In the 1920s it was a regular procedure for Cartbank Laundry van drivers to deliver their week’s takings to the company’s main office on a Thursday. After closing time on Thursday 19th February, 1925 two men, John Feeney and Robert Robertson, gained entry to Cartbank Laundry’s premises by forcing an outside door with a tyre lever. They gained access to the main office and stole an estimated total of £500. Their plan had been to blow up the laundry safe with explosives (their bag of explosives was later recovered from the crime scene), but this original plan was scrapped when they found a large quantity of loose coins and notes in an unlocked rolltop desk. The robbers, with heavy paper bags filled with notes and coins and with their pockets bulging with loose silver, hurriedly left the scene. They jumped on to a passing tram car bound for Paisley to make their escape. Relieved, they sat on the top deck of the open-topped tram.
Open-topped tram in Low Barholm, Kilbarchan
But that is not the end of the story. When the tram reached Johnstone High Street, one of the robbers dropped a bag of silver coins. The paper bag burst open! Some coins spilled on the floor and some fell from the moving tram on to the street below. In a state of panic both robbers tried to make their escape, but the tram conductor, John Sinclair, who had felt suspicious when the two boarded the tram in Kilbarchan, caught one of the men. An elderly gentleman who was passing by jumped on to the tram platform to assist John. While under their restraint, the apprehended robber threw handfuls of silver coins, amounting to almost fifty pounds, to gathering spectators asking them to help him to escape and inciting them to help themselves to the scattered coins. The police soon arrived on the scene and the man was promptly arrested. Meanwhile, the second robber escaped the scene.
But the saga continues. After half an hour’s delay, the tram continued on its journey to Paisley with Detective Sergeant Murray of Johnstone Burgh Police on board. When the tram reached the Thorn, the second robber, who had escaped from the tram in the High Street, unsuspectingly, again boarded the tram. He was immediately recognized by the conductor and speedily arrested by Detective Murray.
Later, a third man, who was walking from Johnstone through Elderslie, dropped a bag of silver coins on the pavement. He told some people who had helped him to gather up the scattered coins, that the money was his shop takings. When this incident was reported to the police he was regarded as a possible third suspect in the Cartbank robbery.
The two apprehended robbers appeared before Sheriff Hamilton in Paisley. John Feeney, a habitual criminal, was sentenced to four years penal servitude and David Robertson received a two year jail sentence. Most of the stolen money, including thirty pounds from the shower of silver coins scattered on the pavement, was recovered and returned to Gibson Brothers.
© 2021 Helen Calcluth. Renfrewshire Local History Forum