On the far eastern fringe of London, you come to the Green Man Interchange, formerly known as the Green man roundabout and named after the Green Man Inn, a coaching Inn that stood on the main London to Norwich route.
Just beyond one of the exits from the interchange, there is a divide in the road, at which point a left fork heads towards South Woodford, and the right fork heads towards Snaresbrook and Chigwell.
From this point on used to stretch Epping Forest – and, to an extent, it still does, albeit the forest is somewhat whittled down to what it was in the past.
On the pavement between the two roads, there stands a solitary stone column. This column is the High Stone, which, amongst other things, gave the name to Leytonstone – the literal meaning of the name being “that part of Leyton that is by the stone.”
The High Stone was a milestone that once gave the distances to Whitechapel, Ongar Woodford Bridge, and Hyde Park Corner.
MATTHEW SNATT ROBS THE MAIL
It was alongside this stone that, on March the 21st 1757, the postboy, who was bringing the Norwich mail from Epping to the General Post Office in London, was robbed by a solitary highwayman on horseback.
A SOLITARY HIGHWAYMAN
According to the following Saturday’s edition of The Kentish Weekly Post, as he approached “the obelisk, or High Stone, near Laytonstone, in the County of Essex,” he was stopped by a single highwayman on horseback:-
“The highwayman presented a pistol to the Post Boy, at the same Time ordering him to deliver him the Mail, otherwise he would blow his Brains out, which obliged the Post-Boy to unstrap the Mail, and deliver it to the Highwayman, who took the whole Norwich Mail before him upon his Horse, and rode away with it full Speed towards Epping.”
MATTHEW SNATT CAUGHT
The trail then went cold, and it seemed to many people that the brigand who had carried out the robbery had gotten away with it.
But then, in July, 1757, a baker by the name of Matthew Snatt was arrested after trying to cash a bank not that had come from the batch of mail that had been stolen on the 21st of March.
He was taken to London, where he appeared before magistrate Henry Fielding at Bow Street Court.
At this appearance, he pleaded not guilty to the crime, and Fielding committed him to stand trial at the Chelmsford Assizes, which took place on the 2nd of August 1757.
HIS TRIAL AT THE ASSIZES
At first, Snatt refused to plead, so, according to that week’s edition of The Kentish Post:-
“Lord Chief Justice Mansfield [the presiding judge] was obliged to give Orders to the Gaol-Keeper to take him away, and let him be press’d gradually with Weights ‘till he agreed to plead, otherwise in that Manner to press him to Death (which is the Punishment the Law appoints for those that will not plead).”
On hearing this, Snatt had a change of heart, and he pleaded “not guilty” to the crime.
The judge ordered him to stand trial there and then.
Despite his plead of not guilty, the evidence against him was overwhelming – he was even identified as the perpetrator of the crime by the post-boy whom he had robbed – and he was found guilty and sentenced to death
HIS BODY TO BE HUNG IN CHAINS
Lord Chief Justice Mansfield also gave instructions that, following his execution, his body was to be hung in chains by the High Stone alongside which he had carried out his crime.
The Derby Mercury reported, in its edition of Friday the 12th of August 1757 that:-
“Last Saturday Morning the Body of Matthew Snatt, who was executed the Day before at Chelmsford for robbing the Norwich Mail, was brought from thence, and hang’d in Chains near the 11 Mile Stone on Epping-Forest.”
And thus the life of Matthew Snatt came to an end and those who found themselves travelling along this lonely stretch of road would be confronted by the sight of his rotting corpse swinging in chains alongside the High Stone.
THE HIGH STONE STILL STANDS
The stone still stands today, albeit, very few people who pass it ever give it a second glance.
And yet, like so many of the everyday landmarks that people walk by and give little thought to, it has a fascinating tale to tell.