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Whose epic ride Nevison or Swiftnicks
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Extract from The Complete Newgate Calendar, Vol. I (Preface)
London, Navarre Society Ltd., 1926.

Old Newgate PrisonIntroduction
Newgate - The New Gate of the City of London
, the principal west gate at the point where Watling Street (Roman road) reached London, roughly along the line of Oxford Street and Holborn. It was built in the reign of Henry I and was used as a prison from at least 1188, and rebuilt as such in 1420.

It was destroyed in the Gordon Riots in 1780 but rebuilt in 1783 and used for both civil debtors and criminals until 1815. Thereafter, it was used for criminals only, and from 1881, only during the sittings of the Central Criminal Court. It was finally destroyed in 1902, part of the site being occupied by the Central Criminal Court then Built.

Newgate Calendar (or Malefactor's Bloody Register) - The original series of this work, by R. Sanders, was published in five volumes in 1760 and narrated notorious crimes from 1700 till then.

There were many later editions. Later series were issued from about 1820 as the Newgate Calendar, and the New Newgate Calendar appeared weekly in 1863-65. There was also an Annals of Newgate by the Rev. M. Villette and others (1776). (from The Oxford Companion to Law, 1980)



The deeds of ancient robber outlaws and of highway- men--what a treasure-house pierced with windows for the imagination! Such is the first volume of our series. It will serve to show the reader that The Complete Newgate Calendar will not be just a bare recital of grisly facts, but a book fraught with the romance and colour of human lives which, if not always of the most exalted, are certainly among the most vivid. Names to conjure with have we here--Claude Du Vall and his immortal (dare we suggest because it never happened to mortal) saraband; Captain Hind, who, for all his early training as a butcher (as Robin Hood before him and Dick Turpin after), was so much the most illustrious and gentlemanly of all High Tobymen that even the Dictionary of National Biography admits him in full to its reputable pages; other Royalist "inspectors of the road," such as Captain Zachary Howard and Captain Philip Stafford; Joan Bracey, the highwaywoman; Gilder-roy, that implacable devil of a Scots robber and breaker of hearts; those other worthies whose common cognomen of Sawney proclaims them from the same country, from Sawney Beane the monstrous to Sawny Douglas, who took a copy of Chevy Chase to Tyburn; Swiftnicks, the real hero of the ride to York; Moll Cutpurse, that masculine mistress of the underworld; the German Princess, the height of whose achievement may be guessed from the contrast of her title with the fact that she was just a Kentish wench; Colonel Blood, the man who had the imaginative audacity to rob the crown from the Tower of London (he was the forbear in high crime of Adam Wirth who stole Gainsborough's Duchess of Devonshire from Agnew's); until we come to names linked with single crimes, such as Alice Arden of Feversham, who inspired a famous old play in which some have seen 

[original page v]

Shakespeare's hand (⯈ 1); and the Perrys, who provide a classic joint-example of the madness which so incomprehensibly often inspires an innocent man to "confess" to murder and of a "murdered" man reappearing again alive after others had unjustly suffered for his death. 
   Our authorities for this volume are Captain Charles  Johnson's A General HISTORY OF THE LIVES and ADVENTURES of the Most Famous Highwaymen, Murderers, Street-Robbers,  &c.To which is added a Genuine Account of the VOYAGES and PLUNDERS of the Most Notorius PYRATES. Interspersed with several diverting TALES and Pleasant SONGS. And adorned with the Heads of the Most Remarkble VILLAINS, Curiously engraven on copper. LONDON. Printed for and sold by J. JANEWAY, in White-Fryers; and by the Booksellers of London and Westminster. MDCCXXXIV; his original, Captain Alexander Smith's A Compleat HISTORY of the LIVES and ROBBERIES of the Most Notorious Highway-men, Foot-Pads, Shop-Lifts, and Cheats of both Sexes, in and about London and Westminster, and all Parts of Great Britain, for above an Hundred Years past,continued to the present time. Wherein their most Secret and Barbarous Murders, Unparallel'd Robberies, Notorious Thefts, and Unheard-of Cheats, are set in a true Light, and expos'd to publick View, for the common  Benefit of Mankind. The Fifth Edition (adorn'd with Cuts),with the Addition of near Two Hundred Robberies lately committed. LONDON. Printed for Sam. Briscoe, and Sold by A. Dodd at the Peacock without Temple Bar, 1719; and George Borrow's CELEBRATED TRIALS, and Remarkable Cases of CRIMINAL JURISPRUDENCE FROM THE EARLIEST RECORDS ro THE YEAR 1825, 1825. 
   Much pruning has been done among these volumes to 


fit them to our present purpose, but nothing more than will let air in. From the Lives of the Highwaymen, etc., has come a mass of irrelevant overgrowth--picturesque ivy from the more ancient plants and grafted moralisings--and an occasional unpleasant fungus. From Borrow have been cropped the State Trials (the series is confined to crimes of a private nature), and a litter of shoots which did but hide the trees--the verbiage of the courts and of witnesses.  Beyond this our own handiwork is limited to the bindings up again, to occasional graftings, and to the headings and sub-headings to each subject. 
   Johnson's Lives was a reprint and an extension of Captain Smith's pioneer publication in this line, which was a rĂ©chauffĂ©, be it said, of the chapbooks. Johnson lifted from Smith wholesale and poured scorn on him the while--to quieten his own conscience one would guess. Also, apparently in order to make his pilfering not quite so glaring, he occasionally altered Smith, and these alterations were not always to advantage. In his account of Claude Du Vall, for instance, he deliberately falsified the incident of the child's silver sucking-bottle, fathering it on a subordinate in order not to spoil the romantic glamour round his hero (this, we are glad to say, was not typical of him). We have replaced it  with Smith's account, and if any justification were needed would refer the reader to The Memoirs of Monsieur Du Vall; Containing the History of his Life and Death: Whereunto are annexed his last Speech and Epitaph. Intended as a severe Reflexion on the too great Fondness of English Ladies towards French Footmen; which, at that Time of Day, was a too common complaint. London, 1670, which is to be found in volume iii. of the Harleian Miscellany. This is the source for Smith's and Johnson's life, and is, in fact, the only approach  to an authoritative account there is of Du Vall's life. 


 [SWIFTNICKS & NEVISON]  Johnson again gives a totally different life to Captain Richard Dudley. We have dropped his version entirely, preferring Smith's as the more likely. Incidentally the latter contains the only reference that, strangely enough, either has to the celebrated Swiftnicks, who earned this name from Charles II. for his ride to York, the ride which Harrison Ainsworth finally fastened securely on to Turpin. The confusion attending the circumstances of Swiftnicks' career is great. A recent collector of Northern legends, the late Richard Blakeborough (⯈ 2), who was apparently not conversant with Johnson's or Smith's works, avers, on the  strength of The Records of York Castle, that Swiftnicks is the same as the highwayman William Nevison, but neither Smith nor Johnson, in a long account of this worthy's life, makes any suggestion of his being Swiftnicks. Nor, earlier still, did Defoe, in the account of the ride to York in his Tour through Britain reprinted as an appendix to this volume (click here read about Defoe's account of Swiftnicks). But why, on the other hand, did not Smith and Johnson give the life of Swiftnicks, seeing that he was so famous The answer is past all guessing. Turpin, whose life we know, did not ride to York; Swiftnicks, of whose career we know hardly anything, apparently did. (⯈ 3) 
   Further, Smith's account of Captain Dudley contains a little aside on life in the Poultry Compter, which is so full of knowledge and vibrant with feeling that we are convinced  it is drawn from personal experience. Our captain's writings, probably our captains', were most probably inspired from the inside.  
   One or two of the lives have been dropped. Smith and Johnson began their veracious histories with such unveracious figures as Sir John Falstaff and Robin Hood. We have decided to omit these popular heroes. The first history is a mossy growth that has attached itself to the name of an 


ancient soldier of some renown, Sir John Fastolf. Shake- speare has had full licence with him, and our two historians but enlarge on his exploits in King Henry V. With regard to Robin Hood we have been content to abide by the dictum of Sir Sidney Lee that the arguments in favour of his historical existence, "although very voluminous, will not bear scholarly examination." The same, it might be argued,  might quite as easily be said of Thomas Dun and Sir Gosselin Denville, but we do not willingly part with these two little-known scamps, however legendary they may be, contenting ourselves with the possibility that from their lesser popularity we may suppose a greater authenticity.  
   The only other missing life is that of "Colonel Jacque". The wonderful imaginative actualism of Defoe induced Johnson to lift the Life of Colonel Jacque bodily into his own General History (⯈ 4). It is interesting to conjecture what influence, if any, Defoe had on the lives of James Batson and Thomas Gray which, similarly autobiographical, are  found in Johnson though not in Smith. There certainly seems to be more Johnson than chapbook in them, but this is a question we cannot, at this time of day, pretend to pronounce on. In any case Defoe certainly had a not unworthy pupil. 
   Deep back as these lives take us into our national existence, it is extraordinary how nearly they are linked to our own times. Though it seems hardly credible, there is still living in an institution near Liverpool a woman who  remembers, as a child, peeping out of a stage-coach and seeing the passengers robbed by highwaymen. Mrs Janet Ann Newberry is her name, and she is only 102. We dedicate this work to her.

     August 1924.


1 The Lamentable and True Tragedie of M. Argen of Feversham in Kent who was most wickedlye murdered, by the means of his disloyall and wanton wife, who for the love she bare to one Mosbie, hyred two desperat ruffins, Blackwill and Shakbag, to kill him. Wherin is shewed the great mallice and discimulation of a wicked woman, the unsatiable desire of filthie lust and the shamefull end of all murderers. Imprinted at London for Edward White, dwelling at the lyttle North dore of Paules Church a the signe of the Gun, 1592. (back to text)
2 See The Hand of Glory, edited by J. Fairfax-Blakeborough. Grant Richards, 1924. (back to text)
3 A possible clue to Swiftnicks' Christian name may be found in a postscript to Jackson's Recantation, or, the Life and Death of the Notorious High-Way-Man, now hanging in chains at Hampstead.  Delivered to a friend, a little before execution:  wherein is truly discovered the whole mystery of that wicked and fatal profession of Padding on the Road.  London, Printed for T. B. in the year 1674, in which "Samuel Swiftnicks" tells the reader that "this is no fiction, but a true relation of Mr Jackson's life and conversation, pen'd by his own hand, and delivered into mine to be made publick for his Countrymen's good, etc. etc." (back to text)
4 It might be argued that Johnson would not have included "Col. Jacque" had he not had other confirmation of that rogue's actual existence.  Even so, the great preponderance of fiction over fact in Defoe's works would be enough to keep the life out of even this collection.  In any case it is easily obtainable otherwise. (back to text)


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