FROM the moment the jury foreman pronounced the word 'guilty,' Richard Ashdown feared the worst - death.

With accomplice William George, he had executed a cunning plan to rob a Hampshire toll keeper of his takings. Having noted his day to day working practice, the pair waited until the fading light before calling out 'Gate.'

The elderly official naturally responded but no sooner had he left the security of his home, he was grabbed by George who dished out a needless severe beating before Ashdown rejoined him, his trousers stuffed with money, cutlery and a silver watch.

But the following evening, May 28, 1827, they were tracked down to an inn at Berry, near Arundel, quickly apprehended and detained in the county jail in Winchester pending trial which took place at Hampshire Summer Assizes two months later when charged that at Wymering they robbed William Frost and his wife of diverse articles.

The evidence conclusive, Mr Justice Burrough donned the infamous black cap to pass sentence of death.

However, the prosecution made strong representations about their respective roles, saying Ashdown had never previously associated with George and had only met him a few hours before the attack's planning.

Moreover, he had not inflicted any violence.

The judge, satisfied such was the case, spared him the rope but banished him overseas for the rest of his days.

There was however no respite for 24-year-old George who was executed on August 13.

He was a classic drifter.

Like so many others, he was lured in his adolescence to London but unable to hold down a job, returned to his native Reading where he was taken on by a respectable horse dealer until he quit a few months before the robbery, frequenting fairs and markets when he wasn't burgling properties in Surrey and East Sussex.

George was executed at the back of the county jail, alongside horse thieves Robert Ainsley, 22 and Benjamin White, 34.

A native of Newcastle, Ainsley was apprenticed to a tanner before he ran away to London, touring various parts of the country before falling in with a well known local criminal to steal horses - which were sold on - from towns which they passed through.

Their luck however ran out near Alresford where he was detained after a chase. The other man craftily dismounted as they neared a wood and ran off before the pursuers realised.

White, who had stolen two geldings from a Hampshire vicar, was a local man who until hours before his execution had been confident of a reprieve. When it did not transpire, he fell into a pit of despair and bitterness, though he did accept the fairness of his sentence.

On the scaffold, he uttered as his final words: "Keep innocence and take heed to the thing that is right, for that shall bring a man peace at the last."

After the hanging, friends took possession of his body which they removed in a hearse to Woodhay for internment.