Authors: Michael Knox Beran
urning out of the Strand, you went down Holywell Street past crooked houses with weirdly carven gables and book-venders who did a brisk trade in disreputable literature. The shops of Holywell Street were notorious for the variety of publications on offer, but respectable material was also to be had. If you happened to be browsing in October 1823, your eye might perhaps have fallen on the most recent issue of the
, just come from the press. The lead article, “Notes from the Pocket-Book of a Late Opium-Eater,” was by Thomas De Quincey and contained the first of his published meditations on murder, “On the Knocking at the Gate in
Continuing down Holywell Street, you were soon before the Old Dog Tavern, where Samuel Pepys used now and again to have his “liquor up.” Nearby was a passage that led to Lyon's Inn. Passing through the portal, you found yourself in a gloomy court. “A more silent, haunted-looking inn was never known,” an old lawyer remembered. “Even by daylight, strange shadows flitted about the dwarfish doorways, and fled up the spiral staircases into the low-pitched upper stories.”
In the reign of Queen Elizabeth, Sir Edward Coke held the office of Reader here, astonishing or more likely boring his auditors with his intricate expositions of the common and the statutory law. But in the autumn of 1823, Lyon's Inn was the most disreputable of the Inns of Chancery, those ancient seminaries of English equity practice. It was now inhabited by doubtful characters, mountebanks and fraudsters, as well as by unsavory attorneys, the “vermin of the law”âan ironic reversal, in light of the tradition that those who seek “equity must come with clean hands.” Lyon's Inn reeked of decay; yet on this particular afternoon, William Weare, in his chambers in the southeast corner, was in high spirits. He was looking forward to a few days' shooting in Hertfordshire, and to practicing the still more agreeable sport of “flat-catching” there. He was, no doubt, pleased that Jack Thurtell had come round, and was eager to cooperate with him in the netting of an unsuspecting naÃ¯f. Just the other day, Thurtell had come over to Rexworthy's to let him know that he had recently become acquainted with a young gentleman who had come into a large property in Hertfordshire. Thurtell particularly mentioned that the young man had a passion for gaming yet refused to play for small stakes. What was more, the opulent youth had invited him to come down to his country house for some shooting, and had no objection to his bringing a friend.
Thurtell had evidently learned his lesson: he spoke of introducing “cards, hazard, or backgammon” after dinner in Hertfordshire, and of making a “famous thing of it.” Weare was himself enchanted by the prospect and perhaps thought it to Thurtell's
credit that, eager as the novice was to “decoy a flat,” he yet had sense enough to turn to a master player to show him how the thing was done.
Miss Malone, the laundress, came in and laid out Weare's clothes and linen. Weare himself took out a carpetbag and began to pack it. Five shirts, six pairs of stockings, a shooting jacket, leggings, breeches, a pair of laced boots, and a pair of Wellingtons were put in, together with a razor and strop, a tortoiseshell comb and hairbrush, a backgammon board, a pair of loaded dice, and two or three packs of false cards.
Weare told Miss Malone not to bother about his supper; he was going out of town that afternoon and would not return until Tuesday. About three o'clock, he asked her to fetch a coach for him. She went over to the Spotted Dog in the Strand, and a short time later the coach rolled around to Lyon's Inn. Weare came down, slight of figure in an olive-colored coat; a gold watch hung from a chain around his neck. He put his gun into the coach before getting in himself; the girl put the carpetbag in and watched him drive off.
Young Men from the Provinces
Fixity of tradition, of custom, of language is perhaps a prerequisite to complete harmony in life and mind. Variety in these matters is a lesson to the philosopher and drives him into the cold arms of reason; but it confuses the poet and the saint, and embitters society.
ave you got every thing you want, Jack?” Probert asked.
It was past three o'clock, and Thurtell and his chums were dining together in the Coach and Horses.
“No,” Thurtell said, “we must send Joe for a six-bushel sack, a hank of cord, and the horse and chaise.” He then turned to Hunt,
and told him to fetch, too, his red shawl from the Cock, where he had inadvertently left it. He took out his pocketbook and gave Hunt some money, saying that he was specially to remember to tell the hostler that he needed the gig on account of a visit he was making to Dartford.
The coach came round to Charing Cross. Weare instructed the coachman to wait while he went over to Rexworthy's. He found Rexworthy there and told him that he was on his way to meet Thurtell at Cumberland Gate, whence they were to start together for Hertfordshire.
Just before five o'clock, Hunt drove up Conduit Street in the rented gig. It was dark-green in color; a roan-gray horse stood in the harness. The horse's cheeks were very white.
Hunt showed his mates the sack.
“I am sure this is not a six-bushel sack,” Probert said. “This will not be large enough for him, Jack.”
“Never mind, Bill, we must make a shift with it; we have no time to lose.”
Thurtell went out to the gig and drove off. Probert and Hunt remained. Sometime before six o'clock, Probert asked Tetsall's boy to bring round his own horse and chaise. He then excused himself.
“Hunt,” he said when he came back into the room, “the chaise is ready.”
The coach rolled down Cumberland Street, stopping not far from where the Marble Arch now stands and where the Tyburn gallows
once stood. Weare got out and went up the street toward Tyburn Turnpike, at the western end of Oxford Street. A moment later, he returned with a tall man in a rough coat. Weare paid the fare and, having collected his gun and carpetbag, went away with the man in the rough coat. It was half past four, and some of the lamps were lighted, but others were not, for the day was not yet gone.
Probert and Hunt were driving up Oxford Street when Probert said they must get something for supper; he was not sure whether there was anything to eat in the lodge. They stopped at a butcher's, and Hunt bought a loin of pork. They set off again, going down Oxford Street toward Tyburn Turnpike and passing thence into the Edgware Road. Commanding a strong bay horse, they soon overtook Thurtell and Weare.
“Here they are,” Hunt said. “Drive by and take no notice.”
They drove on through the darkness, the road before them faintly illuminated by the glowing oil of the gig-lamps. Probert was apprehensive. What, he asked Hunt, if Jack should “well it”âtake the greatest part of the money for himself? For it was universally believed, in the gaming circles of London, that Weare never carried less than Â£1,000 or Â£1,500 on his person, a sum he kept close to his skin, ready to be instantly retrieved should an opportunity present itself.
“We know Jack is a very determined fellow,” Probert said, “and is sure to do the trick; but if he don't do the thing that is right by giving us our share, we shall be sure to learn by the newspapers what amount he takes, and we shall know how to act hereafter.”
Sometime before eight o'clock, they reached Elstree and stopped at the Artichoke. Mr. Field, the publican, brought them glasses of brandy-and-water, which they drank in the gig. Probert was merry and told Mr. Field that Hunt could “sing a good song.”
“I should be glad to hear him,” Mr. Field said.
But Hunt declined to sing.
Each was drinking his fourth or fifth glass of brandy-and-water when, upon hearing the sound of a horse and chaise, they sped off. As they drew near to Mr. Phillimore's lodge, about a mile from Radlett, they stopped by the side of the road.
“You get out here,” Probert told Hunt. “I will go on to the cottage, and see if Jack is there, and if he is all right.”
An officer of the Bow Street Horse Patrol, in a blue coat and scarlet waistcoat, was riding near the fifth milestone in the Edgware Road when he saw two men driving hard in a gig drawn by a roan-gray horse with a white face. A little later a man named Clarke, landlord of the White Lion in Edgware, was going up the road on foot when, turning round, he saw a gig bearing down on him at a furious rate. The driver shouted at him to get out of the way. Clarke recognized him; it was Jack Thurtell, a man who had often raised a glass in the White Lion.
The roads around London had long been the scene of robbery and violence. The better to keep the King's Peace on the frontiers of the metropolis, the mounted officers of the Patrol had been commissioned to supplement the efforts of “Mr. Fielding's People,” the Bow Street Runners, who were on foot.
Partly as a result of the Patrol, the great age of highway robbery had come to an end. But the names of the highwaymen who once haunted the desolate heaths lived on, not least in the imaginations of young miscreants who sought to emulate such villains as Richard “Dick” Turpin and John “Sixteen-String Jack” Rann.