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Monday, 8 May 2017

An Apology and A Grumble

Whenever anyone takes the time to comment on my blogs, I'm extremely grateful. So it's extremely annoying that whenever I try to make a reply, it disappears into the ether. I have tried fiddling with the Blogger settings but no joy. (Weirdly, my comments do appear to work intermittently on my Sue Wilkes history blog). I suspect it's something to do with the pop-up blocker but who knows? So I do apologise if I appear to be ignoring you - there's some kind of technical fault and I've no idea how to fix it.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Stand and Deliver!

Although England’s most infamous highwaymen, like Dick Turpin, ended their careers on the ‘fatal tree’ at Tyburn long before Jane Austen was born, their lurid exploits were still legendary.  Highwaymen were no longer numerous but were still a force to be reckoned with. Mail-coachmen were armed with blunderbusses, and gentlemen travellers carried pistols with them when crossing areas infested by these mounted robbers.

In 1793 a highwayman was on the prowl not far from Jane Austen’s Steventon home. That same year Mrs Bramston, a friend of the Austens, was very upset after being robbed and threatened by a footpad at gunpoint at Overton, not far from Steventon. Footpads were renowned for their viciousness because they sometimes killed their victims so they could not testify against them later.  A few years later the Revd. Charles Powlett, who was well known to the Austens, fell victim to a Surrey highwayman and lost a valuable watch and money.

Dr Syntax attacked by footpads. 

It was customary to hang up executed malefactors’ bodies in chains. These gruesome remnants of humanity were a familiar sight for travellers, and Jane Austen could hardly have avoided seeing them on her journeys.

For example, one frosty winter’s night in January 1796, teenage post-boy John Stanton was carrying the Warrington mail when he was stopped by two men on horseback near Helsby in Cheshire. The men tied him to a tree and said he was being watched: if he tried to escape they would slice off his arm.
Highwayman Higgins' house at Knutsford. Copyright Sue Wilkes.

Stanton eventually escaped, and highwaymen Thomas Brown (twenty-six) and James Price (nineteen) were caught.  A few weeks later they were ‘launched into eternity in the presence of an immense multitude’ at Chester (Chester Chronicle, 6 May 1796). Their corpses were hung in chains on Trafford Green, and their bones rattled in the wind for over twenty years.

But the age of the highwayman was waning. The last recorded attack by a robber on horseback in England was near Taunton (Somerset) in 1831.