Thief Taker Hangings

After the Glorious Revolution, a not so glorious age of lawlessness befell England.

Thief Taker Hangings

After the Glorious Revolution, a not so glorious age of lawlessness befell England. Crime ran rampant, and highwaymen, thieves, and prostitutes ruled the land. Execution by hanging often punished the smallest infractions, and rip-roaring stories of fearless criminals proliferated, giving birth to a new medium: the newspaper. In 1724, housebreaker Jack Sheppard—a “pocket Hercules,” his small frame packed with muscle—finally met the hangman. Street singers sang ballads about the Cockney burglar because no prison could hold him. Each more astonishing than the last, his final jailbreak took him through six successive locked rooms, after which he shimmied down two blankets from the prison roof to the street below. Just before Sheppard swung, he gave an account of his life to a writer in the crowd. Daniel Defoe stood in the shadow of the day’s literati—Swift, Pope, Gay—and had done hard time himself for sedition and bankruptcy. He saw how prison corrupted the poor. They came out thieves, but he came out a journalist. Six months later, the author of Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders covered another death at the hanging tree. Jonathan Wild looked every bit the brute—body covered in scars from dagger, sword, and gun, bald head patched with silver plates from a fractured skull—and he had all but invented the double-cross. He cultivated young thieves, profited from their work, then turned them in for his reward—and their execution. But one man refused to play his game. Sheppard didn’t take orders from this self-proclaimed “thief-taker general,” nor would he hawk his loot through Wild’s fences. The two-faced bounty hunter took it personally and helped bring the young burglar’s life to an end. But when Wild’s charade came to light, he quickly became the most despised man in the land. When he was hanged for his own crimes, the mob wasn’t rooting for Wild as it had for Sheppard. Instead, they hurled stones, rotten food, and even dead animals at him. Defoe once again got the scoop, and tabloid journalism as we know it had begun.

The Road to Tyburn

Yet this is more than the story of one individual. It also takes us on a fascinating tour through the murky underworld of eighteenth-century London.

The Road to Tyburn

Jack Sheppard, glamorous rebel, daring escapee and idol of the London mob, was one of the most legendary criminals of eighteenth-century England. When he finally met his end and was hanged in 1724, weeping girls and thronging crowds lined the road to the gallows at Tyburn. In uncovering Jack Sheppard's enthralling story, lively and prolific historian Christopher Hibbert has drawn on contemporary newspapers, pamphlets and trial reports. He reveals a wild, dissolute, extravagant character, who, although he drank to excess, frequented the beds of prostitutes and was the 'greatest prison breaker in the annals of this country', also proved to be a man of great intelligence and wit. Yet this is more than the story of one individual. It also takes us on a fascinating tour through the murky underworld of eighteenth-century London.

Defoe on Sheppard and Wild

Daniel Defoe was the first to re-tell these true crime tales, based on personal interviews in Newgate.

Defoe on Sheppard and Wild

Jonathan Wild was the Thief-Taker General who helped to recapture a number of criminals only to be tried and executed himself for racketeering. Daniel Defoe was the first to re-tell these true crime tales, based on personal interviews in Newgate.

Jack Sheppard

Upon my word, friend, said I, "you have almost made me long to try what a robber I should make." "There is a great art in it, if you did," quoth he. "Ah! but," said I, "there's a great deal in being hanged."

Jack Sheppard

Upon my word, friend, said I, "you have almost made me long to try what a robber I should make." "There is a great art in it, if you did," quoth he. "Ah! but," said I, "there's a great deal in being hanged."

Jack Sheppard A Romance Complete

She could not be more than twenty; and though want and other suffering had done the work of time, had wasted her frame, and robbed her cheek of its bloom and roundness, they had not extinguished the lustre of her eyes, nor thinned her raven ...

Jack Sheppard  A Romance  Complete

On the night of Friday, the 26th of November, 1703, and at the hour of eleven, the door of a miserable habitation, situated in an obscure quarter of the Borough of Southwark, known as the Old Mint, was opened; and a man, with a lantern in his hand, appeared at the threshold. This person, whose age might be about forty, was attired in a brown double-breasted frieze coat, with very wide skirts, and a very narrow collar; a light drugget waistcoat, with pockets reaching to the knees; black plush breeches; grey worsted hose; and shoes with round toes, wooden heels, and high quarters, fastened by small silver buckles. He wore a three-cornered hat, a sandy-coloured scratch wig, and had a thick woollen wrapper folded round his throat. His clothes had evidently seen some service, and were plentifully begrimed with the dust of the workshop. Still he had a decent look, and decidedly the air of one well-to-do in the world. In stature, he was short and stumpy; in person, corpulent; and in countenance, sleek, snub-nosed, and demure. Immediately behind this individual, came a pale, poverty-stricken woman, whose forlorn aspect contrasted strongly with his plump and comfortable physiognomy. She was dressed in a tattered black stuff gown, discoloured by various stains, and intended, it would seem, from the remnants of rusty crape with which it was here and there tricked out, to represent the garb of widowhood, and held in her arms a sleeping infant, swathed in the folds of a linsey-woolsey shawl. Notwithstanding her emaciation, her features still retained something of a pleasing expression, and might have been termed beautiful, had it not been for that repulsive freshness of lip denoting the habitual dram-drinker; a freshness in her case rendered the more shocking from the almost livid hue of the rest of her complexion. She could not be more than twenty; and though want and other suffering had done the work of time, had wasted her frame, and robbed her cheek of its bloom and roundness, they had not extinguished the lustre of her eyes, nor thinned her raven hair. Checking an ominous cough, that, ever and anon, convulsed her lungs, the poor woman addressed a few parting words to her companion, who lingered at the doorway as if he had something on his mind, which he did not very well know how to communicate.

Jack Sheppard

arranged from some rare and original documents, in connection with the remarkable history of the above notorious individual, only recently discovered

Jack Sheppard

arranged from some rare and original documents, in connection with the remarkable history of the above notorious individual, only recently discovered

The History of the Remarkable Life of John Sheppard

Giving an Exact Description of the manner of his wonderful Escape from the Castle in Newgate, and of the Methods he took afterward for his Security.

The History of the Remarkable Life of John Sheppard

Giving an Exact Description of the manner of his wonderful Escape from the Castle in Newgate, and of the Methods he took afterward for his Security. Written by himself during his Confinement in the Middle Stone-Room, after his being retaken in Drury Lane. To which is added, A true Representation of his Escape from the Condemn'd Hold, curiously engraven on a Copper Plate. The whole Publish'd at the particular Request of the Prisoner. Jack Sheppard (4 March 1702 - 16 November 1724) was a notorious English thief and gaol-breaker of early 18th-century London. Born into a poor family, he was apprenticed as a carpenter but took to theft and burglary in 1723, with little more than a year of his training to complete. He was arrested and imprisoned five times in 1724 but escaped four times from prison, making him a notorious public figure, and wildly popular with the poorer classes.

The History of the Remarkable Life of John Sheppard

This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. This work is in the public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations.

The History of the Remarkable Life of John Sheppard

This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. This work is in the public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and distribute this work, as no entity (individual or corporate) has a copyright on the body of the work. Scholars believe, and we concur, that this work is important enough to be preserved, reproduced, and made generally available to the public. To ensure a quality reading experience, this work has been proofread and republished using a format that seamlessly blends the original graphical elements with text in an easy-to-read typeface. We appreciate your support of the preservation process, and thank you for being an important part of keeping this knowledge alive and relevant.

Jack Sheppard

Jack Sheppard was tried for burglary at the Old Bailey, London, August 13, 1724.

Jack Sheppard

Jack Sheppard was tried for burglary at the Old Bailey, London, August 13, 1724.