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Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Highwayman Tom Faggus and the Magical Strawberry Mare.

Tom Faggus and his magical strawberry mare are legendary in the west country of England. He was a notorious highwayman who achieved fame because he managed to evade capture for a long time.

He was a blacksmith in the Devon town called North Molton and he loved a woman who was to marry him. Together, with his bride, Tom dreamed of a happy life.

During his courtship, Tom came upon a young orphaned foal, caught in a muddy pond. The struggling animal was on the verge of death. Tom managed to rescue the young beast and nursed it to good health. The foul was a young female and she grew to be a fine mare that was the envy of the county. The talk was of Tom Faggus and his strawberry mare and his celebrity grew far and wide.

Then bad fortune came upon Tom. He lost his fair love when he tried to acquire some land. He was swindled and made penniless by unscrupulous lawmen. This diminished his future prospects and his fair lady broke off the engagement. In this day and age family could step in and make the engagement null and void. Especially if prospects lowered for the man's ability to provide.

The swindlers, who brought financial hardship upon Tom, may have been parliamentarian men of Cromwell’s order. This would be during the time of the English Commonwealth. Royalty was abolished and England was a republic in all but name. The country was under rule of Protestant fundamentalists. From the perspective of our day and age, these men would be religious extremists in every sense of the word. It was a world where people could be maimed for not attending enough hours a week at church. Local priests were like Big Brother reporting to higher orders about peasant's behaviour. Also Whichfinder Generals patrolled the villages and towns of England. These dreaded men searched for signs of demonic practice with twisted and unfounded religious beliefs. It was a very dark period.

Tom Faggus took to the highway robbing rich untouchable gentry on the stagecoach routes in and out of the West Country. This part of England was very remote in that day and age. Therefore it was more difficult to police. Tom managed to stay at large until 1671, if the poem about him is anything to go by. He had many daring escapes and one of his most noted was on the long bridge in the town of Barnstable. He was caught by militiamen, at either end of the bridge, when half way across. To every onlooker's surprise, Tom's bold strawberry mare, Winnie, jumped into the river with mounted rider. Both managed to swim with the tide and escaped further up river. I would imagine that a few shots were fired as man and horse went with the tidal flow. Maybe a few stray musket balls splashed around the escapees as they battled the flow. No shot found its mark. Tom with Winnie - his dynamic strawberry mare, managed to escape. 

At a later date, Tom's wonderful Winnie - the infamous strawberry mare passed away, The seasoned highway man was captured broken hearted from his loss. He stood trial for highway robbery in 1671 and was sentenced to hang in a town of Somerset county. This would be during the time of the Restoration when King Charles II had come back to power and the old Protestant zealots had all but had their day. This was a time when things had become more relaxed and people were allowed more expression.

There is no record of Tom Faggus' execution. He was convicted but 'perhaps' not hanged. Some say the stage that transported him never got to the town and that Tom Faggus may have escaped. Legend says his spirit is often riding Exmoor on his magical strawberry mare, Winnie. Maybe he was pardoned. Who knows for sure?

The Victorian novelist R.D. Blackmoore included Tom Faggus in his Lorna Doone Novel. In this story, Tom Faggus married John Ridd’s sister and his magical strawberry mare saved him from death on the field of battle after the Monmouth rebellion. This was in 1685, which means Tom Faggus was put in the future, probably after his death in real terms.

Another Highwayman named Andrew Ailes wrote a grand poem about Tom Faggus and Winnie – the magical strawberry mare and also Tom Faggus has his guns in a museum. (St Anne's Chapel Museum, Barnstaple.)

He was probably hanged but the romantics of folklore like to believe he escaped from the stage that was taking him to execution.


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