Thieves Rogues And Vagabonds
John Walford followed the life of a charcoal burner on the Quantock Hills, a lonely existence but suited to this quiet, handsome lad. He was popular in the nearby village of Nether Stowey especially with Ann Rich, the miller's daughter; to whom he was betrothed. Against this background, Jane Thorney, the daughter of another charcoal burner, turned her attentions to young John. Under cover of darkness, she would visit his lonely hut on the hills offering him comfort. Inevitably she was expecting his child and John married her, leaving Ann with a broken heart.
Almost at once, married life became intolerable, Jane taunted John incessantly over the loss of his true love. This came back to a head on the night of July 5th, 1789 when after a heavy drinking session at the nearby Castle of Comfort Inn, she provoked him once too often. On their way home, he took her by the throat and squeezed the life out of her body. Seeing no one was around, he disposed of her body in a shallow grave in the remains of a prehistoric ditch where her body was later discovered. John Walford's trial lasted just three hours.
On the day of his execution close to the scene of the crime, the villagers turned out with their picnics. With the gibbet ready for the execution, the horse and cart carrying John Walford arrived. His last request was to speak to Ann, his first and only true love. Ann was lifted onto the cart and the couple looked into each others eyes. As they moved forward to kiss, Ann was pulled away and lifted from the cart which was then pulled forward leaving John's body swinging. His remains were placed in a cage and left hanging from the gibbet for a full year. Dead Woman's Ditch and Walford's Gibbet can still be found on Ordnance Survey maps.
Turpin was born on 21st September 1705 in the Old Post Cottage in Hempstead, Essex. He was apprenticed to a butcher in Whitechapel when he was 16. Married in 1728 he opened his own butcher's shop, but when accused of selling stolen sheep and cattle joined a gang of thieves. He became an expert in house breaking, smuggling and cattle stealing. In 1735 when the gang broke up, Turpin and a Tom King formed a partnership and became highwaymen to the south of London. At the peak of his notoriety in 1737 Turpin accidentally killed King whilst shooting at a policeman.
After this event Turpin went north, changed his name to John Palmer and became an outwardly respectable member of the community until he was caught disposing of stolen horses. He was arrested at the Green Dragon Inn, near York in 1739. The authorities had no idea who their prisoner was. Fearing his true identity would be revealed, Turpin wrote to his brother in Essex, asking for someone to be sent to swear that he was Palmer. Unfortunately for Turpin, the postmaster in Essex had been Turpins tutor recognised the handwriting and opened the letter. Hastening to York, he exposed Turpin, collecting his £200 reward for denouncing the notorious highwayman to the authorities. On the morning of April 7th 1739 a large crowd gathered at the gallows of York jail to witness the execution of England's most famous highwayman.
WILL GRAVE CRUTCHY
Will Grave was born in Whitehaven during the l8th century. He had the misfortune to be born a cripple and became orphaned at an early age. With no one else to care for him but the Parish he was apprenticed to a local tailor. He hated the life and when he was aged 10, he ran away with a band of gypsies. For two years he lived with the travelling folk, and he learned about handling horses, finding shelter and living off the land by poaching and stealing.
He was something of a misfit, and he ran away once again, this time to Lorton, where a kindly farmer took him into his household. The man's kindness was poorly rewarded, for Crutchy, well versed in thieving, robbed not only neighbouring farmers, but also the man who had taken him in.
At the age of 14, Crutchy was forcibly removed to the neighbouring parish of Loweswater and left to fend for himself. His skill with horses enabled him to find some work, while his expertise as a poacher, and audacity as a thief ensured that he never went hungry. To avoid capture after his thieving escapades, he tried to put the law off his trail by tying a reversed shoe to one foot and another to the end of his crutch, leaving a false trail in soft or muddy ground. By fair means or foul, he eventually gathered enough money to buy a horse and cart and started in business as a carter. This afforded him an even greater opportunity to thieve, under the guise of a respectable occupation. Eventually his luck ran out when the law finally caught up with him. He was taken to Carlisle Assizes on many charges of theft. He was found guilty, sent to prison and no more was ever heard of him.
Thomas Lancaster hanged in April 1672 for the arsenic poisoning of wife, her father, her three sisters, her aunt, her cousin and a servant boy. He took a £24 bribe from the heir to his wife's estate, itself worth £16 per annum. In the Hawkshead register book it states that Lancaster who for poysonning his owne famiiy was Adjugdt`t att the Assizes att Lancaster to bee carried backe to his owne house att Hye Wrey where hee liv`d and was there hang`d
before his owne doore till he was dead for that very facte then was brought with a horse and carr into Coulthouse meadows and forthwith hunge up in a chaynes on a gibbet which was sett for that very purpose on the south syde of Sawrey Casey (causeway) neare unto the pooll stang and there continued intill sych tymes as hee rotted everye bone from other" Lancaster's rotting corpse was left to swing from an oak tree in the winds and weather for many months. This place became known as gibbet Moss.