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chapter 4
“As clever Tom Clinch, while the rabble was bawling,
Rode stately through Holborn to die in his calling,
He stopt at the George for a bottle of sack,
And promised to pay for it when he came back.
His waistcoat and stockings and breeches were white,
His cap had a new cherry ribbon to tie ’t.
The maids to the doors and the balconies ran,
And said, ‘Lack-a-day! He’s a proper young man!’
But as from the windows the ladies he spied,
Like a beau in the box he bowed low on each side!
And when his last speech the loud hawkers did cry,
He swore from his cart, ‘It was all a lie!’
The hangman for pardon fell down on his knee;
Tom gave him a kick in the guts for his fee:
Then said, I must speak to the people a little;
But I’ll see you all damn’d before I will whittle
My honest friend Wild (may he long hold his place)
He lengthen’d my life with a whole year of grace
Take courage, dear comrades, and be not afraid,
Nor slip this occasion to follow your trade;
My conscience is clear, and my spirits are calm,
And thus I go off, without Prayer-book or Psalm;
Then follow the practice of clever Tom Clinch,
Who hung like a hero and never would flinch

Clever Tom Clinch going to be hanged, Jonathon Swift (1727)


the roads to tyburn

“Not content with the mischief done by the Beggar’s Opera, we must have a Quaker’s Opera, forsooth, of much more evil tendency than the former; for in this Jack Sheppard is made the hero of the drama, and runs through such a scene of riot and success, that but too many weak minds have been drawn away, and many unwary persons so charmed with his appearance on the stage, dressed in that elegant manner, and his pockets so well lined, they have forthwith commenced street-robbers or housebreakers; so that every idle fellow, weary of honest labour, need but fancy himself a Macheath or a Sheppard, and there is a rogue made at once”. Second thoughts are best: or a further improvement of a late scheme to prevent street robberies, Daniel Defoe (1729)
... During three Old Bailey Sessions of Oyer and Terminer & Gaol Delivery in the winter of 1736-37, presided over by the Lord Mayor Sir John Thompson, 22 of those convicted were sentenced to death.

The gaol report to the king in council on 28 February contained the names of 18 men, women and children awaiting execution, the other four having avoided the particular horrors of the gallows by dying miserably in their cells. Of those remaining, five were reprieved and one more was to ‘cheat the gallows’ by dying in his cell. And so at 10 o’clock on the morning of 3 March five carts set out from Newgate, carrying just 12 condemned souls. [2]

In the first cart sat George Sutton, Robert Campbell and Mary Shrewsbury: the 23-years old Sutton had of course ridden on a Tyburn cart before, accompanying his brother John. Campbell, aka Bob the Glazier, had been taken with George, the assault in Great Russell Street only his second street robbery although he owned that for many years he had pilfered whatever came his way. Guthrie said of him: “he did not want Business nor Money, when he was Industrious and willing to work; so that his idle Disposition brought him to his fatal and disgraceful End”.

Mary Shrewsbury who accompanied them was a stocking-weaver, condemned for cutting the throat of her illegitimate child, which she had carried in secret. She claimed it was still born, and that she had been trying to dismember the body to dispose of its remains. She refused to name the father, saying only that he was a respectable householder from Spittlefields, [the Ordinary of Newgate] James Guthrie publishing an open letter she wrote from the condemned cell pleading with him to repent the evil he had done her. Her body would be taken by the surgeons’ men.

In the second cart sat Wager and Baker, with Charles Orchard: Wager was a freeman of the City of London, “on which account he insisted upon taking the Right Hand in the cart”. Guthrie claims that they both died penitent (ie, ‘dunghill’), Baker having evidently rediscovered the religion that had sustained him when he was a family man and the St Pancras sexton before the death of his wife. And on the eve of their execution, Cocky Wager had even comforted and led his fellow condemned in prayer in the chapel.

But in the crowd of revellers attending Paddington Fair that winter’s morning, the correspondent of the Old Whig and True Protestant (another Whig opposition paper) saw Cocky’s death quite differently. The journalist reports in Saturday’s edition that sitting in the cart on the road to Tyburn “Cocky appeared as indifferent and careless as he has done all the while in gaol”. The account continues, “he seem’d to read in the cart and suck’d an Orange, which a Brother Butcher, who sat in the cart next to him, carried for him”.

Charles Orchard was 16 years old. His step father was a ship’s carpenter, so that he was brought up on board ship in the North Sea Downs, though he had now land-lubbed for 18 months. He was convicted of housebreaking and a street robbery, during which he had cut off a victim’s finger to get her ring. On this his last journey he “seem’d insensible”.

The third cart conveyed Thomas Stafford, David Jenkins and William Maw to their appointments with the hangman. Just 14-years old, Stafford was servant to a ship’s captain carrying Cheshire cheeses out of the port of Chester to the London docks, an ancient trade although at this time hampered by the accelerated silting up of the River Dee. With its cargo landed and the return freight loaded, Stafford was given shore leave but did not reappear, the ship sailing without him.

A month later, with no news of her boy, Thomas’s mother arrived at London to inquire after him in the riverside taverns of Wapping. She learnt that a youngster who might just possibly be her son was in Newgate awaiting execution next morning. She made haste to visit the gaol, learning the terrible truth that while playing in the street with some new-met boys, one of them had removed a pin from a shop window and, lifting the sash, grabbed and ran off with a till. Stafford was seized by a neighbour who had witnessed the incident, assuming him to be one of the gang.

Charles Dickens would use the scene in Oliver Twist, but Thomas Stafford’s tale had no happy ending. His mother accompanied him on the cart that fateful morning, the boy resting his head in her lap while she stroked his hair and they both wept.

Stafford’s own Artful Dodger rode with them: David Jenkins, the boy who had seized the till. A year older he was a member of a Blackguard gang who roamed the streets and fields surviving by their wits. Having only known a life of crime, and so often served time in the Bridewell, of all the condemned that day he was probably the most accustomed to his fate. His corpse also was granted to the surgeons.

The third occupant of the cart, William Maw, had murdered a night watchman. A soldier, he had some peace of mind from having convinced himself that a party of comrades were standing by to preserve his remains from the anatomists. In fact, his corpse was ordered to be taken and gibbeted on the common at Shepherd’s Bush.

The fourth cart carried three Irishmen, James Ryan, Hugh Macmahon and Garret Farrel. They were ‘Wild Geese’, landless Roman Catholics who in the decades following King William’s 1691 defeat of James Stuart left their homeland to seek their fortunes in foreign lands.

All three had at some time fought for the French king, their itinerant roads leading them separately to London where they met up and formed a loosely-knit footpad gang that robbed in the fields of St Pancras, supplementing their wages from casual labour. One of their fellows had been respited for transportation and another, James Falconer had died in his cell.

The arrest late one night by two Customs-house officers of another of their number, Terence O’Brien, had led to the breaking of the gang. O’Brien testified that he and his fellows, all residents of St Giles’s, met most evenings in the Long Fields and would make off in search of prey as whim or necessity led them. He had been stopped on Tower Hill by customs men, suspected of carrying a parcel of run tea but which proved to contain two coats. He was also carrying a loaded pistol.

Taken-in for questioning the officers were soon convinced that he was “a naughty man” and handed him over to constables from the Tower, who threatened to publish his description and that of the coats. After some resistance he was at last persuaded to make a discovery, giving the details of a long series of crimes in the fields.

Three trials followed, resulting in the capital conviction of five Irishmen aged between 25 and 38, and the transportation of two Irish women for receiving their booty. The juries heard tales of cold winter evenings, pitch black or with an “overcast moon”, of one victim seized at the foot of Highgate Hill who the gang carried “thro’ Hedge and Ditch, and over one field to another; and there in a Ditch, they changed clothes with him,” leaving him in rags. Another they took one moonlit night on the lane beyond the Mother Red Cap at what is now Camden Town tube station, likewise leaving him bound and naked in a ditch, the night so cold he was most fortunate to have survived.

And early one evening in December, Francis Smith and his wife Sarah, with a servant, were riding in their cart along the road to Kentish Town from Tottenham Court. Sarah described how having reached “the quarter house in Hampstead Road” [ie, the Crown Inn, now the site of the Lyttleton Arms on the corner of Mornington Crescent] and she dropping off to sleep, O’Brien and another attacked them, plundering the cart and brutally stripping her and her husband and taking their clothes. Francis Smith was covered in his own blood, and he, Sarah and the servant were bound and left in a neighbouring field. The gang rarely gained more than a few silver or copper pieces and items of every day wear for their efforts.

The testimonies at these and the trials of other Irish exiles taken in London cast some vivid light on the lives of the Wild Geese: of secret meetings and assignations, bounties and betrayals, clandestine routes in and out of the country and rendezvous in foreign lands. The life of Hugh Macmohan, though not entirely typical, will serve well as an example. Tiring of ill-paid and irregular agricultural work in North West Ireland, as a young man he had gone to sea and sailed the world, to the East and the West Indies. As a soldier in the French army he deserted from the Walloon Guards and then joined General Buckley’s Irish Regiment headquartered at St Omer, home also of the English Jesuits in exile.

The regiment was kitted with green waistcoats, red breeches and blue jackets, although other Irish brigades fighting for the French king wore red coats as a symbol of their ultimate loyalty to the Stuarts. The Catholic Irish distinguished themselves in many battles, particularly against the Austrians at Cremona in 1702 where they suffered heavy losses but carried the day, and at Fontenoy in 1745, pitted against Dutch, British, and Hanoverian troops commanded by the Duke of Cumberland.

Individual Wild Geese fought for every European army, while also settling in the New World, in the Caribbean and both North and South America, where some established themselves as considerable colonial families. Daniel Lysons notes in The Environs of London (1792-1796) the burial in St Pancras cemetery on 2 April 1785 of John, count O’Rourke, a “well-known character in the fashionable world, descended from the O’Rourkes, ancient sovereigns of O’Rourkes County, now Leitrim, in Ireland. He had been in the Imperial and French service, and wore the order of St. Louis”. Another O’Rourke prospered greatly in the service of the Tsars of Russia.

Macmohan came to London seeking work on the hay harvests and labouring jobs picked up by word of mouth or from the informal exchange that had grown up at St Giles’s Town End by the pound on Tottenham Court-road, near the junction with the road to Tyburn [Oxford Street]. While awaiting his carting he received letters from several ‘wives’, and was visited by one he had once tried to murder: she had a deep scar on her throat to show for it. He refused to acknowledge her until she returned the next day with money, Guthrie recounting how he and his fellows suffered from hunger and cold in the hold, the Old Whig journalist describing them in the carts as “frightful, black, dirty fellows”.

[1] A General History of the Lives and Adventures of the most famous Highwaymen, Murderers, Street Robbers, &c, Cpt Charles Johnson (1734)
[2] All the trials (with the Ordinary’s Account: OA17370303) re the hanging day of 3 March 1737, including the condemned who died in the Newgate cells; oldbaileyonline.org: t17361208-14, t17361208-39, t17361208-62, t17370114-14, t17370114-15, t17370114-16, t17370216-19, t17370216-20, t17370216-21, t17370216-22, t17370216-23
the fifth cart
“The prisoner Morat was... sick all the time, did not come often to Prayers, and at last he was so careless of himself, and grew so nasty, that scarce anybody could go into the Cell... On Tuesday 1 March, when the keeper opened the door he was found dead”. The Newgate Ordinary’s Account (March 1737)

Of the five condemned who ‘escaped the noose’ by dying in their cells, one still made the journey to Tyburn. Placed in the fifth cart, the corpse of Jeffrey Morat had been treated with pitch and wrapped in chains, ready to be carried onwards for gibbeting with William Maw’s remains on Shepard’s Bush common.

Morat was 16-years old when he died in his cell, described by Guthrie as: “a Black, born in Guinea, and could give no Account of his Country nor Parentage, only that he was brought very young to England, and happen’d to fall into a noble Family who took good Care of him, had him educated at school and instructed in Christianity”. Guthrie held forthright views on the conduct of this boy, the certainties of his morality allowing for neither shades nor mitigation; he continues: “But he seemed to be of a Perverse, unthinking Disposition, naturally vicious, and extremely wicked”.

Morat’s crime was undoubtedly perverse, for it involved theft and there is no reason to believe he wanted for the basics of life, indeed he lived in some comfort. Whether Morat was of an unthinking condition is less certain, for it could well be that he thought too much, the intractability of the problem he wrestled with that most fundamental of problems, concerning who exactly he was. This in turn would cast doubt on whether the extreme viciousness with which he attacked the elderly housekeeper who disturbed him while thieving from a neighbour’s house was ‘natural’ to him; and therefore, also, whatever the nature of his crime, whether he himself was by nature wicked.

Perhaps those qualities attributed to him by the cleric had been learnt from the African, English and colonial merchants and sailors who had traded him as a commodity, their brutal lessons leaving a greater mark than the Latin and Greek of his classical education...

 

On one of the several occasions when the well-connected footpad George Sutton was taken up and gave evidence against his fellows, a thief- taker in the case was Will Pember, keeper of the  otherwise obscure Beach Tree alehouse at Pindar of Wakefield innship on Gray’s Inn Road.

Removing to the other side of the road later in the century, and then rebuilt in the 1870s, over the years the celebrated Pindar of Wakefield inn (founded in the early-C16) was patronised by such figures as the ur-bohemian painter George Morland and the ‘visionary’ religious rabble-rouser Joanne Southcote, as well as socialist revolutionaries Karl Marx and Ivan Illych Lenin.

And over the last half century it has hosted several music venues: most famously the Singers folk club run by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger at which a young Bob Dylan made his December 1962 UK debut appearance.

Later clubs provided a stage for the Pogue’s very first gig and Oasis’s London debut, the pub renamed the Water Rats in 1992 (after its new owners, the showbiz charity of that name) and featuring early performances by Beta Band, Sisteray, Ra Ra Riot, The Courteeners, and Katy Perry at what is now called the Monto Water Rats.

Time Out London describes the Monto as having not only featured an “unlikely array of huge names – Skin, The Magic Numbers – but a spectacularly varied booking policy that takes in rock, tech metal, cheery folk pop and everything in between”.

Back in 1732, Will Pember (who would prove a failure as both pub landlord and thief-taker) soon after moved from the innship to settle at the Boot alehouse standing nearby in the fields, his marriage to Katherine (‘Kate’, nee Buck) having also failed: he returned home one night and found her in bed with another man and turned her out.

In that same year Kate is recorded under her married name as landlady of the Boot, when the field alehouse was actually called the Boot Tree, while over the years there are references also to the name the Golden Boot.

The Boot survives to this day, an early-Victorian rebuild in Cromer St WC1 famed locally for its hospitality, chilled Guinness and good wholesome food.

As a young man, Charles Dickens was a regular, running a debating society, at that time the premises having a tea garden and skittle ground.

In his historical novel Barnaby Rudge (1840) Dickens describes it as “a lone house of public entertainment, situated in the fields at the back of the Foundling Hospital; a very solitary spot at that period, and quite deserted after dark. The tavern stood at some distance from any high road, and was approachable only by a dark and narrow lane”.

The tale is set in 1780, the Boot portrayed as the headquarters of some of the most politicised insurgents during that year’s Gordon Riots.The construction in the fields of Cromer St’s original terraced housing had only commenced in 1801, taking nearly 20-years to complete so that the pub will have long remained remote.

Part of the Pindar (later, the Harrison) estate, the street was constructed along the line of a field path connecting the innship to Tottenham Court, the alehouse standing near a junction with another  footpath connecting Lamb’s Conduit with St Pancras old church and Kentish Town (now Judd St/ Midland Rd etc), on which same path stood the Three Tuns, or Bowling Green House and the Brill Inn.

It was along the Tottenham Court path that Daniel Defoe’s eponymous hero Colonel Jack (1721) passed when out foot-padding with a new-met gang: he made only one assault, on Gray’s Inn Lane against two Kentish Town women, before discovering his conscience and later secretly seeking out his victims to reimburse them. In the timeline of the book the robbery took place about 1690, by which time the Boot had already stood in the fields for more than half a century.

The third rate housing on the north of Lucas/ Cromer St was demolished in the 1890s and replaced with the recently refurbished model dwellings of the Hillview Estate, the southern terraces replaced by also recently refurbished local authority flats during the inter war years and originally housing mostly railway and brewery workers and their families.

This excerpt has been adapted from the ebook:

dunghill or game? or, turnpikes, horse racing & other distractions on the way to tyburn…

available in  kindle format:

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