HIGHWAYMEN OF THE
|The Peak District was a hunting ground
Stand and deliver! Inside Out goes
time travelling and uncovers how there were rich pickings in the East
Midlands for highwaymen during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Back in the 16th and 17th centuries travellers really
did take their lives into their own hands trying to navigate the perilous
Highwaymen ruled the highways,
maps weren't available until 1760, and sign posts simply didn't exist.
The chances of getting lost on the moors, especially
during the winter months, or getting held up by a masked horseman were
an all too common story.
Inside Out goes time travelling - fasten your seat belts,
be prepared for a bumpy ride!
The wild wild Peak
Derbyshire Historian Howard Smith has researched the
perils of travelling on England's highways.
faced a wide range of perils
"The biggest dangers facing travellers on the peak
was 250 years ago. Derbyshire was like the wild west. Travellers feared
moving around this county like no other."
Stone markers were a real turning point in navigating
the Derbyshire Peak.
They offered guidance and reassurance for thousands of lost and lonely
Although most travellers were illiterate, they would
be able to figure out local place names, although deciphering local dialect
would be another challenge entirely.
The Derbyshire market town of Alfreton is a good example
of the problem travellers faced.
Alfreton appears on numerous stops in many different
ways, variously appearing as Offerton, Allforton and Alfarton.
Stand and deliver
For most travellers their biggest fear was encountering
The word 'highwayman' came into the English language
in 1617 although examples of highway robbers date back to medieval and
were common on the Peak's roads
The very name of highwayman conjures up a romantic image
of a bygone age where men like Dick Turpin held up stage coaches and robbed
their rich passengers.
The origins of modern highwaymen have their roots in
the English Civil War. The execution of Charles I in 1649 left the many
Royalist officers without the means of supporting themselves.
These men with no trade nor skill other than soldiering
were forced to take to the road - they robbed to survive.
Your money or your life?
A prime target for highwaymen was the road which linked
Derby and Chesterfield where there were rich pickings.
Local writer Peter Elliott has researched the crimes
that took place against the travellers along this ancient highway.
"The stretch of road was such a hot spot for highwaymen.
It gave them time to size up their victims in Derby and then ride out
Highwaymen had an average life expectancy of 28, most
died by hanging and then their bodies were hung in gibbets at crossroads
as a warning to law breakers.
Dick Turpin is perhaps the most famous of highwaymen
conjuring up images of a dashing and daring criminal.
The truth is rather less impressive. Turpin's famous
ride from London to York in less than 24 hours on his horse Black Bess
is likely to have been a myth.
was here - the highwayman was later immortalised in the popular novel
Rookwood by Harrison Ainsworth
Early in his career Turpin's main speciality was robbing
remote farmhouses with his gang.
It was only later in his life that he turned to highway
By 1737 Turpin had achieved such notoriety that a bounty
of £100 was placed on his head.
To escape capture, he relocated to Yorkshire, settling
under the name of John Palmer.
He financed his flamboyant lifestyle with forays into
the Lincolnshire countryside for horse, sheep and cattle stealing and
Eventually the law caught up with Turpin, and he was
incarcerated in York Castle dungeons under sentence of death.
He was executed at York Racecourse in 1739 after being paraded around
the streets of York in an open cart.
The old Great North Road which ran between Newark, East
Retford and Tuxford was a happy hunting ground for robbers stealing from
Dick Turpin - born 1706 and trained as a butcher.
Tried smuggling and then joined the Essex Gang who invaded isolated
farmhouses. Turned to highway robbery late in his career.
John Nevison - born 1648. This flamboyant highwayman
never used violence.
James MacLaine - A respectable gentlemen by day and a highwayman
by night. His accomplice was William Plunkett. Hanged at Tyburn
Claude Duval - renowned as a courteous rogue. Born in France in
1643. Mainly robbed around London. Hanged at Tyburn in 1670.
'Captain' Tom King - a swashbuckling highwayman
who worked with Turpin later in his career. Killed accidentally
by Turpin during a raid.
Robin Hood - early Nottingham 'highway robber', fame for giving
from the rich to the poor.
The best known East Midlands highwayman was John Nevison
who was nicknamed 'Swift Nick'.
Some historians believe that it was Nevison, and not
Dick Turpin, who made the famous London to York ride in less than 24 hours.
Nevison's gang of six outlaws met at the Talbot Inn at
Newark and robbed travellers along the Great North Road as far north as
The gang were betrayed by Elizabeth Burton in 1676 when
she was arrested for stealing.
Nevison was transported to Tangiers, but returned to
England in 1681, taking up highway robbery once again.
When he was finally caught, Nevison was sentenced and
hanged at York in 1684.
Black Harry was a notorious early 18th century highwayman.
He robbed the pack-mule trains between Tideswell and Bakewell.
He was eventually arrested by the Castleton Bow Street
Runners, and was hung, drawn and quartered on the Gallows Tree at Wardlow
In 1772 the death penalty was imposed for being armed
and disguised in high roads and open heaths. Gibbeting the corpse was
popular right up until the mid 19th century.
Gibbeting regularly took place at Wardlow in Derbyshire
with executions being held in Derby.
The threat of attack by highwaymen continued into the
19th century, but after 1815 the crime became less common.
The last mounted robbery in England is said to have taken
place in 1831.
By the late 19th century the highwayman had become a
romanticised figure, making a brief comeback in pop culture with Adam
Ant and the New Romantics in the 1980s.
Today's travellers in the Peak are lucky - their journey
is likely to be short, well sign-posted and uneventful.
The most dramatic thing that they can expect is a rock
fall or a stray mountain sheep!