Blog - Building Beginnings

Daylight robbery

Amanda Vickery’s latest series on Radio 4 Voices of the Old Bailey reminded me what a fantastic resource this is for hearing the first-hand accounts of convicted felons and the crimes they committed. One fellow, Thomas Hitchin alias Polson of Marlow on the Shropshire/Herefordshire border had a quite extraordinary career in crime, traversing the countryside in search of people to rob. Charged initially with highway robbery from Thomas Andrews on the Hampstead road near London in July 1730, he subsequently confessed to a litany of offences he had committed across the country.

Hitchen had no apparent motive for taking up a life of crime other than idleness, according to the Old Bailey account. At the age of 29, he was married with several children and his father had established him in his own farm worth £20 a year. He quickly ran up debts of £140 and after robbing his own father went into Wales where he stole a grey mare. This he sold near Shrewsbury for £14 10s and, flushed with success, he went back to Wales where he robbed a sleeping man of £6 at a country inn.

HorseFrom there he set off for Kent and stole ten linen shirts drying on a hedge near Maidstone which he sold to a Life Guard in London for £5. Next he went to Norfolk and stole a chestnut mare from Sir John Hubbard which he left in lieu of payment at a London inn. Hearing of his son’s escapades his forgiving father brought him back home where he stayed only a few months before stealing his brother’s horse and robbing a man in Flintshire of five shillings and a silver watch. Back he went to London ‘where he spent what he had upon lewd women’, then headed north to Yorkshire where he robbed a farmer of his horse, silver buckles and 40s.

A second time his remarkable father took him home but Hitchen refused to work and set off once again for Yorkshire where he pilfered across the county, even stealing the sheets of his bed at an inn. Returning to London once again, he robbed an old man of six guineas, a watch, mourning ring and 9s 6d in silver at Hampstead.

His final attack occurred between 8 and 9am on the morning of 23 July between Highgate and Hampstead when he assaulted Thomas Andrews and threatened him with a pistol. Hitchen robbed the man of his bay mare, bridle, saddle, cane and 6s or 7s in money but this time he was apprehended and committed to Newgate Prison.

Hitchen was found guilty of the capital offence of highway robbery, admitted to his other offences, and was executed at Tyburn on 7 October 1730.

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