In Pictures: National Railway Museum marks 50 years since Great Train Robbery 1963

| 08 August 2013

When two bullion boxes were opened in Paris during the 1950s, their contents – lead shot, planted by robbers in place of today's equivalent of £2.5 million of stolen gold – sent investigators on the trail of the thieves behind the second Great Train Robbery.

A photo of an ancient tin containing lead entrails
A small wooden box and a sack of lead shot, on display at the National Railway Museum in York, tell a story of a daring railway heist 50 years ago
Authorities assumed the heist had taken place in France. But the boxes actually came from Dover where, eight years after the first robbery in 1955, a gang robbed the Dover night mail.

A black and white photo of two men in suits going through sacks full of bank notes
Following a telephone call, police found two sacks containing £50,000 of stolen money in a phone box in Great Dover Street, Southwark. Here, Detective Chief Inspector Syd Bradbury and Detective Inspector Frank Williams, of the Flying Squad, inspect the sacks at Scotland Yard© NMPFT / Daily Herald Archive / Science and Society Picture Library
Of the members, Edward Pierce is described as a petty criminal with expensive tastes, while Edward Agar was apparently a more successful swindler. They were assisted by William Tester – a railway clerk and “noted dandy” – and George Burgess, a train guard who convinced police of his innocence.

A black and white photo of two men sitting in a garden reading a newspaper
Villagers take a look at the Daily Herald headline. The headline is The Robbers' Hide-Out, accompanied by a picture of Leatherslade Farm, near Oakley in Buckinghamshire, where the robbers counted the millions© NMPFT / Daily Herald Archive / Science and Society Picture Library
Pierce and Agar spent weeks watching the trains. Eventually, they used carpet bags to pilfer the gold from the on-board safes.

A black and white photo of a bridge with a train on top of it and cars either side
The Royal Mail Glasgow-to-London travelling post office (TPO) train was stopped at Ledburn, near Mentmore in Buckinghamshire, by means of tampered signals. £2.3 million in used notes was stolen© NMPFT / Daily Herald Archive / Science and Society Picture Library
The mystery looked destined to remain unsolved until Fanny Kay, Agar’s child-bearing lover, tipped authorities off.

A black and white photo of the inside of a train carriage
Jack Mills, the train driver, was hit on the head with an iron bar. He recovered but suffered constant trauma headaches for the rest of his life and died in 1970© NMPFT / Daily Herald Archive / Science and Society Picture Library
While awaiting deportation to Australia on cheque framing charges, Agar wrote to Kay to assure her that Pierce would provide funds to keep her safe.

A black and white photo of a lounge with a newspaper bearing news of a robbery
Barns were searched and Scotland Yard experts investigated finds on a the rail embankment. The headline from this newspaper reads: Hayrick Hunt for the Mail Rail Millions© NMPFT / Daily Herald Archive / Science and Society Picture Library
When Pierce ignored her pleas for the money, Kay told police the full story. They were sceptical when she led them to Agar, but his fury with Pierce provoked him into revealing the full story.

A black and white photo of people crowding around a man passed out on a bench
Alfred Pilgrim, a 52-year-old florist of East Molesey, Surrey, had been accused of receiving stolen money from the Great Train Robbery. He collapsed in the street after being cleared by the jury. His wife Mary (49) gave him the kiss of life and he was taken to hospital where he recovered© NMPFT / Daily Herald Archive / Science and Society Picture Library
  • A conference, Railways Change Lives, takes place this September at Kew (7) and The National Railway Museum (14). Visit the event online for details.
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