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Wolverhampton, Penkridge, Samuel Hill, Smuggler, Hawkhurst, London, Newgate,1752.
This story was accepted for printing in the Black Country Bugle, No.960 January 2011, and at the time, had never been publshed before. How a humble shoemaker, came to such a tragic end, is a wild tale of daring do, thrills, and adventure. ( well only up to the point just before the end.) The 18th century was the settings for many fine classic tales of fiction, this is a bit different though, it's all true.
Samuel Hill, was born about 1709, in the rural surroundings of Penkridge, in Staffordshire. Set midway between Stafford and Wolverhampton, it would seem to be the ideal place to raise a family, long before all the mining and industry arrived. Samuels father, also a shoemaker, taught all the family the trade, which in those days, was much in demand. When he was 11, both his elder brother and sister moved to London, moving in with their Aunt, who been there some time. In 1723, she moved away from the grime and smoke of the capital, and settled in Hawkhurst, in Kent, after the death of her husband. Never be under the impression, that our ancesters stayed put, they were far more mobile, than most give them credit for. In 1725, Samuels father died, and with his death, went any constraints on his behaviour, which previously the old man had imposed conditions on. The wilder side now came out, and it was not long, before he was on his way to join his siblings, in the hustle and bustle of the big city. Danger and temptation lurked in every narrow, and dark passageway of the metropolis, but for at least the first year, young Samuel, under his brothers wing, stuck to his honest cobbling. Young men of his age though, just as they are today, were prone to hang around and attract trouble, and one day it came calling in the form of the local constable. His brother wasted no time, and despatched him off to the widowed Aunt in Kent, but the underlying damage was done. Still, he settled down again, and under her stern eye, he was soon back at work and earning money. He was a hard worker, and he toiled away for some years, even managing to save £20. In 1736, his Aunt died, leaving him over £50, and together with what he had saved, he decided it was time to get married, and raise a family. Jane Purvin was probably a nice young woman, indeed, she didn't seem to be mixed up in any of the schemes that later would be the bain of Samuels life. He now set up his own business in Hawkhurst, and he quickly aquired a few well paying customers, some, not very reputable characters to be sure, but well paying, which was the whole point.
James Stampford, otherwise known as "Trip ", a notorious and cunning smuggler, one day offered to sell some of Samuels products in France and Holland. Now whether or not Samuel was in any way suspicious, isn't recorded, but they did then become good friends, and Stampford was invited to stay in the house in Hawkhurst. That wild side that had been so resolutly dampened by his old Aunt, now came to the fore. It's impossible to believe, that the scheme's Stampford proposed, and then be financed by Samuel, should be concidered to be anything other than illegal. He was not asked to take part in anything, just provide the money for the little " adventure ", it being a venture in the art of smuggling. If Samuel had merely settled at that stage for the steady and quite lucrative money in bought in, he may have fared better. As it was, and here's that wild streak again, there was money, lots of money to be made, actually doing the smuggling. A fatal error then, and Samuel joined the smugglers gang. Not Alcohlo or Tobacco either, there had always been a good market for that, but what was to drive this venture, was Tea, a highly prized, and highly priced commodity. What stood in the way, was the Governments attitude to all this loss of tax, they sent in the Revenue Men. A rather mixed bunch to be sure, some of them were the biggest smugglers, they took bribes and turned a blind eye, and they even counted amongst their own, Magistrates and Judges. A certain Mr Bailey, a J.P. was prominant among those who chased and harried the smugglers, but in any other guise, he controlled a large group of men who smuggled on his behalve. Altogether a rather confusing picture, and it was into all this, that Samuel now joined a gang of over 25. Let the fun begin.
There is a small Cove on the South Coast, near to Ledripe, and it was here that Samuel had his first taste of the smuggling game. Little did he know it, but members of the gang he had joined, were a drunken and disorderly rabble, security was not a high priority, and due to a leak, the Revenue men were already on the way to ambush the gang. Recieving a warning in the nick of time, it was decided to ambush the Soldiers, and off the gang went to await their arrival. There was a bit of melee, shots were fired, several horse's killed, and 2 Soldiers wounded. The rest were taken prisoner by the gang, the cargo was unloaded, and the smugglers vanished off, into the night. Samuel however, did not run off with them. Not being a lucky man, well certainly not that night, he was shot in the leg, and then put on the cutter, which sailed off back to France seeking medical attention for him. You would have thought, at this point, he should have concidered his position, but no, when he recovered, he was back taking part in the next venture. How he must have wished he hadn't bothered, for with luck avoiding him again, the Revenue men won the next round, and poor old Samuel and another were captured, and thrown into Goal at Horsham, in Surrey. Here they would spend the next 7 months, and only got out, after a sum of money was paid in bribes, and so, off back to London they went. Now known to the Revenue men, a lookout for them was kept, and although they managed a few jobs, they were once again ambushed. This time, a Revenue Officer was shot and wounded, a smuggler was captured, and to cap it all, they lost the cargo. Suspecting that they had been given away by a rival, ( the Mr Bailey, J.P. mentioned earlier ) they gather about a hundred men, went to his house, and smashed everything of any value to pieces. Then they scattered, and lay low for a while, but Mr Bailey was a patient man, and he just waited. Under the walls of Sandwich Castle, some moths later, he surprised them in the act, and they had to flee, empty handed, and a man less, as one was shot dead. He got them again at Dynchurch, but this time they turned the tables on him. He was captured, and they got away with all the loot. They soundly beat him up, dumped him by the roadside, and went their merry ways. It was though, getting a little to hot for Samuel, and, with over £400 tucked away, he decided to quit, go back to Hawkhurst, and get back to making shoes. The year was now 1745.
The best laid plans though, have a habit of going wrong, and some time later, in 1747, he was vsited by his old chum Stampford. Apparently forgiving the errent cobbler for the disloyalty of his desertion, he ordered more shoes. After a time, no money was forthcoming from Stampford, so he set off to find him. When he presented his bill for payment, he was forced to lend them money for another enterprise, on pain of being exposed as a former smuggler. He now fled from Hawkhurst, back to London, where he could hide himself and his family. It was a very bad mistake, for raging in the capital was a big outbreak of smallpox. Within a few short weeks, all his 3 children were dead, most of his money was gone, so he turned back to a bit of dishonesty. Some of his former smuggling friends, were in the dreaded Newgate Prison, so, for a fee, he arranged an escape. To his surprise it worked, although he failed to see just how close it had come to failing. He then attempted another one, and this failed misably, causing him to flee once again, back to Hawkhurst. This time, fate was tempted too often, and one of former mate's, with the help of a hefty bribe, turned him in. Taken to the new Goal at Southwark, he would languish there for the next 23 weeks.
When he was released, for they still didn't know his full record of crimes, he went back to shoemaking. His wife was long gone, unable to cope with the loss of her children, and Samuels constant meanderings. He took up lodgings in Poplar, with a Mrs. Crabtree, where he made a few shoes to earn money. One of his fellow lodgers, a seaman called Coke, and who needed a new pair, offered Samuel a new suit in payment. Both parties happy, Coke went off to sea, and Samuel returned to pick up his new suit. Coke however, had forgotton to pay Mrs Crabtree all the rent, and before Samuel could do anything, she had taken it in lue of rent. There was a violent argument, but the old woman would not budge, the suit stayed with her. This may have been he last straw for Samuel. Having lost his children, all his money, and possibly feeling a bit cheated in life now that it had all gone wrong, he laid a plan. Sneaking down the stairs, at 5am the next morning, he proceeded to steal the suit. Mrs Crabtree was a light sleeper so it seemed, for she woke up and started screaming. Samuel did the only thing he could now possibly do. Putting his hands around her scrawney neck, he wrung the life out of the screeching old bird. He quickly fled the scene, in case anyone had heard the commotion, but to late as it turned out. the neighbours had heard, and they were hot on his trail as he fled towards the River. He got as far as Woolwich, in a rented small boat, but was apprehended, and apparently totally brassed off, confessed on the spot, and was then flung into Newgate to await his trial. He was duly penitent, both at his brief court appearence, and on the Gallows, where, on the morning of the 23rd March,1752, they hanged him by the neck until he was well and truely dead. It was the custom at the time, for balladeer's to sell verse's or the made up words of the victims swinging on the end of the rope. As one passed, just below the corpse of Samuel Hill, he couldn't help but notice, the cobbler had a hole in his shoe.
A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day. ( See my Blog entry )
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