On a night in June 1763, a highwayman rode out to work on the roads between Bath and Tetbury. He found his first victims at Lansdown, on the outskirts of Bath. A woman returning home from selling butter at Bath market was robbed of her day’s takings, then a collier had three shillings and six pence stolen from him by the man on horseback, who afterwards rode off towards the Monument to Sir Bevil Grenville.
The highwayman found his next victim at Toghill Turnpike, where he came across a gentleman’s servant who was just paying the keeper in order to pass. The robber ordered the keeper to go inside and shut the door, warning him that otherwise he would blow his brains out, and saying that he would receive the gentleman’s payment. He then relieved the servant of a considerable sum of money.
Continuing on the road towards Tetbury, the highwayman overtook another gentleman’s servant, but instead of robbing him, he travelled with him to Petty France, where they fed their horses and took refreshments in an inn, before setting out together again. However, when they reached a parting point in the road, the highwayman suddenly pointed a pistol at the other man’s chest and demanded his money and watch. The highwayman rode off down the road towards Gloucester and the servant returned to the inn and asked the landlord to help him pursue the robber. The two men set off together and got within 200 yards of the highwayman, but he jumped his horse over a stone wall and got away.
This was not the end of the highwayman’s adventures that night. He next encountered a man described as a pig-killer of Wickwar, who kept the Sign of the Crown public house there. The robber demanded the man’s money and he replied that he only had four shillings and six pence on him. The highwayman then wanted the man’s pocket watch. The man refusing to hand it over, the robber tried to snatch it from him, but the chain snapped, leaving him holding only the chain and seal. Snarling that the man was an “obstinate dog”, he drew his pistol from under his coat and fired, lodging five slugs into his victim’s right breast. While some newspaper reports said the man had died as a result of his wounds, the Bath Chronicle stated that he was still alive, but not expected to recover.
Whether or not the highwayman wore a handkerchief around his face when committing his crimes was not reported, but during his time spent at the inn in Petty France, the landlord had got a good look at him and was able to give a detailed description. He was described as being a short young man, much pitted with smallpox, who was wearing a brown Surtout coat. He was “well-mounted” on a dark-brown horse which was blind in one eye. It was also said that his saddle had one new stirrup and one old.
The highwayman probably lay low for a few weeks after his prolific night of robberies, but at the end of July, it was reported that Mr Samuel Rudder, the well-known printer and bookseller of Cirencester, had been robbed of three guineas and his watch, not far from the town, by “a single highwayman, well-mounted”. On the same morning, several other people were robbed by the same man. At about noon on that same day, a man rode up to a blacksmith’s shop in Chalford Bottom to have his horse shod. While he was waiting, several people on seeing him thought he answered the description given of the man who had shot someone on the Bath Road about three weeks before. He was seized, and in his pockets were found a brace of pistols loaded with stones and bits of lead, and about eight guineas in money. He was taken to a magistrate, who committed him to the care of the constable, who took him to the George Inn at Bisley, to be held there until he could be taken to Gloucester Gaol.
The sensation of a highwayman being taken into custody attracted a crowd, which followed the constable and robber to the George Inn. One of the men who had been robbed that morning went into the room where the highwayman was eating his supper, and declared that this was the man who had robbed him. The robber asked him if he would swear to that, and when the man replied that he would, he took the knife with which he was eating his supper and cut his own throat with it. He did not succeed in killing himself, but was too ill to be taken to Gloucester Gaol immediately, so was kept under the care of the Bisley constable until he recovered.
In the meantime, the newspapers announced that the miscreant was named Daniel Neale, and he was a cloth-worker, living at Frome in Somerset. The mare he rode was the property of the landlord of the Black Swan at Frome Field, but it wasn’t stolen; Neale had hired the mare on several occasions. He had lately shown watches and considerable sums of money to his workmates, telling them that if they would hearken to him they might get a deal of money with much more ease than working at their business. Neale was from Gloucestershire, but had lived at Frome for some time and had married a local girl, who kept a shop there. It was believed that he had committed many robberies between Cirencester, Malmesbury and Tetbury.
In August, the County Assizes began in Gloucester, and Daniel Neale had recovered enough to take his trial. He was charged with robbing Mr Rudder, of Cirencester, Printer, and another person. (The pig-killer from Wickwar must have lived, otherwise Neale would have been on a murder charge.) He was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. The Gloucester Journal reported that Neale had said that he had taken to highway robbery a few weeks before Easter, with accomplices, whose names he did not disclose, but said they lived near Frome. They “took to the Highway” in order to supply themselves with “Cash for the Cockpit and the Alehouse”. They had committed many robberies and had also cut cloth from Clothiers Racks. They had formed a grand scheme, which was to have been carried out as soon as good horses, pistols, etc, could be procured. In order to avoid accurate descriptions being given, they had planned to meet every night and exchange clothes and horses.
Some accounts of the executions of highwaymen portray them as heroes who go bravely to the gallows, swaggering and welcoming death. Daniel Neale did not meet his end in such a way. He was executed at Over, near Gloucester, on 26 August 1763, alongside a thief called Richard Johnson. The Gloucester Journal reported that Neale, “expressed Terror at the Approach of Death, and seemed to think his Sins had been too great to be expiated by so short a Repentance, and prolonged the Moment in which he was to be turned off to the very last”.
Gloucester Journal, 1, 15, 22 and 29 August 1763 (at Gloucestershire Archives)
Bath Chronicle, 7 July, 4 Aug, 1 Sept 1763; Derby Mercury, 29 July, 12 Aug 1763; Oxford Journal, 9, 30 July 1763 (British Newspaper Archive)
© Jill Evans 2017