The Georgian Underworld by Rictor Norton

A Study of Criminal Subcultures in Eighteenth-Century England by Rictor Norton


9    St Giles's Footpads & James Dalton's Gang


Copyright © Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited. This essay may not be reprinted or redistributed without the permission of the author.



Footpads committed the same crime as highwaymen – robbing ‘on the King’s highway’ – and the main distinction between them was the presence of horses: highwaymen were mounted on horses and robbed people travelling in coaches, whereas footpads and street robbers moved on foot and robbed people travelling on foot. The German traveller Archenholz noted the difference between highwaymen and footpads: ‘Those who are too poor to procure a horse, commit robberies in the streets. The town is their place of action, as the country is that of the highwayman’s.’ Many of them worked just on the periphery of the town, stepping out from behind a hedge in a lonely field to surprise their victim.

            Men who made a trade out of armed robbery probably had some sense of identity of themselves that differed significantly from that of the highwaymen. Footpads consciously played a role that seems to have been more brutal than gallant. When two Bailiffs were returning from the races on Hampstead Heath and were robbed by three footpads of their silver watches, a mourning ring and a parcel of writs, ‘They desired very much to have the ring and Writs again, but one of the rogues made answer (with a hearty oath) I have no remorse of conscience, when I play at Rob Thief ’ (Fog’s Weekly Journal, 27 June 1730). Earlier that month a master-carpenter was attacked on Ratcliff highway by a footpad in a sailor’s jacket, ‘who came up to him with a knife in his hand, swearing he would cut his throat if he cry’d, and then rifled him of his watch and 6s. in money. He had a ring upon one of his fingers, which the villain observ’d, and some people advancing, he cut his finger off at the upper joint, and then dropt his knife and made off’ (Fog’s Weekly Journal, 20 June 1730).

            Although highwaymen carried pistols, more violence was committed by footpads with their hangers (short swords) and blunt instruments. Arthur Hughes (hanged in September 1722) said ‘he carried the short stick in his sleeve on purpose to stun those that he robbed, it serving his turn better than a pistol, because it made no noise’. A similar device was invented by footpads in the late 1720s. Brice’s Weekly Journal for 27 October 1727 reported that on the previous night George Ackers, a member of the King’s Household, was set upon in Lincoln’s Inn Fields by three footpads, who robbed him of his watch and some silver: ‘being pursu’d, one of the rogues was seen to drop a dangerous tool, which they call Bludging, about as long as a Constable’s staff, the one end small, the other big, and fill’d with lead sufficient to stun or knock down an ox.’ This predates by three years the Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest recorded use of the term ‘bludgeon’.

            The ability of the highwayman to strike at a distance with his pistol often was sufficient to persuade his victim into ‘delivering’ his money and possessions, whereas the footpad often had to use force to achieve his aims. Also, the highwayman could gallop away quickly on his horse, whereas the footpad had to take special measures to ensure his own much slower escape from the scene of the crime: by tying up the victim, by knocking him unconscious, or by killing him. When Randolph Branch and William Descent robbed Joseph Brown in August 1752, they assaulted him so badly that when someone found him on the side of a road in Wapping he said ‘I found him all over of a gore blood, and made me as bloody as if I had dipt my hands in a pail of blood.’ Brown was still alive, and taken to the King's Head where a surgeon dressed his wounds, but he was speechless, his face so badly beaten that his mouth could hardly open, and his skull was fractured in many pieces; he died after four days of pain. Sometimes the violence committed by robbers was gratuitous and brutal. Near Ledbury, Worcs., a Scotsman was robbed of 18 guineas and six silk handkerchiefs, and ‘the rogues used him in a barbarous manner, having ript both the sides of his mouth, and cut off the tips of both his ears, the end of his tongue, and had cut a large cross in his forehead’ (Daily Post, 20 Jan. 1722). There was little popular sympathy for the footpad, and few footpads became folk heroes.

            Footpads and street robbers were mostly men, but women often acted as their receivers. Women often committed violent robberies while working as part of a pickpocket gang, or as prostitutes, both of which will be discussed in later chapters. Only occasionally did a woman specialize in street robbery. One example was Mary Blacket, who was hanged in 1726 for robbing a man ‘on the King’s highway’ in Whitechapel. Two men were her accomplices, who swore they would kill him if he did not stay where he was after she took his watch and money. She was known to have regularly brought stolen goods to the pawnbrokers, but she claimed that this incident was a case of mistaken identity. She maintained her innocence even under the scaffold, inciting the pity of the crowd by her calm dignity.

            It is difficult to draw a firm line between pickpockets and footpads. Footpads sometimes operated in large groups, somewhat like the swarms of pickpocket boys that were also common. The poet William Shenstone complained in 1743 that every evening at dusk, large numbers of pickpockets armed with knives began knocking down people in Fleet Street and the Strand, and assaulting them as they came out of the theatres in Covent Garden. A ‘gang’ of footpads was a fairly loose confederation of, perhaps, three overlapping groups of less than half a dozen members each, who came together only for special purposes such as organizing a rescue of one of their members. If several were caught, the larger group usually dispersed quickly, though small groups might well re-form after hiding out for a brief spell.


St Giles's Footpads


An examination of trials at the Old Bailey from 1729 through 1737 involving the prosecution of men who regularly associated together to commit robberies and burglaries reveals a cohesive network of more than forty criminals, and several major flash houses. The following comments are based on an analysis of trials involving James Baker, nicknamed Stick in the Mud, and George Sutton, who regularly robbed together, plus twenty-two men that they regularly robbed together with, though not at the same time as with one another; plus their associate Samuel Goodman and a sub-group of five men he regularly robbed together with; plus their associate William Fidzar and a sub-group of ten men he regularly robbed together with.

            Let’s begin by looking at a typical evening’s work by these footpads. In July 1733 William Fidzar, William Simmonds and Samuel Steele, nicknamed Smoaky Jack, drank together at Buck’s brandy shop next to St Giles’s Church (this was Fidzar’s base, where he sometimes spent the entire day drinking from morning to night), and set out at 11 o’clock at night to see what opportunities arose. They waylaid a man in the field by Buckingham Wall, Hyde Park, and beat him severely. Simmonds kept thrusting a case-knife at the victim’s head, saying ‘You Dog, do you resent it?’, cutting him so badly his skull could be seen beneath the flaps of skin. They took his wig and coat and some money and other things, and returned to Buck’s brandy shop by 3 o’clock next morning, where Fidzar washed the blood out of the coat. Simmonds and Smoaky Jack tossed up for their share in the coat; Simmonds won Smoaky’s share, and agreed to pay Fidzar for his share. The other things were divided between them. Next day Simmonds went out with George Sutton and James Baker, ‘and a heap of them, that frequented Buck’s house’, and robbed a man in Marybone Fields. When the Court asked Fidzar if any witnesses could confirm that Simmonds and Smoaky Jack were seen in his company at Buck’s, Fidzar answered ‘No, those that were with us were misfortunate people like ourselves.’

            Not all of these men were thugs like Simmonds. Some of the men were angry when an accomplice cut up a victim needlessly, and Fidzar on one occasion got hold of his mate’s knife and threw it over the bushes to prevent him committing murder. But they always went out armed, and they used violence in nearly every one of their robberies. In addition to cutting their victims with a penknife or a hanger, they smashed in their faces with the butt end of a whip or a pistol or cracked them over the head with a short wooden club or a cudgel made of a tube of canvas or stocking filled with sand or lead shot. Usually a group of three or four of them would knock their victim to the ground and beat him or her while stripping them of all their valuables and hats, wigs, cloaks, shirts, shoe-buckles and rings. Women were treated nearly as mercilessly as men. Several of the victims were so badly bruised or wounded that they had to be treated by surgeons for several weeks afterwards; one man’s memory was permanently impaired.

            Most of the footpads in this network lived in and operated in St Giles’s in the Fields. Their lodgings were very temporary. After a robbery in July 1732 four of them slept together in one bed in the King’s Arms, at the corner of Laurence Lane, St Giles’s. Several trials mention that after a robbery they would sleep at the King’s Arms, where the cost of a bed was one shilling, regardless of the number of occupants. Charles Mascall said that the King’s Arms was ‘a house we constantly use. ’Tis a grand bawdy house, where they harbour thieves and whores, and let ’em in at all hours in the night.’ Mascall explained the daily routine of himself and his accomplices: ‘We met that morning as usual about nine o’clock, at the King’s Arms, and there we staid till between 6 and 7 at night, and that’s the time we commonly go out to pick pockets, and what handkerchiefs we meet with we bring to the woman at the King’s Arms; then we get our suppers, and afterwards turn out upon street robberies.’

            For a while, Baker and Kelly lodged with Sam Quan, who was hanged for robbery in spring 1733. Many other men shared lodgings at alehouses; only a few were married. At a trial in September 1733, a man told the Court that he lived in the Brick Field, where Sutton, Simmonds, Baker ‘and a great many other loose fellows frequently take up their lodging. I have seen, I believe, 40 of ’em there; and if you come any day between two and three a clock, you’ll be sure of seeing some of them.’ The Court wryly replied: ‘We don't desire to meet ’em there, but if you’ll bring ’em hither, we shall be glad to see ’em.’

            Many of these men testified that they would all meet at Buck’s gin shop, ‘where we use to be night and day’, and then set out on their robberies, sometimes going to Marybone Fields, sometimes as far afield as Cavendish Square or Albemarle Street, and then committing yet more robberies on their return home via Holborn. Another shop frequented by several of these men was Mrs Church’s brandy-shop, at Salt-Peter-Bank, in Rag Fair: ‘we were often there from morning to night’ said Fidzar. Fidzar and George Cotterell, nicknamed Beans, for a while lodged at Mrs Elizabeth Whitehead’s in Bit Alley, Turnbull Street. She was a notorious receiver of stolen goods, and for a time had to lay low in another house in Charterhouse Lane. Fidzar and Cotterell broke into a house and brought the goods to Mrs Whitehead, who sent them to an intermediary, Jenny Taylor, a pawnbroker-cum-chandler in the Barbican. Fidzar and Cotterell’s practice was to leave Mrs Whitehead’s about midnight, and walk about until they found a house to burgle, then return about 3 o’clock in the morning. Fidzar commented in court that they seldom stayed in one place for long, ‘for we were never rightly settled’. Stephen Partridge, a shoplifter, was the servant to Mr and Mrs Whitehead. In so far as crime was organized at a broader level than individual gangs, it was organized by professional receivers such as Mrs Whitehead. She is mentioned in numerous trials, and we can document that she received stolen goods from at least fifty named thieves. Several thieves first met one another at her house, and later joined forces to rob together to supply her. She often went into hiding when an individual small gang was broken, and the Court often expressed regret that she could not be found to be prosecuted together with them. She sometimes moved her house to a new neighbourhood and set up a front to avoid suspicion. She also managed at least two lodging houses for harbouring thieves, one in Fleet Lane and one in Brick Lane. In 1735 she was living in Jewin Street and, according to one of the robbers who regularly dealt with her, ‘sold greens, for a pretence that people might not suspect that she dealt in stolen goods’. In 1736 she was staying in George Alley, Fleet Ditch (sometimes called Ditchside), where her husband Thomas Whitehead, a watchmaker, melted down all the silver plate brought to them. She also worked with an intermediary for cheaper goods in Black Boy Alley, Chick Lane. She was active throughout the 1730s. She was last prosecuted for receiving goods in January 1740, but acquitted, even though she had been convicted of receiving stolen goods in February 1736 and was sentenced to transportation and had obviously returned from transportation before the term expired. On several occasions she was prosecuted for theft, but acquitted, and she herself prosecuted robbers for stealing from her – probably maliciously, in order to enforce control over her clients in the same way that Jonathan Wild had controlled his network.

            The life of the underworld centred on gin shops and alehouses, pawnbrokers’ shops and houses like Whitehead’s. In March 1733 Fidzar, Jackson, Taylor and Jack Masterman, nicknamed Crab Jack, set out from Whitehead’s notorious house in George Alley by the Ditchside and stole 900 lb. of lead from an empty house; later that same month the same group of men set out from an alehouse in Black Boy Alley, Chick Lane, and stole 85 lb. of lead from an occupied house, which they sold to a Mr Green in Clare Market. Footpads typically had no money, and even had to scrape something together to pay for their drinks for the evening, sometimes paying the reckoning by leaving behind some small item they stole such as a silver nutmeg grater. They usually went to one of their regular gin shops to have a drink immediately after a robbery. Sometimes they spent the smaller change from the stolen money on a meal of roast mutton, bread and beer. Street robbers and burglars went for a meal so often after a robbery that some might think they robbed in order to eat. But in fact these were celebratory meals, and part of the thieves’ ritual. One morning Baker, Watson, Howard and Maddox met as usual at Buck’s brandy shop, and from thence they went to Catherine Walker’s public house in Cross Lane, Clerkenwell, and about six at night went out a-thieving. They stole a silver dish, which they took to Mrs Walker, who hid it under her apron before it could be taken to a pawnbroker to sell. Mrs Walker paid for the carriage to the pawnbroker, who gave them one pound in advance, and six pounds later (after he sold it). As Baker tells the story: ‘Then we went and bought half a goose, and carried it to Rodes’s [the Goat and Leak alehouse in White Horse Alley], where we stay’d two or three hours, and drank cherry-beer and brandy; and then went again to the King’s Head, and Howard and Maddox went to the Ship again, and brought six guineas more [for selling the dish]. Then we took coach and went to Mrs Walker’s in Cross Lane, who had trusted us with liquor till the dish was sold, and she bought two fowls and bacon for us. There we divided the money; we three had two guineas apiece, Howard had about 6s. out of the odd guinea, and the rest of it we spent in eating the goose, and one thing or another. I had eight or nine and twenty shillings left after I had paid Mrs Walker. Watson and I lay together in St Giles’s, and we bought some new clothes, and made a noise about the Seven Dials.’

            Many of the stolen items were disposed of at Mr Green’s pawnbroker’s shop in Clare Market, especially the more expensive goods such as watches. Cheaper goods such as buckles were sold in Chick Lane. Handkerchiefs and cheap goods such as a fan would often just be thrown away. The footpads also pawned their own clothing at pawn shops, and then used stolen money to get their coats out of pawn. There was a lot of circulation and recycling via the pawn-shop economy. A man would pawn his coat to get money to buy a brace of pistols, which he would use to rob a man to get money to get the coat out of pawn, with something left over for a slap-up meal. Typically a gang of five men would break into a haberdasher’s shop and steal goods which they would sell to Elizabeth Whitehead for thirty-five shillings, their share being seven shillings apiece. For an evening’s work, requiring three or four hours, those earnings were not too bad. And they could earn much more by breaking into a jeweller’s shop and selling the gold and silver to Mrs Whitehead. She would pay four shillings an ounce for silver, and fifty shillings for a gold chain, so for a good haul the share between five men could be two or three pounds apiece. However, footpads who robbed individuals in the street earned much less. None of the men in my group of forty-one footpads and burglars managed to build up any savings. When one of them was sent to prison, he would arrange for his pistols – the group’s only real capital – to be given to one of his accomplices. The pistols used by a group who regularly went out together would be regarded as a kind of communal property, even if they were bought by just one of the men. They sometimes visited their accomplices in prison, and gave them money for food.

            Most of the men were unmarried, and gangs of four or five men who regularly went out robbing together also lived together in cheap lodging houses or rooms above alehouses. I would judge that most of them were age 19 to 25, too young to get married in any event. (Footpads usually comprised an older age group than pickpockets; the Court rarely commented on their age, whereas it is often mentioned that pickpockets were only 13 or 14 years old.) Charles Mascall would use his share of the booty to buy victuals for his family and return to his wife in the evenings, but his accomplices Ackers, Welton and Booth would spend the night at the King’s Arms, where they shared one bed between them. Watson was married. Fidzar was married, but didn’t live with his wife Susan, a prostitute-pickpocket operating in Chick Lane who occasionally found herself in court. Cotterell was also married but didn’t live with his wife. Sometimes Cotterell and Fidzar were harboured for the night at a brandy shop in Rag Fair. Sometimes they went to Cotterell’s wife’s lodgings, where Cotterell slept with his wife and Fidzar slept in another bed in the same room.

            Their friends were limited to fellow-accomplices rather than any larger labour network or any larger network of family and children. Whenever any of the men involved in a specific robbery or burglary was caught, all the men in the group rushed to compete for being allowed to turn King’s evidence and thereby escape punishment. Hence the relative ease with which the overall network can be traced. Although we have to exercise some caution because of the possibility of false evidence from professional thief-takers, nevertheless many of the footpads admitted their own guilt, often for several robberies. There were far more unjust acquittals than unsafe convictions.

            Despite the instability and the shaky social cohesion of the underworld, many of the men were supported by their parents (and also by brothers and sisters), and some parents and siblings were themselves part of the underworld. Sometimes a small gang of four would go across the Thames to an alehouse in Southwark kept by a friend of the mother of one of the robbers, William Meads, where they would eat bread and butter and cucumbers, and drink bottled-ale, and share out the money. William Cotterell’s mother claimed to visit him every Sunday at the pawnbroker’s-cum-chandler’s shop in Rosemary Lane where he lodged, where his landlord (presumably a fence) said he went out to work at 7 o’clock every morning and returned at 7 in the evening and never went out at night – though in fact he was often busy chiselling open windows at 3 o’clock in the morning. John Casey was a convicted robber and his sister Jane was a convicted receiver of stolen goods. Richardson followed no occupation, but lived with his father, who had an estate to support the family. Watson and Richardson were acquainted for several years; they may have first met when they were in prison for three months in Clerkenwell Bridewell for a robbery. An attorney (presumably working for Richardson’s father) treated Watson to a bowl of punch to persuade him not to give evidence against Richardson. The court reprimanded the attorney for attempting to suborn evidence, and demanded two sureties for his appearance at the next Sessions: Richardson’s father stood for one of those sureties.

            Sutton’s mother offered money to a robbery victim to stop a prosecution of her son in 1733. John and Mary Sutton, together with their son George, appeared at another trial in December that year in order to cast doubt upon the evidence against one Joseph Whitlock for robbery, by showing that the victim – Col. James des Romaine, the King’s jeweller – had previously sworn that George Sutton had robbed him, and had then realized his mistake and swore that Whitlock was the robber. The family further complained that Justice De Veil had offered George Sutton a purse of guineas to be an evidence against Whitlock (the Justice said he had simply told Sutton of the standard King’s reward). At another trial, George Sutton’s brother John Sutton ‘appeared to be of one company’ with the robbers Macdonald (whom he visited in gaol), Beesly, Casey and two others. He was convicted for a robbery with his brother and Macdonald in December 1734. They attacked Abigail Bingo: ‘George Sutton took her a fall by a cross-buttock, that is, he catch’d her by the middle and heft her over’, then Jack Sutton took money out of her pocket and Macdonald lifted her up and took a ring from her little finger; she could not stand, but fell down again, when George kicked her and broke her arm. Celia Sutton testified that her brother John always behaved soberly and kept honest hours and lived with their parents in New Bond Street, their father being an officer in the Third Regiment. (Miss Sutton in fact was known to sometimes treat her brother’s gang of footpads to a round of drinks.) The washerwoman of Lady Betty Young, who lodged at Captain Sutton’s, and a servant to Master William Gore, who used to visit Lady Betty Young at Captain Sutton’s, testified to the respectability of the whole family. But the fact is that John Sutton was wanted for numerous robberies in Middlesex, Surrey and Kent. George Sutton was sentenced to transportation in October 1735, together with his accomplice in a robbery, Samuel Goodman. At this trial the weary Mrs Sutton appeared once again on behalf of her son: ‘My son George never was from home after 10 at night all the months of June and July [when the alleged robbery occurred], but having an unhappy character, he has often been taken up – I have too much cause to remember the time I speak of, for his poor unfortunate brother was executed on the 4th of June.’ Goodman’s mother also testified on behalf of her son, whom she said fell sick on the day that John Sutton was hanged, and remained ill in bed for three weeks afterwards, and never went out after dark for six months afterwards. George Sutton soon returned from transportation, and was back in court in December 1736, when he was sentenced to death for a violent robbery committed in company with Bob the Glazier. His final act of bravado when he was captured was to demonstrate to the constables how he had hooked the victim’s watch out of his pocket using his hanger. At this final trial, George Sutton did not bother to call any witnesses, not even his parents, to testify on his behalf. After George Sutton was hanged, his wife Elizabeth married his accomplice Samuel Goodman, who had been involved in robberies going back to 1730. In February 1737 Goodman was tried for robbery and Elizabeth for receiving stolen goods, but they were both acquitted.

            Some of the men had occupations, at least according to witnesses who appeared to testify in favour of their good character. Meeds was a plasterer. Welton used to assist his mother, who kept a chandler’s shop and also took in laundry. Michael Elston, who received stolen cloth from the major fence, Mrs Whitehead, pretended to be a tailor (he pretended to be a watch-maker when dealing with stolen watches) and his wife sold drams of brandy from their shop. John Casey was a builder’s assistant. Beesly was apprentice to a carver and gilder; but his master failing, he turned labourer. Kelly said he was a ‘shoemaker by trade, but business being dead, I set up a cobbler’s stall in St Alban’s Street, Piccadilly’, where he made the acquaintance of Baker, who often came to his stall. Abraham Wild worked on a transporter ship, where he made the acquaintance of Will Isaacson, a prisoner being transported, and many years later they joined up together to commit burglary.

            But most of these men had no occupations, other than a life of robbery and burglary. The tools of their profession were sometimes found on them when they were apprehended, such as a dark lanthorn or a chisel. Fidzar met Cotterell after he broke out of New Prison, and they worked together for three months before Cotterell was caught again. Macdonald knew Casey and Beesly for six months. Mascall had known one of his accomplices for seven years. Some of them, such as Partridge, had a three-year history of appearing before the courts for committing robberies or shoplifting or burglary. George Sutton and Samuel Goodman appeared in court over a period of four years, and Baker appeared in court first in 1729 and last in 1735. Most of them were repeat offenders. They robbed together, drank together, and slept together: they lived in the underworld rather than as part of the ordinary wider community, and were recognized by their more respectable neighbours as criminals. When one man saw Baker and Sutton together one evening heading towards Marybone Fields, ‘I concluded they were going upon some mischief. In three quarters of an hour, I was told there had been a robbery, and I said, I thought so.’


James Dalton's Gang


James Dalton was said to have been a ‘thief from his cradle’. His father, an Irishman, had been a tailor in Dublin, who came to London after serving in the wars in Flanders. In the parish of St Andrews, Holborn, he lived by gaming, becoming one of the most notorious cardsharpers in Europe, until someone swore robbery against him and he was hanged. Dalton as a little boy rode ‘between his father’s legs in the cart, to his fatal exit at Tyburn’. His mother subsequently married a butcher, but she was soon transported for having committed some felony; his sister was likewise transported. His younger brother would be hanged for murder. James was declared ‘a master-piece of a robber’, and he became ‘one of the most impudent, irreclaimable thieves, that ever was in England’.

            Dalton’s criminal career spanned about fifteen years – even longer, since he began stealing from his schoolmaster as a young boy. At the age of 11 he was introduced by his companions to a company of common whores, and they all piled into one bed together at an inn. After he was established in his thieving trade, he was once taken up on suspicion of committing a robbery in Islington Road; but several of his friends impersonated a doctor, an apothecary and a surgeon, and on their testimony that he was ill in bed at the time of the robbery, he was acquitted. Dalton’s first serious conviction for pickpocketing was in 1720, when he was sentenced to be transported to America and put on board the Honour in May. But during a storm en route, he and his fellow pickpocket Charles Hinchman organized a mutiny and mastered the ship, which they steered to Cape Finistere, where sixteen of the prisoners destined for transportation robbed the ship then set ashore and escaped. Later a Dutch ship carried him and some others to Amsterdam, whence he returned to London. In March 1721 Hinchman and Dalton and several others were apprehended by Jonathan Wild, and sentenced to death for returning from transportation; Hinchman was hanged but Dalton was pardoned. However, he was arrested again that year, for robbing a linen-draper’s shop in Bristol, for which he was transported to Virginia in August. He lived there for a time, stealing boats and negroes together with a notorious American robber named Whalebone. He returned to London several years later, formed a gang of robbers, and was in due course apprehended again. Although Dalton steadfastly denied the specific robbery for which he was eventually hanged, he confessed to the Ordinary of Newgate ‘that for twenty years past he ne’er rose out of his bed, but he deserved the gallows’.

            Dalton and his gang were street robbers rather than highwaymen, though towards the end of his career he sometimes mounted a horse and went out on the highway. Dalton, Benjamin Branch, Christopher ‘Kit’ Rawlins and William Holden were ‘sworn companions’ in the trade of snatching women’s pockets (i.e. cloth purses, usually tied inside the waist of a skirt). In only three months they snatched more than 500 pockets, working mostly the streets around Fleet Street and Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Dalton and his accomplices would look out for a likely victim, then follow her to a secluded place while they discussed which one of them would mill her, and then push her to the ground and snatch her pocket or any bundle she was carrying. They would sell anything of value to a lock, and then divide the money equally between themselves. They were usually armed: on one occasion Branch accidentally cut Dalton’s thumb with his knife when he made a lunge at the throat of a gentleman who rushed up to assist the woman being robbed.

            The practice of hauling cly did not require skilful dexterity. The basic technique was simply for the pickpocket to ‘suddenly whip his right hand up the petticoat, and at that instant give her a slap-dash on the shoulder with his other hand, and fling her down on her face. . . . He says, what gave them the greatest advantage, was, the custom the women have, of wearing their pockets under their hoop-petticoats, where they might whip hold of it without the least interruption.’ Holden was an understrapper who acted as their baggage man, that is, he would loop off with the cole while the others continued to harass their victim. Another accomplice was William Russell, alias Finebones. A somewhat earlier associate was William Field, follower and then successor to Jonathan Wild, but Dalton said that Field was ‘the most vile wretch that ever he contracted an acquaintance with’, and he went out pocket snatching with him only a few times.

            In this trade Dalton’s gang sometimes fell out with the fro files, gangs of women who felt that they ought to have the monopoly in picking pockets. One of them, trying to pick the pocket of a woman whose pocket had already been snatched by Dalton, was enraged, shouting ‘God Damn those who first invented haul cly, for they ruin us fro files.’ Dalton regarded prostitutes as their safeguard, for when his men snatched people’s pockets as they came out of the playhouses, the prostitutes who were more conspicuous in picking up trade would be blamed for the thefts.

            After robbing numerous women of their rings, snuff-boxes and pockets, Branch was arrested, but Dalton and Rawlins continued to work together. They briefly tried the trade, previously practised by Branch and Field, of stealing natural-hair wigs, which they called bits of Spanish. They would loiter near the barber shops around St Andrew’s Church in Holborn, where hair-pickers frequently came to sell their goods to the hair merchants, then steal from them. On one occasion they took a considerable quantity of good new hair to a barber’s to make fine wigs for themselves, but at the next shower of rain they realized the barber had given them old made-up wigs: thus were the biters bit. This episode is alluded to in one of Hogarth’s prints in the series The Harlot’s Progress: on top of Moll’s bed is a box labelled ‘James Dalton his Wig box’.

            Neither hauling cly nor stealing hair provided sufficient funds to keep Dalton’s gang as gentlemen or to maintain the extravagances required by the lewd women they had taken up with, so Dalton and Rawlins resolved to go out robbing coaches, together with John Rowden, called Hulks. They would sit drinking at the way-station or shed in Smithfield until they heard a gentleman call for a coach, and shortly afterwards follow him, stop the coach and take his money. Dalton was the one responsible for stopping the coach, Rawlins would demand the passengers’ money and valuables, and Hulks would help them make off with the goods. When Dalton transformed himself from pocket snatcher to street robber, he took on the gallantry associated with the role of the highwayman. For example, his men once stopped a coach in St Paul’s Churchyard containing a gentleman and his wife, whom he begged they would not frighten because she was big with child, and after taking just his watch and a moidore, they ‘very courteously assured him, that if his lady had 50 guineas about her, they would not rob her of a penny, nor offer the least rudeness or incivility’. But Dalton denied the truth of his most famous and gallant exploit, in which he was alleged to have stopped a carriage on its way from Salmon’s Wax Works in Fleet Street to a china shop in Leadenhall Street, and to have declined to rob the carriage when he discovered that the occupant was Her Majesty Queen Caroline.

            Another part of the transformation from footpad to highwayman was the more frequent use of pistols rather than knives. The gang usually brandished empty pistols because they did not want to accidentally kill anyone and be pursued for murder, but they nevertheless also carried one loaded pistol, which presumably they would take out and use if required. Dalton together with Rawlins, Hulks and Isaac Ashby nicknamed Black Isaac and one or two other men robbed at least twenty coaches before they were finally captured. Black Isaac had been so dextrous at biting a clout that he got the value of a guinea a night, but under the protection of Dalton he and the others undertook exploits more dangerous than the petty larcenies of their previous trade.

            Dalton, called the ‘Captain’ of the gang, was always in control of himself, but his deputy Kit Rawlins, together with Hulks and Black Isaac regularly went out drinking and whoring with Moll Harrington of Drury Lane, Moll Tollard alias Blewet, and Black Moll. (Black Isaac and Black Moll were probably Jews with swarthy complexions.) All the money they got by this course of life was spent on women of the town. Dalton kept himself in decent apparel and was a professional: ‘as he himself expresses it, he lov’d to be diligent in his business, let it be what it wou’d, and delighted to see the whores now and then put to their shifts, that they might learn to live, when the finisher of the law had topp’d all their cullies.’ Several other women operated on the periphery of the gang, mainly acting as fences. These included Field’s wife Elizabeth Thompson, a notorious lock or receiver of stolen goods who was transported to the plantations.

            A hack writer who helped Dalton to write an account of his life commented that ‘his whole life [was] made up of extravagant contradictions’, but ‘amidst all these flights and rogueries, he had still some humanity, and ... he frequently assisted those who were truly necessitous’. On one occasion Dalton’s gang robbed an old woman at the Stocks-Market of some bread and cheese, a half guinea and a three-half-pence piece, but ‘The weather at that time being cold, they, in compassion to the old woman, gave her the three-half-pence back again, bidding her buy a quartern of max [i.e. glass of gin] with it to cheer her spirits.’ In his autobiography A Genuine Narrative (1728) Dalton portrays himself as something of a buffoon and recounts his amorous intrigues and merry pranks in the manner of the popular jest-books of an earlier period. Many humorous incidents show him as the victim of other thieves. One night he fell asleep drunk on a bench in Conduit Street, and had his pockets rifled by someone who first tied his legs together with his own garters. When he awoke to discover that his hat, wig, shoes and silver buckles were gone, he swore so loudly that he frightened all the Watchmen from Newgate to Stocks-Market, though none came to his rescue. The next night he picked up a prostitute near St Dunstan’s Church and carried her to a tavern, where she secretly picked his pocket while he secretly removed her purse. On another occasion he discovered his breeches missing when he woke up at a bawdy house, and created such a scene that the bawd rushed out to buy him a new pair of breeches and gave him a crown in compensation. Later he remembered where he had hid the breeches before going to bed, then went back to the house to have fun terrifying them, before pulling down his new breeches and leaving them behind. He was commonly the victim of prostitutes, who took his money, gave him the pox and left him to be beaten up by their bullies. At the end, Dalton was informed against by one of his whores.

            Dalton was arrested early in 1728, and in order to save his own skin he decided to turn King’s evidence against the members of his gang. It will come as no surprise that several of the gang were arrested in a brandy shop in Chick Lane, to which Dalton had directed the constables. As a kind of aide memoire for the evidence he would present in court, Dalton dictated A Genuine Narrative of all the Street Robberies committed since October last, by James Dalton, and his Accomplices (1728) while he was held in Woodstreet Compter awaiting his trial in May 1728. This semi-autobiography (probably written with the assistance of a journalist) ends with a letter supposedly from Dalton to his friend Tom Tibbolds: ‘I have for this last 6 months been a sad dog, and I must now hang like one, if I don’t act the traytor; yet life is sweet, faith it is, and I had better make my self an evidence against those who will without doubt come to be hang’d one time or another, and save my life by it, than be tip’d off the pearch, and leave them to reign in their wickedness. . . . but the game is up, all is over, and we have nothing to do now, but to try who can outreach the others; this I hope will be my business, for the other foolish dogs my companions have not the sense to save their lives by information, if they had the opportunity; therefore they will in all likelyhood be hang’d for fools, as well as rogues.’

            On the basis of evidence given by Dalton, together with evidence given by his associate William Neaves, eleven men of his gang – William Russell nicknamed Finebones, William Holden, Robert Crouch nicknamed Bob and Butcher, Christopher Rawlins, Isaac Ashby nicknamed Black Isaac, John Rowden nicknamed Hulks, Edward Benson alias Royston, George Gale alias Kiddy George, Thomas Crowder, James Toon and Richard Nichols – were hanged at Tyburn on 20 May 1728. (Benjamin Branch had been hanged previous to Dalton’s arrest; Field was also arrested on Dalton’s evidence, and transported to Maryland in 1729.) Dalton and Neaves received the Royal Pardon and were discharged in July. In January the following year Neaves was convicted of stealing from a shop, and prior to being hanged on 7 February 1729 he admitted to Nichols’s wife and father that the evidence he had given against Nichols was false. Dalton in 1730 said he knew about Neaves’s false testimony, but he protested that the six men hanged upon his own information ‘were every one guilty of their crimes they suffered for’. He also complained that although he was entitled to a reward of 140 for each of them – in accordance with a Proclamation issued on 1 March 1728 by which the government added 100 to the statutory 40 reward for information leading to the conviction of street robbers in London and Westminster – which meant that altogether he was due 840, the authorities never fulfilled their obligations and he received only about 40 plus his liberty. This Proclamation had probably been prompted by the wave of robberies by Dalton’s gang, perhaps specifically by the fact that one of the men robbed had been Sir Gilbert Heathcote a prominent financier.

            After being set free, Dalton returned to robbing carriages. In December 1729 Dalton went up to a chariot near Leather Lane and demanded the watch and money of the occupant, who happened to be the famous Dr Richard Mead, physician to George II. But Mead’s footman jumped down from behind and Dalton ran away, dropping his pistol in the street. A shopkeeper shot at him, grazing his face, and the footman chased him and caught him. In Court in January 1730, Dalton said he could not be hanged for this, but ‘he wished he had done murther, for he had rather be hanged’. Since the robbery had not been successful, he was found guilty only of assault with the intent to rob, which was a misdemeanour rather than a capital felony, and he was sentenced to a fine of 40 marks and three years’ imprisonment in Newgate and to find sureties for his good behaviour for seven years. The London Journal reported that Dalton ‘behaved himself with a great deal of insolence while the Court were passing sentence on him, and threatened to do murder before long; whereupon he was ordered to have his hands tied while in the court. . . . When that part of his sentence was pronounced of his fine, he reply’d, Give me a Receipt for it, and I’ll pay you now.’ While in prison, he took out a penknife and stabbed someone through the cheek, though it is unclear if this was a fellow inmate or a visitor to one of the prisoners.

            In April Dalton was tried on the further charge of assaulting and robbing John Waller in the fields between Tottenham Court and Bloomsbury the previous November. Hearing that Dalton was in Newgate Prison, Waller had gone there and recognized him wearing his gingham waistcoat, and Dalton allegedly said to him ‘Damn you, I am sorry I did not blow your brains out.’ (Waller may be the man Dalton stabbed in the cheek.) However, in Court Dalton denied this assault and robbery (a capital felony). He accused Waller of being a common affidavit man who had himself recently come out of Newgate, and said he was as great a rogue as himself. Dalton called three fellow prisoners from Newgate to testify on his behalf. One of them was John Mitchell, ‘but he having been proved to have stood in the pillory for falsely charging a man with sodomy, the Court did not think fit to admit him as an evidence’. Mitchel had stood in the pillory in Little Britain in November 1728, and again in May 1729, on each occasion for extortion by threatening to accuse a man of sodomy, and he was sent to prison for three months. He was known as Nurse Mitchell. Dalton was sentenced to death. Four of his many ‘wives’, all friendly with one another, visited him in gaol. The ‘marriage ceremonies’ had been performed by his associates; several other ‘wives’ had been transported before Dalton’s final capture.

            Dalton’s conviction in 1730 resulted in a second autobiography (again dictated to an editor, who paid for the interview), The Life and Actions of James Dalton (The noted Street-Robber) (May 1730), and he also made a confession to Rev. Guthrie, the Ordinary of Newgate, which was published at his own desire. Both documents consist mainly of a long recitation of his crimes. Dalton, age about 30, was hanged at Tyburn (with three other malefactors) on 12 May 1730. At the place of execution, after part of the 51st Psalm had been sung as usual, he requested that they sing part of The Humble Suit of a Sinner. Two other men he had given evidence against were arrested later that month and imprisoned.

            Dalton was correct about John Waller being an affidavit man. Waller was the son of the executioner of Halifax, Yorkshire, when beheading rather than hanging was customary for capital punishments. He came to London age 15 and became a bailiff's follower, then a solicitor, and finally took up the occupation of falsely accusing people of robbery in order to get the reward. He received 80 reward for convicting James Dalton. Dalton may have been the only one to have suffered death on Waller’s account (many others, though capitally convicted, seem to have been reprieved and pardoned or transported). Waller and his mother Mary Smith had been tried several times, but acquitted, on charges of sending threatening letters to burn people’s houses down if they didn’t deposit money in a certain hiding place. Prior to Dalton’s trial, Waller had given evidence against four other men who he claimed had robbed him; the bills of indictment against two of them were returned Ignoramus, and the other two were tried and acquitted. At a later sessions, in June 1730, yet another man was committed to Newgate on the oath of Waller, for robbing him on the highway in Essex.

            Legal professionals became suspicious when they began to notice how often John Waller was set upon by robbers. Later, in October 1731 Waller accused Charles Knowles and Sarah Harper of Newington for assaulting him on the highway and stealing his peruke. Waller and Sarah Harper had been prisoners together in the County Gaol of Surrey: on the same day he said she robbed him, she had sworn a robbery against him, for which he had been tried and acquitted at Kingston Assizes. The Court acknowledged that though Sarah Harper was a person ‘of but a bad character, yet the prosecutor’s was worse’. The Judge remarked that Waller had become notorious for swearing robberies ‘upon several persons (probably only for the reward) who were acquitted as innocent’ and noted that it was his evidence that had hanged Dalton. The Judge advised the jury to give no regard to Waller’s evidence, and the jury acquitted Waller’s alleged assailants.

            Despite this setback, Waller would not change his ways. In May 1732 he was convicted of falsely accusing John Edlin of assaulting and robbing him on the highway, using a false name. One person testified ‘He makes a trade of swearing away men’s lives for the sake of the reward, granted for convicting robbers.’ On this occasion Waller was found guilty and sentenced to stand once in the pillory at the Seven Dials, in St Giles’s in the Fields, and once in the pillory against Hicks’s Hall, for one hour each time. An account of his offence was to be written on a paper and stuck on the pillory. He was also sentenced to pay a fine of twenty marks, and to be imprisoned for two years. But he would never reach prison.

            On Whitsun Friday at Bow Fair, while James Dalton’s brother Edward ‘Ned’ Dalton and some others were tossing up for money, a man said that Waller was to stand in the pillory. ‘By God,’ says Ned Dalton, ‘he shall never come out alive, for I’ll have his blood.’ The day before Waller was due to stand in the pillory, as his mother was going up the steps at Newgate to visit him, she passed William Belt, who pointed her out to his companion: ‘That’s Waller’s mother. What’s that to you? says I. What, says the man, he that’s to stand in the pillory? Yes, says Belt; but he’ll stand but once. He had better be hang’d, for he shall never come back alive.’ Ned Dalton was frequently to be seen at Smithfield, ‘being always at pillories’, often with his friend Richard Griffith, who ‘took particular pleasure in mobbing and pelting persons appointed to stand upon the pillory’. On one occasion Griffith behaved so outrageously that the officers had to drag him away for a spell in Clerkenwell Bridewell.

Drawing of Waller standing in the pillory

            On 13 June, about 11 in the morning, Waller was taken to the pillory at Seven Dials. Belt, who was paid by the Middlesex Officer in charge of Waller to fix Waller’s head into the pillory, brought him out from a nearby house and put him into the pillory, but after a few minutes Dalton and Griffith leaped up upon the pillory board. Griffith tore off Waller’s coat and Dalton yanked down his breeches. They pulled his head out of the pillory, and he hung there by one hand while Belt tried to put his head back in again, but he was thrown down on the pillory board. Artichoke and cauliflower stalks (brought by Griffith) began to fly about their heads as the mob pressed forward, and Belt leaped down to save himself. A chimney sweeper leaped up and stripped Waller naked except for his shoes and stockings, threw a handful of soot into his mouth, and Griffith rammed it down with a cauliflower stalk. Dalton and Griffith began stamping on Waller’s naked body and head, and kicked and beat him with artichoke and cauliflower stalks for nearly an hour until the mob threw down the pillory and everyone fell to the ground. Dalton then stamped upon Waller’s private parts, upon which Waller ‘gave a dismal groan, and I believe it was his last’, said a witness, ‘for after that I never heard him groan nor speak, nor saw him stir’. Griffith said to Dalton, ‘Well played partner’ and Dalton replied, ‘Aye, Damn him, I’ll never leave him while he has a bit of life in him, for hanging my brother.’

            Belt helped to carry Waller’s body to St Giles’s Round-house, and then put it into a coach which carried it back to Newgate, where his mother as waiting to see him. Griffith and Dalton followed the coach, Dalton swearing ‘Damn him, we have sent his soul half way to Hell, and now we’ll have his body to see to the surgeons for money to pay the Devil for his through passage.’ Since Waller was dead, the officers of Newgate refused to take him in again, whereupon his mother went into the coach to him: ‘I did not see him till he was brought home dead in a coach to Newgate. There was a man in the coach, and they put me in, and I laid my son’s head in my lap. . . . My son had neither eyes, nor ears, nor nose to be seen; they had squeezed his head flat. Griffith pull’d open the coach-door, and struck me, pull’d my son’s head out of my lap, and his brains fell into my hand.’

            At the Coroner’s Inquest, no one came forward to prosecute, and there wasn’t sufficient evidence to identify the persons who had done the deed. Ned Dalton denied being present, and impudently challenged the Coroner to affirm that Waller had any bruises on his private parts, to which the Coroner replied ‘I never saw such a spectacle. I can’t pretend to distinguish particularly in what part he was bruised most, for he was bruised all over: I could scarce perceive any part of his body free.’ Waller’s uncle, a solicitor, eventually lead a prosecution; eyewitnesses came forward, and in September Ned Dalton, Griffith and Belt (who all lived in St Giles’s in the Fields) were charged with the murder of Waller. There was insufficient evidence that Belt had actively participated in the beating (though it was suggested that he cut Waller down the back with a knife). The officer in charge said he ‘neither saw nor heard any of the abuse alleged to have taken place’, and other officers said Belt had to jump off the pillory to save himself and could not prevent the actions of Dalton and Griffiths. Belt was acquitted, but Dalton and Griffiths were sentenced to death.

            Edward Dalton, age 26, and Richard Griffith, age 39, were hanged at Tyburn on 9 October 1732. Griffith continued to deny killing Waller even at the place of execution. According to the Ordinary of Newgate, Dalton ‘was a butcher by trade, but did not much that way; he clean’d shoes, and did any little thing about the streets, and this was his way of living for some time past. . . . He was an ignorant weak man. Cried very much in Chapel, in consideration of his misfortunes.’ He claimed to have a wife, though she lived with another man. He does not seem to have treated his women well. In May 1730 Anne Bambrey offered to get back from pawn and return some of the goods she had stolen from a man who picked her up, but she could not return his silver buckles because Ned Dalton ‘had got them from her, and beaten her’. (She was sentenced to death.) For a while Dalton continued to deny killing Waller, but he admitted it at the very end and died penitent, ‘in hopes of salvation through Christ, and in peace with all men’.


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