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North Devon in 100 Objects: 66. Tom Faggus’s Gun

An 18th century gun, about 167cm long.

This 18th century gun is reputed to have belonged to Tom Faggus, North Devon’s local highwayman. The gun, which is 167 cm (about 5 ft 6) long, is a flintlock which would have been muzzle loaded with black powder and a single ball. The powder was ignited by a spark struck from a flint held in the firing mechanism.  Reloading would take time and the gun could be dangerous to the user if not cleaned after every shot.

With the need for a 4 foot long prop to steady the cumbersome weapon, it hardly seems the gun of choice for a highwayman. In fact it was probably for shooting wildfowl, better suited to ‘sport’ than for the serious business of robbing travellers.

The most famous account of Tom Faggus is in R D Blackmore’s ‘Lorna Doone’, but he is impossible to find in surviving records.  Local stories say he was born in about 1654, the son of North Molton’s blacksmith and that he followed in his father’s footsteps before falling foul of the law. As a highwayman he was clever and honourable, a North Devon Robin Hood. He was good at disguises and a great mimic which, together with his trusty horse Winnie, got him out of many situations. What finally happened to Tom Faggus is a mystery. It is said that he was hanged at Taunton prison, but there is no record of that. So who knows? Maybe he and Winnie escaped to live quietly in Devon.

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