was born 25 years before Turpin. So, who knows, maybe Drummond was the roll model for Turpin!

Obviously, if you can add to this story, such as the name of Drummond’s favourite pub, let us know. Indeed, you may make a comment or two below or in the massive Sunderland Forum. Finally, we have another highwayman story from the area here.

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