Yeovil and the great train robbery

The Great Train Robbery

and the part played by Yeovil

 

Renowned criminal Ronald Arthur Biggs (1929-2013), more commonly known as Ronnie Biggs, took part in the 1963 Great Train Robbery. He played a relatively minor part in the gang, which escaped with £2,631,684 (about £53 million at today's value) in used banknotes from the Glasgow to London mail train on 8 August 1963. Most of the stolen money was never recovered.

However, before Biggs got involved in the robbery plans, he needed £100 to bankroll his part in the heist. He got the money by breaking into the Odeon Cinema in Court Ash and stealing the day’s takings and staff wages. Summer Holiday, starring Cliff Richard, was being screened that week, so the takings were higher than normal. Detectives were mystified at the time because no fingerprints, or other evidence, were found and no witnesses came forward. Leading the police to assume that it had been a 'professional job'.

Biggs' ex-wife Charmaine, said in 2001, that they were holidaying in the area at the time of the cinema robbery. Although Biggs denied Charmaine’s story he did say: “I know Yeovil quite well and have been there a number of times.”

Biggs received a 30-year jail sentence for his part in the heist, but escaped from Wandsworth prison, London, in July 1965 and went on the run abroad to Australia and Brazil.

After 36 years on the run, he returned to the UK in 2001 seeking medical help. However, he was sent back to prison where he remained until he was released on compassionate grounds in 2009 after contracting pneumonia.

He died, aged 84, fifty years after the Great Train Robbery, at the Carlton Court Care Home in Barnet, North London, on 18 December 2013. A series of strokes had left him unable to walk and talk and he was last seen in public at the funeral of his fellow Great Train Robber, Bruce Reynolds, where he gave a two-fingered salute to awaiting photographers!

 

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Courtesy of Vivien and John Cornelius

The Odeon Cinema in Court Ash - scene of Ronnie Biggs' robbery of the cinema's takings and payroll in 1963. Photographed in 2002 when, as part of the ABC Cinema Group, the Odeon had been closed for almost a year.