The Great Train Robbery is the name given to a Â£2.6 million train robbery (the equivalent of around Â£40 million today) committed on Thursday 8 August 1963 at Bridego Railway Bridge, Ledburn near Mentmore in Buckinghamshire, England. The bulk of the stolen money was not recovered. Three robbers were never found, two convicted robbers escaped. One convicted was most likely never involved, and died in prison. Though there were no firearms involved, the standard judgment was 30 years.
The robbery was planned by several parties with no overall mastermind. Although the robbery operation itself was planned and executed by Bruce Reynolds, the target and the information came from an unknown individual dubbed the "Ulsterman". The key field organisers were Gordon Goody, Buster Edwards and Charlie Wilson, with Brian Field being the key link between the robbers and the informant.
According to one account by Piers Paul Read (1978), in January 1963, shortly after the furore over the Airport Job had died down, Brian Field called Gordon Goody to a meeting at the Old Bailey and asked him whether he was interested in a large sum of money that only a large gang could steal. The following day, Goody and Edwards met with Field at his office at James and Wheater (in New Quebec Street near Marble Arch). Field was accompanied by another man called "Mark", aged around 50 with silvery-grey hair. He was well-dressed and spoke with a smooth accent. During the meeting, "Mark" convinced them to meet the actual informant and drove Edwards and Goody to Finsbury Park where they met a man they nicknamed the "Ulsterman", a slightly balding middle aged man, who spoke with a Northern Irish accent. (Goody had grown up in Northern Ireland). The "Ulsterman" told them about the night mail trains which ran between London and Glasgow carrying large amounts of money. Edwards and Goody later discussed the matter with Reynolds and Wilson and it was agreed that they should plan a serious attempt on one of the trains. In the meantime, they would recruit others and carry out practice train robberies. On 31 July, Goody and Edwards met with the "Ulsterman" for one last strategy meeting in Hyde Park. They agreed that his share of the loot would be delivered to Brian Field's house. It is at this meeting that Gordon Goody claimed that when he was in the toilet, Goody checked the pockets of his suit jacket and saw the name and address of the owner, presumably the "Ulsterman".
At 6:50 PM on Wednesday 7 August 1963 the travelling post office (TPO) "Up Special" train set off from Glasgow Central Station, Scotland en route to Euston Station in London. The train was hauled by an English Electric Type 4 (later Class 40) diesel-electric locomotive numbered at the time as D326 (later renumbered 40 126). The train consisted of 12 carriages and carried 72 Post Office staff who sorted mail during the journey.
Mail was loaded onto the train at Glasgow and also during station stops en route, as well as from line-side collection points where local post office staff would hang mail sacks on elevated track-side hooks which were caught by nets deployed by the on-board staff. Sorted mail on the train could also be dropped off at the same time. This process of exchange allowed mail to be distributed locally without delaying the train with unnecessary station stops. One of the carriages involved in the robbery is preserved at the Severn Valley Railway.
The second carriage behind the engine was known as the HVP (High Value Packages) coach, which carried large quantities of money, as well as registered mail for sorting. Usually the value of the shipment was in the region of Â£300,000, but because there had been a Bank Holiday weekend in Scotland, the total on the day of the robbery was Â£2.6 million (equivalent to about Â£43 million in 2012 RPI terms).