Burnworth and his Gang

26 February 1726   Edward Burnworth, alias Frazier, being committed to Newgate, is kept close in the condemn’d hold, loaden with very ponderous irons, having besides links, double basels [metal rings connected by chains] upon each Leg. He was discovered by one Kate Leonard, alias Priest, with whom he had cohabited during the confinement of Kit Leonard (one of her husbands) in Surry Jail; which Leonard, being one of the gang, was apprehended by means of the late Thomas Ball, who was barbarously murder’d on that account, and Leonard subsisted by the bloody crew; Burnworth having sent him a present of five guineas on Tuesday last by his wife, who had that morning given information to a Magistrate, and laid the design to apprehend him at night, which by her dextrous management succeeded beyond expectation; for at six o’clock, the time she had appointed the Officers to beset the house, she perswaded Burnworth to put off his surtout coat, (in which was lodg’d all his pistols) telling him, It was ridiculous to incumber himself with such a load, in an house where he had no reason to apprehend any danger: He complying with that advice, she next set him to fry some pancakes for their supper, whilst she went out to fetch a pot of beer, which was the signal for the Officers, who then rushed in furiously, and effectually secured him, having first fired three pistols without doing any hurt. They took from him a gold watch, and 17 shillings; but miss’d 25 guineas that he had secretly conceal’d about his cloaths, which he has now with him in Newgate. This Burnworth about six months since escaped from New-Prison, by presenting two pistols at the Keepers, whilst he clamber’d over a wall; and soon afterward going into the Thistle and Crown Ale-House in the Old-Bailey, and there meeting with Quilt Arnold, secretary to the late Jonathan Wild, who he heard had been in pursuit of him, he order’d the doors to be shut up, and putting a pistol to Arnold’s breast, he made him go down on his knees, and drink a glass of brandy with a great quantity of gun-powder in it, and then went off. [Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer ]

19 March 1726   In the morning, about nine of the clock, when the Turnkeys at Newgate were going to unlock the condemn’d hold, to bring forth the five malefactors that were order’d for execution, they found the upper door barricadoed on the inside with a great quantity of stones and rubbish that had been dug out of the wall under the gateway the night before; the wretches designing to have escap’d that way; but had not time to perfect their breach. They declaring they would murder the first person that should enter the place by force, it was concluded they were furnish’d with pistols. The Ordinary often requested them to desist from their wicked and foolish enterprize; but being spirited up by Burnworth alias Frazer, who was confined in the hold along with them, they were deaf to his advice. Sir Jeremiah Murden, one of the Sheriffs, being acquainted with their disposition, came to Newgate; and having caused the Proclamation against Riots to be read, for dispersing the mob in the street, he went into a room over the condemn’d hold, thro’ which there is a hole that looks into the prisoners; where, after frequent exhortations to submit themselves to the law, and not plunge themselves into further guilt, were used to no purpose, the Officers fired about 15 times amongst them, without doing the least execution; the criminals answering every discharge with a loud huzza: At length they began to capitulate, saying, They would surrender, on condition the execution should be respited till Wednesday; and being told, It should be taken into consideration, they submitted. Upon searching the place, but one knife and a large iron crow (with which they had broke the wall) were found amongst them; and it appearing, that Burnworth, alias Frazer, had been the principal promoter of this disorder, he was remov’d from the condemn’d Hold to the dungeon, and additional irons put on him. The other malefactors being told they must prepare to go immediately to execution, desired the usual prayers in the Chapel; which were allowed; and, after acknowledging their crimes, they severally received the Holy Communion; and being very closely pinioned, were conveyed to Tyburn between two and three in the afternoon, and there executed.

When the Executioner was going to perform his duty at Tyburn, the halters in which the malefactors were to be hang’d, were all cut in so artful a manner at the nooses, that when the prisoners had been turn’d off, they must of course have broke and the men fell to the ground and had a chance for an escape. This kind of office is suppos’d to have been done for them by some of the felons on the common side of Newgate, who had an opportunity of getting at the halters in the place call’d the Hall. [Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer]

2 April 1726   Wednesday last the Assizes for the County of Surrey began at Kingston upon Thames, the Commission being opened before Mr. Justice Denton; and the Lord Chief Justice Raymond, came thither about five in the evening.

Also the same day, between six and seven in the morning, Blewet, Burnworth, Dickenson, Berry, Legee, and Higgs [prisoners in Newgate awaiting trial], were put into an open country waggon, hand-cuffed to each

other, and fastened to the waggon; being all cleanly dress’d, and each a white pair of gloves on; and were convey’d in that manner from Newgate to Kingston, under a strong party of the Horse Grenadier Guards, commanded by the proper Officers, the drums beating a march, and a horn blowing before for the way to be cleared. The cavalcade was made up Holbourn, through Monmouth-Street and Piccadilly; where, ’tis said, some very great persons were Incog. to have a view of them. At their being first put into the waggon at Newgate, they drank and were very merrily disposed, giving several loud shouts, and commanded the mob to do the same, that the respect due to their quality might not be wanting. In the night they performed some faint devotions in the condemned hold, when Burnworth on a sudden threw away his book, saying,
D—n him if he could pray.

William Marjoram, the principal evidence against them for the murder of Ball, followed on horseback with persons to guard him.

Yesterday their trials came on at Kingston, when it appear’d by the evidences for the King, that Burnworth was the man that shot Mr. Ball; when he was brought to the Bar he refus’d to plead unless the Court would order his watch, hat, and wig to be restor’d him, which was taken from him when he was apprehended, the Judge sentenc’d him to be press’d, and accordingly he was carry’d back to the Stock House, and there had the weight of four hundred pounds laid on him for about half an hour, which brought him to plead, but after a full hearing, the evidences agreeing so exactly in circumstances, and his defence being of no weight, the Jury brought him in Guilty, together with all those above-mention’d, of willful murder.

Their trials, with the rest of the prisoners for the County of Surrey, will be printed by the printer of this paper, and all others are an imposition. [Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer ]

9 April 1726   . . . The Prisoners had very little to say in their defence, only endeavour’d to prove the evidences contradicted one another in some trifling circumstances, as to time and place, which appear’d to be of very little weight. After a full hearing, the jury brought them all in guilty of wilful murder.

. . . [They attempted to escape from jail, but failed. While awaiting execution] They still shew’d a great deal of indifference in their behaviour; they continued in this manner until Wednesday morning, when as the time grew shorter, they seem’d more apprehensive of their approaching fate, and apply’d themselves with more seriousness to their devotion. About ten of the clock on Wednesday morning they were brought out of the Stock-House at Kingston, and put into one cart along with Richard Blackburn, who was convicted for robbing on the highway. Being arriv’d at the gallows, Blewet confess’d he had follow’d this pernicious trade of thieving, for the space of about sixteen years; that his first fact was stealing a silver spoon in the Old-Baily. He ernestly desir’d that no body would reflect upon his mother, for that she had often on her knees, with tears in her eyes, begg’d of him to refrain from that course of life, which if he persisted in, would bring him to a shameful end, but that he rejected her good advice and entreaties.

Dickenson said he had serv’d as a Foot-Soldier under his father when living, who had been a Lieutenant in the Army. He acknowledge’d he had fir’d a pistol at one Mr. Hunt in St. George’s Fields, but miss’d him. The other four prisoners were very fervent in their devotion. At the place of execution Blewit nam’d the Psalms, repeated each line to his fellow-criminals, and set the tune; after which they shook hands and kiss’d each other, and having some little time allow’d for their private ejaculations, the cart drew away [i.e. leaving them hanging].

Orders being given for all the bodies to be hang’d in chains, the Foot Guards that attended the execution brought them from the gallows to the New Jail in Surry, where they are reposited till the gibbets can be erected, and the chains made; Blewet and Burnworth, in St. George’s Fields; Dickenson and Berry, on Kennington Common; and Higgs and Legee, on the main road between Kingston and London. [Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer ]

16 April 1726   On Saturday-evening, there went orders from the Government to the Sheriff of Surrey, that the body of Emanuel Dickenson, executed at Kingston with five others, for the murder of Thomas Ball, should, after its having been hang’d one day in chains, be taken down, and deliver’d to his relations: Which favour, we hear, was shewn in regard to the memory of his father, a Lieutenant in the English Army, who signaliz’d himself at the Siege of Air, where he lost his life. And on Sunday night he was accordingly taken down. [Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer]

7 May 1730   Thursday, April 30.   The bodies of Blewit and Burnworth, who were hanged in chains in St. George’s fields, were yesterday taken down, and 1 of them was hung upon an old gibbet on Bristow Causeway, and the other on Kennington Common, on the gibbet where Berry (one of the same gang) now hangs. [Grub-street Journal]

(Texts have been modernized with regard to capitalization, italicization, and punctuation, but original spelling has been retained. This edition copyright Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited. These extracts may not be archived, republished or redistributed without the permission of the compiler.)

CITATION: Rictor Norton, Early Eighteenth-Century Newspaper Reports: A Sourcebook, "Burnworth and his Gang", 18 November 2001, updated 28 November 2001 <http://grubstreet.rictornorton.co.uk/burnwort.htm>

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