In the early 1800s Montgomery was a thriving market town. A plaque on Broad Street tells us that in 1840 over 50 tradesmen were based in the town including two blacksmiths, five bakers, three cobblers, three butchers, three carpenters, three coopers, eight grocers, two seedsmen, four drapers, four maltsters, two plumbers, two masons, three saddlers, two tailors, one bricklayer, one brazier, one timber merchant, one tanner, one *currier, one clockmaker, one bookseller and one *scrivener.
When John Davies, a plasterer from Wrexham found himself out of work in 1819, he travelled to Montgomery looking for work where he gained employment as a Gawas (Farm Servant) working for Mrs Morris, a widow. Mrs Morris lived with her daughter Jane and, since the death of her husband, the farm had become neglected and run down. Creditors including a local tradesman, Thomas Pearce, were watching eagerly, hoping to obtain the farm at a knock down price.
Mrs Morris was relieved to employ Davies. She knew she could not run the farm without a man to do the heavy work. John Davies was a quiet, taciturn individual of few words who kept himself to himself but he was strong and a hard worker. Robert Parker, a local quarryman, was a regular visitor to the farm and was engaged to the daughter Jane. He saw the new farm servant living at the farm as a threat and took an instant dislike to Davies.
Davies was good with the animals and he quickly improved the quality of the stock, getting good prices for them at the market. Before long Davies’ hard work made a difference to the farm and Mrs Morris’ fortunes started to improve. The daughter, Jane, grew to like the quiet young labourer. Sensing that he was losing her, Parker became aggressive and one evening the two men came to blows.
When Davies returned to the farm, Jane bathed his cut face but he would say nothing of how he became injured. Later, when a friend told the young woman about the fight, she realised that Parker was a bully and that she did not want to marry him. She broke off the engagement leaving Robert Parker a bitter man, intent on revenge.
The tradesman, Pearce, was also bitter as he watched Davies’ effort to improve the farm and saw his opportunity for some easy money slipping from his grasp. One evening Pearce and Parker met in the taproom of a public house and, after several drinks, hatched a plan to get rid of John Davies for good. The following day Pearce staggered into town with a bloody head.
'Help me,' he moaned. 'I’ve been robbed.' A crowd quickly gathered around the stricken man.
'Tell us, what happened?' they cried.
'I was riding along the road at Hendomen. When I got to the crossroads a ruffian attacked me and beat me about the head with a cudgel,' he whimpered.
'Did you see who it was that attacked you?' asked the crowd.
'No, but he stole my money, six guineas and my gold watch,' answered Pearce with a sly grin. A hue and cry began and the magistrate’s men combed the countryside looking for the highway robber but there was no trace of the villain.
Later, unaware of the manhunt, John Davies came to market. It was busy on Broad Street with buyers and sellers enjoying the banter of quick business. The lambs Davies had bought from the farm sold for a good price and he went to the tavern to refresh himself before the long walk back to the farm. He saw Parker at the bar and turned to leave.
'Don’t go. Come let us end our argument with a drink and behave like civil men,' called his adversary. Davies eyed his enemy with distrust.
'Why should I drink with you?' he asked.
'I want to apologise for my temper. Here take a glass of beer with me and let us be friends. Landlord, another tankard if you please,' commanded Parker and beckoned the farm servant to join him. The two men stood at the bar and drank. Davies was unaware of the danger he was in. A few minutes later Parker’s accomplice Pearce arrived and, spying the pair, let out a shriek.
'That’s him, the man that beat me to the ground and stole my money and my watch,' he yelled and pointed at Davies. The unfortunate farm servant was grabbed and searched. His drinking companion of moments earlier thrust his bulging hand into Davies pocket and gave a triumphant yell.
'Here, what’s this in his coat pocket?' He pulled out his hand and revealed six golden coins.
'That’s my money,' cried Pearce.
'There’s something else in the pocket,' said Parker with an evil leer. He thrust his hand in once more and produced the final proof.
'My gold watch! Fetch the constable. This villain must go before the magistrate,' called Pearce. John Davies was taken to the jail on Goal Street and kept in chains in the underground cell until his trial.
The Quarter Sessions were held in the Town Hall. Davies had no money to pay for a lawyer and conducted his own defence. The evidence against him was strong. The tavern was crowded when the stolen goods were found in his pocket and all swore to his guilt, unaware that Parker had placed the money and watch into the pocket of the unfortunate man. Davies protested his innocence throughout but his pleas fell on deaf ears. Highway robbery was a capital offence and he was quickly convicted of the crime he knew he did not commit.
The day of the execution arrived. It was cold and a great storm raged. A piercing wind blew from the north and sleet soaked the waiting crowd as they looked up at the noose.
'Have you anything to say before sentence is carried out?' said the hangman as the condemned man stood on the gallows with the rope about his neck.
'I have been ill judged by man but am innocent of any crime. I curse my enemies for this foul deed and offer my soul to God for his honest judgement. If I am innocent in his court I tell you this; no grass will grow on my grave for 100 years so people, in years to come, will remember this evil injustice against John Davies, an honest fellow,' said the condemned man.
The trap door opened and John Davies dropped to his death. He was buried in unconsecrated ground outside the churchyard at St. Nicholas Church in 1821 and, for over 100 years, no grass grew on the grave. It is still there today and, although the grass has finally started to grow back, the simple grave, marked with a wooden cross bearing the words Robber's Grave, still reminds us of when an honest man was unjustly hanged and buried in a robber’s grave.
* A currier is a person that dresses and dyes tanned leather, ready for finishing by saddlers, cobblers and other leather workers. A Scrivener is a professional reader and writer employed by the illiterate to write letters and deal with legal matters: an early form of lawyer.