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Forum Home > Other Crimes and Punishments. > The Highwaymen,

Alaska.
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We all like a good tale of the daring exploits of a band of armed robbers, who roamed many parts of our fair land in a bygone age. Wherever there was a main Road or Turnpike, an expanse of Heathland, or a nearby wooded area, you would, at some stage, encounter one these rogues. There is a name of course that immediatelty springs to mind, Richard " Dick " Turpin. For many years, there have been tales that this desperate character came to, or through, the Blackcountry, following him having to leave the area around Epping Forest, with the law hot on his heels. Turpin was born around 1705, 5ft 9in tall, ( above average for the time ) and much marked from smallpox. It was said, that after being accused of stealing sheep at Long Sutton in Lincolnshire, he came to Staffordshire in the guise of a Horse dealer, under the name of one John Palmer. Under this assumed name, he is supposed to have stayed at a tavern in Whiteheath, where he met another of our local legends, Rowley Jack. ( Picture in the Images from the Forums Album ) Also suposed to be a highwayman, Rowley Jack doesn't seem to have a proper name, although it was said that his accomplice, a woman, did. Rebecca Fox, was by all accounts, ( and there aren't many ) to be variously, very attractive, and the daughter of some local who had plenty of money. Apparently. they both disappeared in 1754, never to be seen again. The story goes, that after hiding from their pursuers, they became trapped in some secret underground hideout when the roof collapsed. Rumour has it that it was under a house called Brinfield Hall. Turpin, famous for that ride to York, was also said to have ridden some of the way through the area, stopping off at either Wednesbury, Darlaston, or Bilston. The truth of the tale though is very different, although there is a connection, The Knavesmire Scaffold, at York.


The tale of Dick Turpins ride to York, is only true if you put it in context, and attribute it to the right man, John " Swift Nick " Nevison. he was born about 1639 at either Pomfret, or Wortley, near Sheffield, Yorkshire. The man had several names, Jack, John, or William, but unlike Turpin, was a far more gallant and non-violent highwayman. ( assuming you liked having a Horse Pistol shoved in your face and being robbed that is ) The true story of that ride though, began over 20 years before Turpin was actually born, in 1676.


In the early hours of a summers day, at Gadds Hill, Higham, Kent, a coach was making it's way towards the Royal Navy Dockyard at Chatham. By the timepieces of the era, it was just on 4am, when a small group of riders suddenly appeared on the road. " Stand and deliver " was would have been clearly heard by the passengers, and in a few minutes they had all been robbed. Knowing there would be a quick response, ( there must have been someone important in that coach ) they rode quickly away. The leader of this band, already well known, conceived a cunning plan. ( but only for himself ) John " Swift Nick " Nevison, rode off towards the ferry at Gravesend, crossed over the Thames to Tilbury, and headed off towards Chelmsford, avoiding any contact with London. By resting his big bay mare frequently, he proceeded first to Cambridge, then on to Huntingdon, heading for The Great North Road. This of course is where he had previously committed a great many other robberies, and he had friends along the route. Vertually without stopping, ( or so the story goes ) he then went on until at last he reached York. Stabling his weary horse, ( even if he had changed it on the ride, it would surely have been a bit tired by now ) and a quick wash and change, he hurried off to a local Bowling Green, where he knew from long experience, the Mayor of York would be having a quiet game. To make sure he was remembered. he placed a large bet on the outcome, making note of the time the bet was laid, exactly 8pm. Now that was a ride of at least 15 and a half hours, given he needed time to wash and change, a remarkable feat. With the distance at almost 230 miles, he had averaged 15 miles an hour. It's no wonder, that when he was arrested for the offence, neither the Judge or Jury would believe it could be done. He was of course aquitted, but his time on the road was, like all highwaymen, limited. After a very colourful career, it came to an end in 1684/5. There is some dispute as to the date of his end, one source has 4th May, 1684, another the same date but in 1685, and another, March 15th 1685. One thing is for certain though, both he, and Richard Turpin died at the same place, The Knaremire Scaffold, outside York Castle.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

October 2, 2012 at 4:23 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Although long associated with Wolverhampton, he was born in the Town around1697, William Duce was as far from the romantic ideal of a Highwayman as it's possible to get. His parents, together with him, and least one of his siblings, Elizabeth Duce, had moved to London when he was a young boy. He was not well educated, and was soon in trouble, though he managed to avoid any Court appearences. Sometime in 1718, he got into a serious debt, and unable to pay, had to endure about 15 months in a debtors prison, where he learned a great deal from his fellow inmates. One of these lessons was that it was easier to rob people, than to actually work, and together with his sister, and her husband, Humphrey Angiers, they did just that. Unfortunately on this expedition, which gained them about 3 guineas, they got caught. Faced with being charged, in 1721, with Violent Theft, the three were aquitted after accusing the victim of malicious prosecution. He didn't learn anything from this narrow escape, and teamed up with a group of really violent footpads and robbers. When caught in 1723, he admitted to 8 robberies, but refused to name his companions in two of them. ( His sister and brother-in-law I suspect ) Violence and firearms had been used in all of them, the firearms having been purchased by his sister from the proceeds of pawning a bed, which they probably also stole. Being known and pusued in London, the gang headed off into the wilds of Hampshire, were more brutal robberies were carried out, and more than one person was shot and killed. He himself denied any part of this, but his fellow highwaymen, named as Wade, Darker, and Mead, were all hanged for the outrages, in 1722. For an act of terrible violence, committed against a traveller on a lonely stretch of the Portsmouth Road, William Duce and his companions, James Butler, Dyer, faced the death penalty in 1723. they had robbed, stripped, and then shot a Mr Bunch, leaving him for dead. He managed to run away. No gallant highwayman was William Duce, for he tried to put all the blame on the others, and claimed he never got a penny for all his hard work, being robbed by the robbers. He was, at the end, repentant of his sins, ( as all of them were, when faced with a noose ) asking his mother for forgivness, but not, as it happens, the poor innocent victims he robbed and shot. The old saying, " a short life, but a merry one." wouldn't really apply to Duce, who was just turned 25, when along with several others, he danced a merry jig on the tree at tyburn. A fitting end for a rather nasty highwayman.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

October 28, 2012 at 12:19 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

There's a very good reason why we don't, in this area, have any great history of these " Knights of the Road ". The main one of course is the lack of any major through roads, and lack of vast open spaces, in which Highwaymen could operate. Followed of course by the relative lack of anyone rich enough to have their own personal Coaches. This doesn't though preclude some folk from slightly dressing up a family story, and trying to turn it into a legend of the time. Not that the man in question, John Davies, was a well known robber, ( just an ordinary run of the mill robber as it happens ) he simply had the same name as one chosen by someone as an alias. The story as related to me, concerns a man called John Newton Shilvock, allegedly born in Halesowen around 1795, who was involved in the murder of a Nail Fogger, and ran away into the wilds of Shropshire, where he adopted the name of John Davies. ( He seems to have learnt to speak Welsh like a native in the process as well )  There doesn't appear to be any record of a murder that matches the discription, certainly not in 1815 anyway. There is a record though, of one John Davies, born in Wrexham, Denbighshire, in 1790, an agricultural labourer who wandered from job to job throughout the county and Shropshire. In 1819, he was to be found just over the border in Montgomeryshire, working on a small farm and as were many others, short of a bit of money. Now this was an area that was indeed wild and open country, and as such, had a few rich Farmers, who regulary travelled back and forth between markets. The biggest one was at Shrewsbury, and over the next couple of years, there were a few incidents of a lone Highwayman. Now it happened, that in 1821, Thomas Pearce and his Farmer friend, George Parker, spent a few days at Shrewsbury Fair. On the way back, they became seperated on the road, not by much though, maybe just a few minutes, and as it was getting dark, Pearce made evry effort to catch up with his companion. It was good job he did, for just a short distance away, George Parker had been dragged from his horse by a masked man. Pearce arrived in the nick of time, and between them they overpowered the robber. Unmasked, he turned out to be John Daviies, whom they both knew, Davies had obviously been following them. When he appeared at Montgomery Assizes, Davies claimed the men had set him up, and that he was the one who had been robbed. Disbelieved, and then sentenced to death, Davies is then said to have laid a curse on all those in the court, and announced that as an innocent man, no grass would grow on his grave, for at least a generation. Now I have no idea if it did or didn't, but he certainly ended up in one, for he was hanged as a Highwayman on 13th September,1821, under his real name of John Davies. As I've said before, not all family stories are true, and a legend, at the end of the day, is still only a legend.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

October 30, 2012 at 12:45 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

The trouble with our region, as far as Highwaymen go, is that we were somewhat off the beaten track in their hay-day. The main routes, from say London to the north, lay well to the east, and the lack of any real open spaces, meant there were few places to hide. My thanks to the member who sent me this little snippet last week, although whether any of it actually true, is a matter of conjecture. The Poem though is real enough.


The wind was a torrent of darkness,

Among the gusty trees.

The moon was a ghostly galleon,

Tossed upon cloudy seas.


The road was a ribbon of moonlight,

Over the purple moor,

And the Highwayman came riding, riding,

The Highwayman came riding, up to the old Inn door.


Now if that doesn't conjure up an image of a long gone past, I don't know what will. Its a strange thing, but every poem or discription of the men who rode the roads with a brace of pistols and a sharp sword, were always depicted as finely dressed, wearing the best silk shirts of the day. No mention of the scruffy unshaven and smelly individuals then, who actually did much of the robbing, and not many reports of the sheer level of violence displayed either. So the story goes then, that deep in heart of South Staffordshire, dwelt a man who aquired the name of Rowley Jack. Now I've no doubts, that the old road between Whiteheath Gate, and and the town of Dudley, in the 1750s, was a quiet and lonely place. Particulary at night. There are some steep stretches, and there would have been a great many spots in which to await the unwary traveller. But I have to ask, what on earth would most of them have, that would have been worth the risk of having a neck elongated at Stafford Gaol. Never mind, on with the tale. Rowley Jack was said to have an acomplice, someone who had knowledge of who would be travelling where, and when. Enter the local Blacksmith at Whiteheath Gate, one Abraham Fox by name, a crafty indivdual, who also supplied Ale and Beer from a decript little house near the Toll gate. He would, of course, know when the Stage Coach, which served the route from Birmingham to Dudley was due, and could note if any passengers had the look of someone wealthy. It was said, so the story relates, that the pair caused much unhappiness in Dudley with their activities, and they took to the road in pursuit. They didn't have much luck, as the tracks of the villian always seemed to end at the start of an open piece of grassland called Turtons Fold, at Tividale. The failure was attributed  again, to the crafty Blacksmith, who had, supposedly, fitted Rowley Jacks horse with backward facing shoes. There are at two tales of this strange practice in the regions history, and for the life of me, I can't see how a horse could trot, yet alone gallop with these contraptions on it's hoove's. It is further said in the story, that in January, 1754, by lucky chance, a man set to watch the Blacksmiths forge, saw a man enter the rear of the stables. Suspecting he was the much sort after Jack, he summoned help and shortly afterwards, he was seen to leave in the company of a young woman. Not unsual you may think, for it was the Blacksmiths buxom daughter, but when called on to stop, they rode off at speed, the posse in hot pusuit. Needless to say, they got away and neither of them were ever seen again. Even after arresting the Blacksmith, they found no evidence of any dasterdly deeds, and were forced to let him go. The robberies stopped, and if you believe the tale of finding two skeletons, you now know why. The question remains, is it true, and did we really have a proper Highwayman in the region.?

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

January 13, 2013 at 11:52 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Now of the Highwaymen who roamed, and robbed, through out our fair land, there is non to compare to man who is in this story. Oh, that he had practised his vile arts amongst the windswept and scrub covered little commons of the region, then we would have had something to be proud of, even though it would have cost a few men their purses. Claude Du Vall, arrived into the world in 1643, the son of a humble Miller in the flat and rural area known as Normandy, France. In 1657, when aged fourteen, he travelled to Rouen, where the exiled Court of Charles II was based, and obtained employment with the Royalists, as a stable lad, feeding and tending the horses. It was a bold move, for in 1660, The exiled King was invited back to take the throne, and the young Duvall, now a footman, went with them. It's not known just when he began a career of thievery, but as he had aquired the habits and manners of a gentleman, perhaps he also craved the money. Rumours began to circulate in 1666, that he was involved in Highway Robbery,, and he fled France, to seek better pickings in England. And oh what a Highwaymen, dressed to the height of fashion, courteous and gallant to the Ladies, it was almost a pleasure to be robbed by such a wicked flambouyant rogue. He began to be a familar sight along the roads of northern London, as he sped through Holloway, Islington, and Highgate. Among his many exploits it was said, was the robbery of Squire Roper, the master of the Royal Hounds, who lost 50 guineas, and was left tied to a tree. On Hounslow Heath, he stopped a coach, and was surprised when the noble gentlemans wife got out and began to play a merry tune on a Flageolet. ( a kind of Flute )  Undeterred, Du Vall quickly whipped out his own, ( flute ) and soon they were playing a merry duet. He then asked her for a dance, and when finished, escorted her back to the coach where he preceeded to ask the nobleman to pay for the dance. Those few steps gained Du Vall, four hundred pounds, and his reputation shot up. He became a far bigger legend that Dick Turpin, but he shared with him some of the faults and pitfalls of too much money, Gambling, Drinking, and above all, the sort of women you certainly wouldn't have taken to see your granny. It all came to an end in 1760, when he got drunk in a tavern, Mother Maberley's Hole-in-the-wall, in Chandos Street. and was quickley thrown into the notorious Newgate Gaol.


There was only one sentence that this " Gentleman of the road " was going to receive, and Judge Sir William Morton delivered it, Death. Now Claude Du Vall had many admirers, a great many of whom of course were the woman. The Ladies of the Kings Court pleaded with Sir William to change the sentence, but the Judge was unmoved. The next to try was the King himself, who stated he would grant a reprieve, and Sir William and the other senior Judges threatened to resign. The King was forced to back down, and the sentenced was announced for 21st January,1670. Dressed in his finest attire, the twenty seven year old Claude Du Vall, made his final appreance before his admiring fans. Ladies of the Court, mostly wearing masks, appeared amongst the crowd and a great lamentation was to be heard, as Du Vall was " turned off ", and his body left hanging for an hour. He even had a kind of lying in state, at the Tangier Tavern in Saint Giles, before his body was buried in a grand funeral at Saint Pauls.  As I said, why couldn't we have had such a gallant Highwaymen here, instead of the seedy rogues we ended up with.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

June 21, 2013 at 3:40 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Not every Highwayman had a coach to hold up, for parcels and packets of mail were regulary delivered by carriers on horseback. Such was the case in March 1730, when the Bristol and Gloucester mail was held up. The carrier was a young man, and the weather was foul, which was why it went this way, instead of the more usual Coach. It was snowing heavily on the 1st March, when Hugh Horton, or Haughton, or Norton, stepped out from the overhang of a building and ordered the young man to " Stand ". Forcing him from the horse by pistol point, he tied up the Post boy, and throwing away the heavy parcels, rode off, on the horse, having arrived on foot, together with several valuable mail pouches. As it turned out, very valuable, amounting to over a £300. Mostly in notes, the money turned out to be his undoing, for when it came to redeeming or changing such things as £50 or £100 notes, the condition of ones clothes, paid a large part in the success of the scheme. Hugh Horton was not dressed for the part of a wealthy businessman. Arrested, and after the notes had been found on his person, and identified, charged with the robbery, he was flung into Newgate Gaol. The sentence after he was found guilty was a foregone conclusion, and he was doomed to be hanged. Standing in the dock though, he swore that they would never hang him. With this in mind, he was chained to the floor of the cell to prevent him taking his own life, but he somehow managed to obtain a quantity of poison, and took it. Sadly, it didn't kill him, merely made him very sick for a short while, and a watchman was engaged, to make sure he couldn't do it again. Shortly before his date with the hangman, and taking advantage of the watchmans absence, he managed to undo his leather belt, and tied it to the window bars, This still being too short, he took his handkerchief, secured this to the belt, and wrapped it around his neck. He now faced another little problem, for it was to short to tie a knot, so he adopted the following solution. Holding the free end in his left hand, he leaned forward on his knees, and slowly strangled himself to death. Job done you might think, but the court, hearing what he had done, and not wishing to be outdone by Horton, now ordered his body to be Gibbeted, near to where the robbery had taken place. Even after death it seems, Hugh Horton was not going to escape the sentence 's of the Court, for less than a week later, someone stole his body from the Gibbet. It was never recovered, but one thing's for certain, he would never rob anymore mail carriers.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

September 11, 2013 at 3:19 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Under the heading of Highway Robbery, came a variety of offences, far removed from the picture most have of a Highwayman. If you have come across a far distant relative, who was Hanged or Transported for the offence, it may not have been a case of the classic view of a Highwayman.


During periods of our history, bands of men roamed the countryside, robbing folk at will, looting houses, and taking many unseemly liberties with any women they came across. The large Cities and Towns were infested with Cut Purses, Pick Pockets, Footpads, and thieves of all sorts, who robbed those walking and using the roads. All these offences were general classed as Highway Robbery, and some were very nasty indeed. Nobody was safe. A man who was returning from market, having sold four geese, was set upon by 5 men, who robbed him of just  17 pence, and an old watch. Protesting, that without the money, his family would have to go without food for the week, he received a beating and had most of his clothes stolen as well. A further protest, this time noting that he knew where the men came from, only resulted in him receiving several pistol shots, he later expired from the wounds. Nor were the better off safe either. Six men sprang from ambush, and halted a Coach, the driver and footman legging it for the hills, leaving the terrified passengers to the mercy of the gang. Not content with a fair bit of booty, the gang stripped the passengers, two of them women, tied them up, and flung them into a drainage ditch. Another gang of thugs, arriving on the scene as the first lot were leaving, dragged the two women from the ditch, and according to the reports, had a " few hours fine sport ". The coastal regions of the south and east, had armed smugglers gangs of anything up to 200 men roaming about at times. Each gang member, unlike those portrayed in films, was a violent criminal, and only by quartering companies of soldiers in some villages, was the disorder kept to a minimun. ( see Samuel Hill,1752, the Smuggling Shoemaker, in the Ultimate Crime topic.) There are eight Staffordshire Highway Robbers in the records, between 1735, and 1766, all hanged for the crime. Blackmore Bill, hanged in 1740, Thomas Plant, hanged in 1741, Joseph Williams, hanged in 1753, John Mole, hanged in 1756, Thomas Pearciful ( Percival ) hanged in 1757, Abraham Durham, hanged in 1761, Humphrey Walters, hanged in 1764, and Joseph Hunt, hanged in 1766. Non of the dashing Highwayman about any of these " gentleman of the road " I'm afraid, just a bunch of vicious thugs who got what the law proscribed at the time. Today, you will find the same offence under the headings of " mugging and street robbery ", with a sentence ranging from a community work order, to a few weeks in Prison.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

September 16, 2013 at 3:56 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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