Highwaymen were those masked thieves on horseback with 18th century three-cornered hats who held up carriages. The most famous was Dick Turpin. We often picture them carrying out their robberies in the countryside but actually, they were often to be found in the middle of central London.
So let me introduce you to some of the most unbelievably audacious highwaymen whose cheek and daring will amaze you! They terrorised London but also gave people a rather cheap thrill.
LONDON HIGHWAYMEN: Isaac Atkinson
He operated around Lincoln’s Inn Fields about the year 1640. I worked at an office overlooking this large and beautiful square for ten years. One side of the square has been dominated by barristers and lawyers for centuries going right back to Henry VIII.
Atkinson, after being apprehended, said that his conscience was perfectly clear as he had only robbed lawyers – who were bigger rogues than himself. Well, I think we can all agree with that (except you lawyers of course).
LONDON HIGHWAYMEN: Dick Banff
We would think of Dick as more of a cat burglar than a highwayman. His name is also spelt Dick Bauff. He used rope ladders and hooks to rob the houses of rich merchants in Lombard Street – near the Bank of England.
As a young man, he was involved in one extremely violent robbery in his native Ireland alongside his criminal parents. They murdered the occupants of the house and seized the goods. After being caught, Dick was given leniency on condition that he agreed to hang his own parents!
LONDON HIGHWAYMEN: Tom Buckley
Also called Tim Buckley. You tend to find spelling mistakes in names either because the individual concerned was illiterate or census takers were just sloppy. Or some criminals operated under multiple names. Anyway, Tim or Tom held up people on Drury Lane – and that really was slap bang in the middle of London
Buckley developed something of a personal vendetta against a “stock-jobber” (somebody who worked at the stock exchange). This man had got Buckley arrested on one occasion and branded on the hand. Our highwaymen seems to have sought him out and relieved the stock-jobber of a whopping forty-eight Guineas.
Incredibly, the two men then met by accident in central London and the stock-jobber got Buckley arrested – again. The highwayman was sentenced to death but then somehow got a reprieve. After which….he went to Hackney and attempted to burn down the stock jobber’s house.
After going on the run to the Midlands, he was eventually caught and hanged in 1702.
LONDON HIGHWAYMEN: William Cady
This highwayman found his victims in Hyde Park. One woman swallowed her own wedding ring to stop him getting hold of it. So Cady – who was a particularly unpleasant character – ran her through with his sword and then cut her open to get the ring.
Other London highwaymen included William Davies – “The Golden Farmer” – who only stole gold. Dick Low was the youngest highwayman aged just eleven! William Page used to dress in the height of fashion and hold people up around Grosvenor Square before being hanged in 1758.
The source for this blog is a book in my archive of material going back 300 years. The book in question is An Encyclopaedia of London, edited by William Kent and published in 1937. Here I am with it. I also used The Complete Newgate Calendar – also in my collection.