Tag Archives: charles towers

The Black Act

Following on from my previous post, I present the text of the infamous ‘Black Act’ of 1723. This draconian statute was ostensibly in response to the ’emergency’ created by organized poaching in Windsor and Hampshire. It created a host of new capital offences, and even introduced collective financial penalties upon communities where crimes took place. The best work on it that I know of is E.P. Thompson’s Whigs and Hunters (London, 1975).

The reason for publishing it here is that it appears to have been the act by which the Wapping Minter Charles Towers was executed. This is perplexing, as it appears that the relevant clause, the first, against going armed and disguised, is directed at rural poachers. It does list “any high road” amongst the heaths, downs, forests and enclosures, and makes mention of “forcible rescues”, albeit for persons detained “for any of the offences before mentioned” rather than for debt. But this strikes me as a somewhat tenuous reading in the case of Towers.

It is still the more curious in that the third clause of the Act against Southwark Mint, passed at the same time, also criminalized going in disguise, but only within that sanctuary and  without specifying the death sentence. Why two laws for the same offence if the harsher one was applicable throughout the country? (The Act against Wapping Mint didn’t come into force until 1725, so Towers could not have been prosecuted under that.)

Understanding these laws is a difficult exercise, and not only due to the archaic language and legalistic form. The text itself doesn’t describe the process by which it was written, nor its context as an instrument of state, its debate in parliament, its analysis in the courts, or its enforcement ‘on the ground.’ In this case, the seeming disjuncture between the text and the execution of Towers may be due to a political motivation to crush the sanctuary of Wapping Mint, rather than the disinterested workings of justice.


ANNO NONO GEORGII I. C.22. An act for the more effectual punishing wicked and evil-disposed persons going armed in disguise, and doing injuries and violences to the persons and properties of his Majesty’s subjects, and for the more speedy bringing the offenders to justice.

I. WHEREAS several ill-designing and disorderly persons have of late associated themselves under the name of Blacks, and entered into confederacies to support and assist one another in stealing and destroying of deer, robbing of warrens and fish-ponds, cutting down plantations of trees, and other illegal practices, and have, in great numbers, armed with swords, fire-arms, and other offensive weapons, several of them with their faces blacked, or in disguised habits, unlawfully hunted in forests belonging to his Majesty, and in the parks of divers of his Majesty’s subjects, and destroyed, killed and carried away the deer, robbed warrens, rivers and fish-ponds, and cut down plantations of trees; and have likewise solicited several of his Majesty’s subjects, with promises of money, or other rewards, to join with them, and have sent letters in fictitious names, to several persons, demanding venison and money, and threatning some great violence, if such their unlawful demands should be refused, or if they should be interupted in, or prosecuted for such their wicked practises, and have actually done great damage to several persons, who have either refused to comply with such demands, or have endeavoured to bring them to justice, to the great terror of his Majesty’s peaceable subjects:

For the preventing which wicked and unlawful practices, be it enacted by the King’s most excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the lords spiritual and temporal and commons, in parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same. That if any person or persons, from and after the first day of June in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and twenty-three, being armed with swords, fire-arms, or other offensive weapons, and having his or their faces blacked, or being otherwise disguised, shall appear in any forest, chase, park, paddock, or grounds inclosed with any wall, pale, or other fence, wherein any deer have been or shall be usually kept, or in any warren or place where hares or conies have been or shall be usually kept, or in any high road, open heath, common or down, or shall unlawfully and wilfully hunt, wound, kill, destroy, or steal any red or fallow deer, or unlawfully rob any warren or place where conies or hares are usually kept, or shall unlawfully steal or take away any fish out of any river or pond; or if any person or persons, from and after the said first day of June shall unlawfully and wilfully hunt, wound, kill, destroy or steal any red or fallow deer, fed or kept in any places in any of his Majesty’s forests or chases, which are or shall be inclosed with pales, rails, or other fences, or in any park, paddock, or grounds inclosed, where deer have been or shall be usually kept; or shall unlawfully and maliciously break down the head or mound of any fish-pond, whereby the fish shall be lost or destroyed; or shall unlawfully and maliciously kill, maim or wound any cattle, or cut down or otherwise destroy any trees planted in any avenue, or growing in any garden, orchard or plantation, for ornament, shelter or profit; or shall set fire to any house, barn or out-house, or to any hovel, cock, mow, or stack of corn, straw, hay or wood; or shall wilfully and maliciously shoot at any person in any dwelling-house, or other place; or shall knowingly send any letter, without any name, subscribed thereto, or signed with a fictitious name, demanding money, venison, or other valuable thing; or shall forcibly rescue any person being lawfully in custody of any officer or other person, for any of the offences before mentioned; or if any person or persons shall, by gift or promise of money, or other reward, procure any of his Majesty’s subjects to join him or them in any such unlawful act; every person so offending, being thereof lawfully convicted, shall be adjudged guilty of felony, and shall suffer death as in cases of felony, without benefit of clergy.

II. And whereas notwithstanding the laws now in force against the illegal practices above mentioned, and his Majesty’s royal proclamation of the second day of February which was in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and twenty-two, notifying the same, many wicked and evil-disposed persons have, in open defiance thereof, been guilty of several of the offences before mentioned, to the great disturbance of the publick peace, and damage of divers of his Majesty’s good subjects; It is hereby enacted by the authority aforesaid, That all and every person and persons, who since the second day of February in the year of our Lord one thousand seven  hundred and twenty-two, have committed or been guilty of any of the offences aforesaid, who shall not surrender him, her or themselves, before the twenty-fourth day of July in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and twenty-three, to any of the justices of his Majesty’s court of kings bench, or to any one of his Majesty’s justices of the peace, in and for the county where he, she or they did commit such offence or offences, and voluntarily make a full confession thereof to such justice, and a true discovery upon his, her or their oath or oaths, of the persons who were his, her or their accomplices in any of the said offences, by giving a true account of their names, occupations and places of abode, and to the best of his, her or their knowledge or belief, discover where they may be found, in order to be brought to justice, being thereof lawfully convicted, shall be adjudged guilty of felony, and shall suffer death as in cases of felony, without benefit of clergy.

III. Provided nevertheless, That all and every person and persons, who have been guilty of any the offences aforesaid, and shall not be in lawful custody for such offence on the said first day of June and shall surrender him, her or themselves, on or before the said twenty-fourth day of July as aforesaid, and shall make such confession and discovery as aforesaid, shall by virtue of this act be pardoned, acquitted and discharged of and from the offences so by him, her or them confessed as aforesaid; any thing herein contained to the contrary in any wise notwithstanding.

IV. And for the more easy and speedy bringing the offenders against this act to justice, be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any person or persons shall be charged with being guilty of any of the offences aforesaid, before any two or more of his Majesty’s justices of the peace of the county where such offence or offences were or shall be committed, by information of one or more credible person or persons upon oath by him or them to be subscribed, such justices before whom such information shall be made as aforesaid, shall forthwith certify under their hands and seals, and return such information to one of the principal secretaries of state of his Majesty, his heirs or successors, who is hereby required to lay the same, as soon as conveniently may be, before his Majesty, his heirs or successors, in his or their privy council; whereupon it shall and may be lawful for his Majesty, his heirs or successors, to make his or their order in his or their said privy council, thereby requiring and commanding such offender or offenders to surrender him or themselves, within the space of forty days, to any of his Majesty’s justices of the court of king’s bench, or to any one of his Majesty’s justices of the peace, to the end that he or they may be forth coming, to answer the offence or offences wherewith he or they shall so stand charged, according to the due course of law; which order shall be printed and published in the next London Gazette, and shall be forthwith transmitted to the sheriff of the county where the offence shall be committed, and shall, within six days after the receipt thereof be proclaimed by him, or his officers, between the hours of ten in the morning, and two in the afternoon, in the market-places upon the respective market-days, of two market-towns in the same county, near the place where such offence shall have been committed; and a true copy of such order shall be affixed upon some publick place in such market-towns; and in case such offender or offenders shall not surrender him or themselves, pursuant to such order of his Majesty, his heirs or successors, to be made in council as aforesaid, he or they so neglecting or refusing to surrender him or themselves as aforesaid, shall from the day appointed for his or their surrender as aforesaid, be adjudged, deemed and taken to be convicted and attainted of felony, and shall suffer the pains of death as in case of a person convicted and attainted by verdict and judgment of felony, without benefit of clergy; and that it shall be lawful to and for the court of king’s bench, or the justices of oyer and terminer, or general gaol-delivery for the county, where the offence is sworn in such information to have been committed, upon producing to them such order in council, under the seal of the said council, to award execution against such offender and offenders, in such manner, as if he or they had been convicted and attainted in the said court of king’s bench, or before such justices of oyer and terminer, or general gaol-delivery respectively.

V. And be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, That all and every person and persons, who shall, after the time appointed as aforesaid, for the surrender of any person or persons, so charged upon oath with any the offences aforesaid, be expired, conceal, aid, abet or succour, such person or persons, knowing him or them to have been so charged as aforesaid, and to have been required to surrender him or themselves, by such order or orders as aforesaid, being lawfully convicted thereof, shall be guilty of felony, and shall suffer death as in cases of felony, without benefit of clergy.

VI. Provided nevertheless, and it is hereby declared and enacted, That nothing herein contained shall be construed to prevent or hinder any judge, justice of the peace, magistrate, officer or minister of justice whatsoever, from taking, apprehending and securing, such offender or offenders, against whom such information shall be given, and for requiring whose surrender such order in council shall be made as aforesaid, by the ordinary course of law; and in case such offender or offenders, against whom such information, and for requiring whose surrender such order in council shall be made as aforesaid, shall be taken and secured in order to be brought to justice, before the time shall be expired, within which he or they shall be required to surrender him or themselves, by such order in council as aforesaid, that then in such case no further proceeding shall be had upon such order made in council against him or them so taken and secured as aforesaid, but he or they shall be brought to trial by due course of law; any thing herein before contained to the contrary in any wise notwithstanding.

VII. And be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, That from and after the first day of June one thousand seven hundred and twenty-three, the inhabitants of every hundred, within that part of the kingdom of Great Britain called England, shall make full satisfaction and amends to all and every the person and persons, their executors and administrators, for the damages they shall have sustained or suffered by the killing or maiming of any cattle, cutting down or destroying any trees, or setting fire to any house, barn or out-house, hovel, cock, mow or stack of corn, straw, hay or wood, which shall be committed or done by any offender or offenders against this act; and that every person and persons, who shall sustain damages by any of the offences last mentioned, shall be and are hereby enabled to sue for and recover such his or their damages, the sum to be recovered not exceeding the sum of two hundred pounds, against the inhabitants of the said hundred, who by this act shall be made liable to answer all or any part thereof; and that if such person or persons shall recover in such action, and sue execution against any of such inhabitants, all other the inhabitants of the hundred, who by this act shall be made liable to all or any part of the said damage, shall be rateably and proportionably taxed, for and towards an equal contribution for the relief of such inhabitant, against whom such execution shall be had and levied; which tax shall be made, levied and raised, by such ways and means, and in such manner and form, as is prescribed and mentioned for the levying and raising damages recovered against inhabitants of hundred in cases of robberies, in and by an act, intituled, An act for the following hue and cry, made in the twenty-seventh year in the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

VIII. Provided nevertheless, That no person or persons shall be enabled to recover any damages by virtue of this act, unless he or they by themselves, or by their servants, within two days after such damage or injury done him or them by any such offender or offenders as aforesaid, shall give notice of such offence done and committed unto some of the inhabitants of some town, village, or hamlet, near unto the place where any such fact shall be committed, and shall within four days after such notice, give in his, her or their examination upon oath, or the examination upon oath of his, her or their servant or servants, that had the care of his or their houses, out-houses, corn, hay, straw or wood, before any justice of the peace of the county, liberty or division, where such fact shall be committed, inhabiting within the said hundred where the said fact shall happen to be committed, or near unto the same, whether he or they do know the person or persons that committed such fact, or any of them; and if upon such examination it be confessed, that he or they do know the person or persons that committed the said fact, or any of them, that then he or they so confessing, shall be bound by recognizance to prosecute such offender or offenders by indictment, or otherwise, according to the laws of this realm.

IX. Provided also, and be it further enacted, by the Authority aforesaid, That where any offence shall be committed against this act, and any one of the said offenders shall be apprehended, and lawfully convicted of such offence,within the space of six months after such offence committed, no hundred, or any inhabitants thereof, shall in any wise be subject or liable to make any satisfaction to the party injured, for the damages he shall have sustained; any thing in this act to the contrary notwithstanding.

X. Provided also, That no person, who shall sustain any damage by reason of any offence to be committed by any offender contrary to this act, shall be thereby enabled to sue, or bring any action against any inhabitants of any hundred, where such offence shall be committed, except the party or parties sustaining such damage, shall commence his or their action or suit within one year after such offence shall be committed.

XI. And for the better and more effectual discovery of the offenders above-mentioned, and bringing them to justice, be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, That it shall and may be lawful to and for any justice of the peace, to issue his warrant to any constable, headborough, or other peace officer, thereby authorizing such constable, head-borough, or other peace-officer, to enter into any house, in order to search for venison stolen or unlawfully taken, contrary to the several statutes against deer-stealers, in such manner, as by the laws of this realm such justice of the peace may issue his warrant to search for stolen goods.

XII. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any person or persons shall apprehend, or cause to be convicted any of the offenders above-mentioned, and shall be killed, or wounded so as to lose an eye or the use of any limb, in apprehending or securing, or endeavouring to apprehend or secure any of the offenders above-mentioned, upon proof thereof made at the general quarter-sessions of the peace for the county, liberty, division or place, where the offence was or shall be committed, or the party killed, or receive such wound, by the person or persons so apprehending, and causing the said offender to be convicted, or the person or persons so wounded, or the executors or administrators of the party killed, the justices of the said sessions shall give a certificate thereof to such person or persons so wounded or to the executors or administrators of the person or persons so killed, by which he or they shall be entitled to receive of the sheriff of the said county the sum of fifty pounds, to be allowed the said sheriff in passing his accounts in the exchequer; which sum of fifty pounds the said sheriff is hereby required to pay within thirty days from the day on which the said certificate shall be produced and shewn to him, under the penalty of forfeiting the sum of ten pounds to the said person or persons to whom such certificate is given, for which said sum of ten pounds, as well as the said sum of fifty pounds, such person may and is hereby authorized to bring an action upon the case against such sheriff, as for money had and received to his or their use.

XIII. And whereas the shortness of the time within which prosecutions for offences against the statute made in the third and fourth years of the reign of their late majesties King William and Queen Mary, intituled, An act for the more effectual discovery and punishment of deer-stealers, are limited to be commenced, has been a great encouragement to offenders; be it therefore enacted by the authority aforesaid, That any prosecution for any offence against the said statute, shall or may be commenced within three years from the time of the offence committed, but not after.

XIV. And for the better and more impartial trial of any indictment or information, which shall be found commenced or prosecuted for any of the offences committed against this act, be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, That every offence that shall be done or committed contrary to this act, shall and may be enquired of, examined, tried and determined in any county within that part of the kingdom of Great Britain called England, in such manner and form, as if the fact had been therein committed; provided, That no attainder for any of the offences made felony by virtue of this act, shall make or work any corruption of blood, loss of dower, or forfeiture of lands or tenements, goods or chattels.

XV. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That this act shall be openly read at every quarter-sessions, and at every leet or law-day.

XVI. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That this act shall continue in force from the first day of June one thousand seven hundred and twenty-three, for the space of three years, and from thence to the end of the then next session of parliament, and no longer. [Continued for five Years by 12 Geo I. c. 30.]

XVII. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any venison, or skin of any deer, shall be found in the custody of any person or persons, and it shall appear that such person or persons bought such venison or skin of any one, who might be justly suspected to have unlawfully come by the same, and does not produce the party of whom he bought it, or prove upon oath the name and place of abode of such party, that then the person or persons who bought the same, shall be convicted of such offence, by any one or more justice or justices of the peace, and shall be subject to the penalties inflicted for killing a deer, in and by the statute made in the third and fourth year of the reign of their late majesties King William and Queen Mary, intituled, An act for the more effectual discovery and punishment of deer-stealers.

Transcribed from The Statues at Large, from the Ninth Year of King George the First to the Second Year of King George the Second, ed. D. Pickering, 1765, pp. 88-94. This text is in the public domain and may be reproduced freely.


The Ordinary of Newgate’s account of Charles Towers

I’ve previously published one version of the story of Charles Towers; here is a contemporary telling from the Ordinary of Newgate’s Account. It’s not the complete document; I’ve removed the parts not relating to Towers, meaning those to the William Anderson and the Ordinary’s scriptual quotes. The full text can be found on Old Bailey Proceedings Online.

From this document, we learn more of who Towers was. A butcher, with a wife, two children and a third on the way, gambling is cited as the cause of his fall, although it is said that his circumstances were so poor that he resorted to gaming to rescue himself and his family. He had ‘form’, previously being sentenced to – and reprieved from – transportation for stealing a spoon, a crime he denied. He spent 4 years in the sanctuary of Southwark Mint, and with its end, applied for amnesty under the terms of the 1722  Act against Southwark Mint, his name being listed amongst the petitioners in the London Gazette, no. 6171, 8th June 1723:

Charles Towers listed in the London Gazette, no. 6171

Charles Towers listed in the London Gazette, no. 6171

So with the end of the Southwark Mint, he “was forc’d to harbour in the New Mint, and took an House in Gravel-Lane ; for Prisons were all so full, that Men, as he said, died like rotten Sheep, and he had rather go to the Place whither he was going, than dwell under that Tyranny.”

This account also points at the statute he was executed by:

against the Form of the Statute made and provided, and which was to take effect, after the first of June, in the tenth Year of His Majesty’s Reign.

This is clearly a reference to the notorious ‘Black Act’, 9 Geo 1 c22, “An act for the more effectual punishing wicked and evil-disposed persons going armed in disguise, and doing injuries and violences to the persons and properties of his Majesty’s subjects, and for the more speedy bringing the offenders to justice.” This statute will be the subject of my next post.

THE ORDINARY of NEWGATE his ACCOUNT, Of the Behaviour, Confession, and last Words of Charles Towers, who was Executed at Wapping in the Parish of St. Paul Shadwell, on Monday the 4th of this Instant January: And also of William Anderson, who was Executed at Tyburn on Tuesday the 5th of the aforesaid Month.

AT the KING’S Commission of the Peace, and Oyer and Terminer and Goal-Delivery, &c. Held (before the Right Honourable Sir George Merttins Knt. Lord Mayor , the Right Honourable the Lord Chief Justice King, Mr. Justice Dormer, Mr. Baron Page, Mr. Serjeant Raby, and several of His Majesty’s Justices of the Peace, for the City of London and County of Middlesex) at Justice-Hall in the Old Baily, on Friday, Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, being the 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th and 9th Days of December last, four Men were by the Jury found guilty of Capital Offences, and received Sentence accordingly.

Two of the Persons, so sentenced, having obtained His Majesty’s Reprieve, viz. Rowland Swanson and Thomas Herbert; the remaining two, viz. Charles Towers and William Anderson were appointed for Execution.

Though they at first (especially Charles Towers) were incapacitated as to the performance of their Duty, by the Anger and Resentment their Condition had fill’d them with, ( Charles Towers in particular, at the same time that he acknowledged the rescuing the Prisoner West from the Hands of John Errington, affirming he was no way designedly disguised and that he no way apprehended he had any occasion to disguise himself, any more than had Tims, Bowler, Tibbs, Fencote, or any other upon the same Enterprize)

Yet they afterwards became sensible of the Folly of their Resentment; and as the Friends and Relations of Towers refused to give him any Hopes of a Reprieve, or Expectations of Life, he changed his Passion into Grief and Sorrow, that he had lost, by his neglect, the Use of Letters and Reading. As Rowland Swanson of the Four was alone able to Read, he very industriously assisted his Fellow Prisoners, and call’d upon them to listen to the Scriptures early each Morning, and before they went to Rest at Night. They were all very frequent and regular in their Devotions, when alone by themselves, as well as constant attendants at the Chapel; and ’twas thought apparent they never had any Designs of making an escape from Justice, and the execution of the Sentence that was pass’d upon ’em.

[ …. ]

The Account of these Persons under Sentence of Death.

CHARLES TOWERS, sometime Inhabitant near St. James’s Market, Butcher , was Indicted, for feloniously appearing, with several others, arm’d with Guns, Swords, Staves, or other offensive Weapons, and having his Face Black’d, or being otherwise disguised, on the Highway called Wapping Wall; on the 21st of June last; to the Terror of His Majesty’s Subjects, against the Peace of our Sovereign Lord the King, and against the Form of the Statute made and provided, and which was to take effect, after the first of June, in the tenth Year of His Majesty’s Reign. Upon the Indictment he was Tryed, and it appearing that on Sunday Morning at eleven of the Clock, June the 20th, C. Towers, with seven others, rush’d into the House of John Errington, (with a large Stick, like a Quarter-Staff in his Hand, his Hair clipt off, without Hat, Wig, or Shirt, only with a blue pea-Jacket, which flying open before, show’d his Breast, as well as his Face, Black, and besmear’d as with Soot and Grease;) whence they rescued J. West, affirming that they were sworn thereto, for his Name was set down in their Book kept at the seven Cities of Refuge; and offering (as the Prisoner was with loud Acclamations carrying off) to strike D. Taylor, Waterman, and G. Errington, Brother to the King’s Evidence; And the Prisoner’s allegations, that he never was in any Riot, but only defending himself against the Baylffs, &c. not being thought of any force, he was by the Jury found guilty of Felony without Benefit of Clergy.

As this unfortunate Person, after his Apprenticeship, marry’d young, before he was possest of a Competency, and Children and the Charges of a Family encreas’d upon him, he then judged that Gaming was a proper Method to retrieve himself and support his Family; but by Cards he lost that little he was then possest of. His Circumstances being desperate, he engag’d for a Friend, in a very large Sum of Money; which soon oblig’d him to fly into the Old Mint. When most distrest, he said, he refused all Solicitations to Rob or Thieve: Denying that he ever was guilty of any notorious Offence, except one, which was unfaithfulness to his Wife’s Bed; for which, he added, he must acknowledge he deserved Death, tho’ Adultery is so seldom punish’d in this Kingdom. As for the robbing Mr. Huggins of a silver Spoon, of the taking whereof he was convicted, some time ago, and ordered for Transportation, he denyed his seeing any such Spoon. And as for the picking the Pocket of Mr. Westwood, an Officer, and taking 3 s. with which Fact he was lately charg’d, he said he believed the Money might fall out of the Officer’s Pocket, as they Ditch’d him in a sad and shameful manner, but that he never saw any Silver or Copper. He farther said that their way was, as he must then acknowledge, very cruel and unbecoming Christians, for, during his Time, twelve or more were sentenc’d to be Whip’d, by a Judge, who was chosen from among them, for the Day, and sat in State: He added, that during his Confinement, some Persons had abused and insulted him, who were Friends to Mr. Jones, Bailiff; but he protested he was not Judge when Jones was sentenc’d, but one who was formerly an Officer in the Army: Nor had he ever any Designs against Sir Isaac Tilliard, or his House. He dwelt four Years in the Old Mint; but owing to one Man 70 l. was forc’d to harbour in the New Mint, and took an House in Gravel-Lane ; for Prisons were all so full, that Men, as he said, died like rotten Sheep, and he had rather go to the Place whither he was going, than dwell under that Tyranny.

He acknowledged the Fury and Violence he had used against innocent Men; and observed how contrary it was to Christian Levity and Mildness; we may suppose, that originally he was perswaded to it, as being strong and nimble; and afterwards had all Encouragement and Commendation; which Incitements coincided with the natural Warmth and Vivacity of his Temper. He confest he had been by much too Enterprizing and Rash; but at the same Time added, he thought the Officers were before his Misfortunes fully reveng’d of the Minters; for, among others, a Carpenter’s right Arm was so Hack’d and Chop’d, that the Surgeon was forced to take it off; as for himself, he show’d how dangerously his Head was Cut, even six Weeks ago, the large Scars whereof appear’d.

He denyed that he was ever in Disguise with design to do Mischief; but he said they had Mock-Masquerades, and particularly one in Meeting-House Alley, Wapping, where Men and Women met, under the Number of Twenty, and he in particular was in a Miller’s Habit and his Face cover’d over with White. He directed his Wife to offer this to the Consideration of his Majesty, in a Petition; and also to insert her having two Children, besides one in her Body, which must come to Misery if the Father was taken from ’em; which Petition she delivered at the Council-Chamber Door.

He was happy in having his Health continued entire, from the first Beginning of his Misfortunes; and in having R. Swanson, with him, who was able and ready to Read the Scriptures. When R. Swanson, had been Sick, in the Night, and could not Read and Pray at One of the Clock in the Morning, as was their constant Practice; Towers, the next Day, much condoled the Misfortune, saying he wished he was wealthy enough to employ and reward some Person who should sit up each Night and awaken them to Prayers as soon as Midnight was pass’d. The Day before his Death, he seem’d more chearful than before, saying, This was decreed for me, and I am easy and contented under it; and how should I be otherwise, for I am going from a Life of Trouble and Noise and Confusion, to a World of Quiet.

[ …. ]

The Behaviour, &c. of C. Towers at the Place of Execution.

THIS Prisoner, (who was carryed in a Cart, to the Gallows erected by Wapping, through a very great Concourse of People, many of whom with Tears lamented his Condition) appear’d with uncommon Intrepidity; and tho’ the Evening before, he wept very much when he took leave of his Wife and one of his Children, the immediate prospect of his own Suffering no way shock’d him; but in a very loud and exclaiming Voice he asserted his Innocence to the Spectators, after the Conclusion of the Prayers, &c. and to make all who were there believe, that he was not disguised when he rescued Mr. West, unless the dirty Condition he was commonly in, could be so term’d. That Capt. Buckland, sentenc’d Mr. Jones, the Bailiff, when he was used in so cruel and unchristian a manner that he Swooned, &c. That the others who were apprehended in the new Mint, and confin’d on the same Account, were not Guilty of going Arm’d in Disguise, or of any thing else that could nearly affect them; and named Mr. Saintloe, in particular. That he did not rob Mr. Henry Brooksbank, of any Brandy, Tobacco, or Pipes, as he had been charg’d, though the House was threatn’d and design’d against. To this he added, that lest his Words should be mistaken, he had most of the substance of ’em down in Writing; and pull’d out a Paper, written by an Acquaintance, for he could not write himself. He afterwards said, If the Sheriff or the High Constable must of necessity have the Paper, pray at least grant that it may be now read before all these People, for ’tis not against any Court: The Paper was according to his Desire read before the People; but it did not contain any Discovery, or any Confession of the Disguise, or the like, but was to the following Purport or Effect: That as he was in other matters a great Sinner (and had for other things deserved Death, he underwent the Punishment with Patience; and humbly hoped that Almighty God would be merciful to him for the sake of Jesus Christ, in whom he trusted; that he did not know of any Disguise he was in; that he did never commit Theft or Robbery; did not steal a Silver Spoon, or any Money; did not rob any Bailiff, &c. that he was forced and obliged to take Sanctuary in the Place call’d the Mint, in order to avoid his Creditors, because his Debts were so large that it was not possible for him ever to pay them. This was the Substance, but ’twas branch’d into many Words and Sentences. He also inveigh’d against the Bailiffs; but declared that he died in Charity with all Mankind. After the Paper was read, he return’d to his usual Composure and again grew calm. As the Cart began to move forward, he with the loudest Cries and Exclamations cry’d out to God to receive his Soul, till his Breath was stopt, wringing his Hands in a passionate manner; after which, the strength of his Constitution appear’d in the extream and surprizing Difficulty with which he died.

[ …. ]

This is the Account that is given by me, T. PURNEY Ordinary and Chaplain.

N. B. A Paper was given by Towers at the Place of Execution to one Hinton, but was commanded out of his Hands by the High-Constable, and deliver’d accordingly; it was yesterday offered to Mr. Applebee; but as it was read to the Spectators, and the Contents already mentioned in the above Account of the Behaviour, &c. the Paper sign’d by Towers we shall not publish; People may therefore judge whether the Paper printed by Hinton, and published by Warner, is not an Imposition on the Town, altho’ witness’d by the two condemn’d Men: As to what Hinton publish’d, as follows, Towers publickly declar’d he would not deliver any Paper to the Ordinary or Mr. Applebee, &c. ’tis a direct Falsity, for Towers never mention’d either of them to the Publick.

LONDON: Printed by JOHN APPLEBEE, below Bridewell-Bridge, in Black-Fryers.

Old Bailey Proceedings (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 17 April 2011), Ordinary of Newgate’s Account, 4 January 1725 (OA17250104).

The Life of Charles Towers, a Minter in Wapping

Of all the sanctuaries, Wapping Mint, also known as the New Mint, was the most audacious and the shortest lived. Set up by refugees from Southwark Mint after the act of 1722, the claim for being a sanctuary was based on being, as with Southwark, the former site of a Royal Mint. Its inhabitants appear to have been more aggressive towards bailiffs than with other sanctuaries, raiding their lock ups to rescue comrades, abducting the bailiffs responsible and trying them in mock courts. Perhaps on account of this it lasted just two years until being abolished by the law of 1724.

The following account, somewhat more pompous than others of the genre, is taken from Lives of the most remarkable criminals volume 1, first published in the 1740s. After giving a short history of the sanctuaries and some tantalizing details of Minter practices , it describes the acts of the Wapping Minter Charles Towers, executed for going in disguise on a raid to free a compatriot.

There is some doubt as to the law under which Towers was found guilty and sentenced to death. This text explicitly states that it was under the notoriously severe ‘Black Act’, passed in 1723 against the poachers and deer stealers of Windsor and Hampshire. E.P. Thompson, in Whigs and Hunters pages 247 to 249, debates this, saying that it was more likely to have been the law against Southwark Mint, which also criminalized going in disguise. However, the latter act didn’t make the crime capital. Yet the Black Act, comprehensive as it was, was fundamentally about securing rural property, and doesn’t seem easily applicable to urban conditions. There is a lot more to investigate here.

Unlike much of the popular criminal literature, the executed man does not go quietly to his death, but fulminates against bailiffs and his sentence on the scaffold. As with Francis Winter, he doubted the justice of his execution. And as with Winter, his death was lamented by a large crowd.

Text courtesy of Project Gutenberg from the 1927 edition. An earlier version (from 1874) is available at archive.org.

The Life of Charles Towers, a Minter in Wapping

Notwithstanding it must be apparent, even to a very ordinary understanding, that the Law must be executed both in civil and criminal cases, and that without such execution those who live under its protection would be very unsafe, yet it happens so that those who feel the smart of its judgment (though drawn upon them by their own misdeeds, follies or misfortunes which the Law of man cannot remedy or prevent) are always clamouring against its supposed severity, and making dreadful complaints of the hardships they from thence sustain. This disposition hath engaged numbers under these unhappy circumstances to attempt screening themselves from the rigour of the laws by sheltering in certain places, where by virtue of their own authority, or rather necessities, they set up a right of exemption and endeavour to establish a power of preserving those who live within certain limits from being prosecuted according to the usual course of the Law.

Anciently, indeed, there were several sanctuaries which depended on the Roman Catholic religion, and which were, of course, destroyed when popery was done away by Law. However, those who had sheltered themselves in them kept up such exemption, and by force withstood whatever civil officers attempted to execute process for debt, and that so vigorously that at length they seemed to have established by prescription what was directly against Law. These pretended privileged places increased at last to such an extent that in the ninth year of King William, the legislature was obliged to make provision by a clause in an Act of Parliament, requiring the sheriffs of London, Middlesex, and Surrey, the head bailiff of the Dutchy Liberty, or the bailiff of Surrey, under the penalty of one hundred pounds, to execute with the assistance of the posse comitatus any writ or warrant directed to them for seizing any person within any pretended privilege place such as Whitefriars, the Savoy, Salisbury Court, Ram Alley, Mitre Court, Fuller’s Rents, Baldwin’s Gardens, Montague Close or the Minories, Mint, Clink, or Dead Man’s Place. At the same time they ordered the assistance for executing the Law, of any who obey the sheriff or other person or persons in such places as aforesaid, with very great penalties upon persons who attempt to rescue persons from the hands of justice in such place.

This law had a very good effect with respect to all places excepting those within the jurisdiction of the Mint, though not without some struggle. There, however, they still continued to keep up those privileges they had assumed, and accordingly did maintain them by so far misusing persons who attempted to execute processes amongst them, by ducking them in ditches, dragging them through privies or “lay stalls,” accompanied by a number of people dressed up in frightful habits, who were summoned upon blowing a horn. All which at last became so very great a grievance that the legislature was again forced to interpose, and by an act of the 9th of the late King, the Mint, as it was commonly called, situated in the parish of St. George’s, Southwark, in the county of Surrey, was taken away, and the punishment of transportation, and even death, inflicted upon such who should persist in maintaining there pretended privileges.

Yet so far did the Government extend its mercy, as to suffer all those who at the time of passing the Act were actually shelterers in the Mint (provided that they made a just discovery of their effects) to be discharged from any imprisonment of their persons for any debts contracted before that time. By this Act of Parliament, the privilege of the Mint was totally taken away and destroyed.

The persons who had so many years supported themselves therein were dissipated and dispersed. But many of them got again into debt, and associating themselves with other persons in the same condition, with unparalleled impudence they attempted to set up (towards Wapping) a new privileged jurisdiction under the title of the Seven Cities of Refuge. In this attempt they were much furthered and directed by one Major Santloe, formerly a Justice of Peace, but being turned out of commission, he came first a shelterer here, and afterwards a prisoner in the Fleet. These people made an addition to these laws which had formerly been established in such illegal sanctuaries, for they provided large books in which they entered the names of persons who entered into their association, swearing to defend one another against all bailiffs and such like. In consequence of which, they very often rescued prisoners out of custody, or even entered the houses of officers for that purposes. Amongst the number of these unhappy people, who by protecting themselves against the lesser judgments of the Law involved themselves in greater difficulties, and at last drew on the greatest and most heavy sentence which it could pronounce, was him we now speak of.

Charles Towers was a person whose circumstances had been bad for many years, and in order to retrieve them he had turned gamester. For a guinea or two, it seems, he engaged for the payment of a very considerable debt for a friend, who not paying it at his time, Towers was obliged to fly for shelter into the Old Mint, then in being. He went into the New, which was just then setting up, and where the Shelterers took upon them to act more licentiously and with greater outrages towards officers of Justice than the people in any other places had done. Particularly they erected a tribunal on which a person chosen for that purpose sat as a judge with great state and solemnity. When any bailiff had attempted to arrest persons within the limits which they assumed for their jurisdiction, he was seized immediately by a mob of their own people, and hurried before the judge of their own choosing. There a sort of charge or indictment was preferred against him, for attempting to disturb the peace of the Shelterers within the jurisdiction of the Seven Cities of Refuge. Then they examined certain witnesses to prove this, and thereupon pretending to convict such bailiff as a criminal, he was sentenced by their judge aforesaid to be whipped or otherwise punished as he thought fit, which was executed frequently in the most cruel and barbarous manner, by dragging him through ditches and other nasty places, tearing his clothes off his back, and even endangering his life.

One West, who had got amongst them, being arrested by John Errington, who carried him to his house by Wapping Wall, the Shelterers in the New Mint no sooner heard thereof, but assembling on a Sunday morning in a great number, with guns, swords, staves, and other offensive weapons, they went to the house of the said John Errington, and there terrifying and affrighting the persons in the house rescued John West, pursuant, as they said, to their oaths, he being registered as a protected person in their books of the Seven Cities of Refuge. In this expedition Charles Towers was very forward, being dressed with only a blue pea-jacket, without hat, wig or shirt, with a large stick like a quarter-staff in his hand, his face and breast being so blackened that it appeared to be done with soot and grease, contrary to the Statute made against those called The Waltham Blacks, and done after the first day of June, 1723, when that Statute took place.

Upon an indictment for this, the fact being very fully and dearly proved, notwithstanding his defence, which was that he was no more disguised than his necessity obliged him to be, not having wherewith to provide himself clothes, and his face perhaps dirty and daubed with mud, the jury found him guilty, and he thereupon received sentence of death.

Before the execution of that sentence, he insisted strenuously on his innocence as to the point on which he was found guilty and condemned, viz., having his face blacked and disguised within the intent and meaning of the Statute, but he readily acknowledged that he had been often present and assisted at such mock courts of justice as were held in the New Mint, though he absolutely denied sitting as judge when one Mr. Westwood, a bailiff, was most abominably abused by an order of that pretended court. He seemed fully sensible of the ills and injuries he had committed by being concerned amongst such people, but often said that he thought the bailiffs had sufficiently revenged themselves by the cruel treatment they had used the riotous persons with, when they fell within their power, particularly since they hacked and chopped a carpenter’s right arm in such a manner that it was obliged to be cut off; had abused others in so terrible a degree that they were not able to work, or do anything for their living. He himself had received several large cuts over the head, which though received six weeks before, yet were in a very bad condition at the time of his death.

As to disguises, he constantly averred they were never practised in the New Mint. He owned they had had some masquerades amongst them, to which himself amongst others had gone in the dress of a miller, and his face all covered with white, but as to any blacking or other means to prevent his face being known when he rescued West he had none, but on the contrary was in his usual habit as all the rest were that accompanied him. He framed as well as he could a petition for mercy, setting forth the circumstances of the thing, and the hardship he conceived it to be to suffer upon the bare construction of an Act of Parliament. He set forth likewise, the miserable condition of his wife and two children already, she being also big of a third. This petition she presented to his Majesty at the Council Chamber door, but the necessity there was of preventing such combinations for obstructing justice, rendered it of no effect. Upon her return, and Towers being acquainted with the result, he said he was contented, that he went willingly into a land of quiet from a world so troublesome and so tormenting as this had been to him. Then he kneeled down and prayed with great fervency and devotion, after which he appeared very composed and showed no rage against the prosecutor and witnesses who had brought on his death, as is too often the case with men in his miserable condition.

On the day appointed for his execution, he was carried in a cart to a gallows whereon he was to suffer in Wapping, the crowd, as is not common on such occasions, lamenting him, and pouring down showers of tears, he himself behaving with great calmness and intrepidity. After prayers had been said, he stood up in the cart, and turning towards the people, professed his innocence in being in a disguise at the time of rescuing Mr. West, and with the strongest asserverations said that it was Captain Buckland and not himself who sat as judge upon Mr. Jones the bailiff, though, as he complained, he had been ill-used while he remained a prisoner upon that score. To this he added that for the robberies and thefts with which he was charged, they were falsities, as he was a dying man. Money indeed, be said, might be shaken out of the breeches pocket of the bailiff when he was ditched, but that whether it was or was not so, he was no judge, for he never saw any of it. That as to any design of breaking open Sir Isaac Tilliard’s house, he was innocent of that also. In fine, he owned that the judgment of God was exceeding just for the many offences he committed, but that the sentence of the Law was too severe, because, as he understood it, he had done nothing culpable within the intent of the Statute on which he died. After this, he inveighed for some time against bailiffs, and then crying with vehemency to God to receive his spirit, he gave up the ghost on the 4th of January, 1724-5.

However the death of Towers might prevent people committing such acts as breaking open the houses of bailiffs, and setting prisoners at liberty, yet it did not quite stifle or destroy those attempts which necessitous people made for screening themselves from public justice, insomuch that the Government were obliged at last to cause a Bill to be brought into Parliament for the preventing such attempts for the future, whereupon in the 11th year of the late King, it passed into a law to this effect:

That if any number of persons not less than three, associate themselves together in the hamlet of Wapping, Stepney, or in any other place within the bills of mortality, in order to shelter themselves from their debts, after complaint made thereof by presentment of a grand jury, and should obstruct any officer legally empowered and authorised in the execution of any writ or warrant against any person whatsoever, and in such obstructing or hindering should hurt, wound or injure any person; then any offender convicted of such offence, should suffer as a felon and be transported for seven years in like manner as other persons are so convicted. And it is further enacted by the same law that upon application made to the judge of any Court, out of which the writs therein mentioned are issued, the aforesaid judge, if he see proper, may grant a warrant directly to the sheriff, or other person proper to raise the posse comitatus, where there is any probability of resistance. And if in the execution of such warrant any disturbance should happen, and a rescue be made, then the persons assisting in such rescue, or who harbour or conceal the persons so rescued, shall be transported for seven years in like manner as if convicted of felony, but all indictments upon this statute are to be commenced within six months after the fact committed.