Richard Piggin Highwayman
The remarkable story below is the content of a chapbook printed over 325 years ago. A copy is to be found in the British Library in London. Location: HMNTS 1891.d.1.(18.) The spelling and punctuation are exactly as below, but the layout and typography have been slightly adapted for the web. Neither the author nor the printer are known, but the style of this piece of early journalism suggests it may have been largely based on a letter and compiled elsewhere in the country, possibly in London.
A full and true
Of twelve Notorious
Murderers, and Clippers of Money:
Holden for the
COUNTY of DERBY
This present August 1679
Mr. Bracy, Richard Piggen, Roger Brookham, Mr Gerrat, John Barker, William Loe, John Roobottom, Thomas Ouldome, John Baker, Daniel Buck, Thomas Gillat, and one Smedley.
With the manner of their behaviour before Execution,
And several other Remarkable Circumstances.
IT hath not been unknown to most persons Travelling the great Roads of England, how they have been infested of late with Highway-Men or Robbers; who have committed several strange Actions and Insolencies in their Robberies: till the Divine Justice and Law hath now brought some of them to receive the Rewards of their Crimes and Sins at the County Town of Derby at the Assizes there held on the 8th of this Instant August 1679 the particulars of their Actions and Demeanors are here inserted.
This Bracy was a person of good repute; living in the County of York; but for some time had deserted his own House and Dwelling, betaking himself to live abroad at all places which gave him a safe Protection; being reputed as Captain or Ringleader of the whole Gang, which consisted of Richard Piggin of Derby, Roger Brookshaw of Heage, Mr. Gerrat, and one John Barker, William Loe, John Roobottom, Thomas Ouldome, John Baker, Daniel Buck, Thomas Gillat and one Smedley; all of the same County, who assisted and followed Mr. Bracy in the performing these following Murders and Robberies.
About 8 Months ago, the said persons taking the advantage of a dark night, and being prepared with Instruments for their purpose, broke open the House of Captain John Munday Esquire, near the Town of Derby, at a place called Morton; where they took away to the value of 1200 pounds in Gold and Silver, besides a great quantity of Plate, binding the Esquire and all his Family in their Beds, and using great insolencies by threats, to make them confess their Treasures, which they obtained and secured at the present.
Some two Months after the same Persons meets a Wagon passing betwixt the Mart of Lenton, near Nottingham and the Town of Newark in the same County; in which there were several small Barrels of Money, and others of Gold Lace; which they seised, and securing the Waggoner, with Hatchets and other Instruments, they broke up the Barrel-Heads, taking away the value of eighteen hundred pounds; which they divided, and so disperst, only Piggen, Buck and Ryley went straight to the Town of Ockbrook near Derby, where the Hue and Cry coming, Buck and Ryley were taken, but Piggen made his escape, leaving much of the Lace behind him, Buck and Ryley was then carried before a Justice, and after Examination, were committed to the Goal; and at the Assizes received the reward of their Crimes by hanging.
The rest of the Company continuing their former practises, Broke open the House of the Lady Jane Scroop, at the Town of Everston, four Miles from Nottingham, where they took away in moneys six hundred pounds, missing of three or four thousands, by being one day too forward in their Actions.
Upon the dismissing of this Booty, one of the Company and Bracy falling at difference they had a small Combate with their Swords, the other cutting the Throat of a Mare that Bracy rode upon; which for swiftness and goodness was hardly to be compar'd in England,
Bracy alone committed two more small Robberies; but the next Designs was upon the Houses of Squire Gilbert, at a place called Locka, some three miles from Derby, and the House of Mr. Garland at the Town of Lenton, near Nottingham, but was prevented by their being apprehended, and afterwards Tryed as followeth:
only Bracy who dyed in his Bed: his Wife keeping an Inn of some Note, Northward from Nettingham some twelve miles, he receives News of her Death, which obliges him to go home to see his Children, and what Estate his House was left in, upon his being there, one of his Servants betrays him, by informing the next Justice, who raises the Country and besets the house, one of his Sons tells him he heard a noise about the House, which made him look out, and having his Horse in the house, he leads him into a back-yard, and offers to Leap him over a high Pail, but he twice refusing, in the interim one of the Apprehenders shoots and kills his Horse, which made Bracy still more desperate, as resolving not to be taken, but being shot with another Bullet, he maintained a Fight with his Sword, till he was mortally wounded, and then the Countrymen left him, he was carried to a Bed in his own House and there dyed.
Three more of the Company besets two Gentlemen in Needwood-Forrest, bidding them stand and deliver their Money, which they refusing and making resistance, they shot one of them but the other with his Pistol and Sword made a brisk resistance, till one of the thieves coming behind him, with a Back Rapier Runs him through the Body which Action, they since confessed, being Apprehended for Clipping of Moneys in Derby, and now this last Assizes tryed and Executed. Their Confessions of which is as followeth.
They had a House in Derby at the Sign of the Cock near St. Michaels Church, kept by one Widdow Massey, where they had their Instruments for Clipping and Filing of Moneys, which they had used for many years, having moneys giving six pounds in the hundred for two months, of several Men of note in the same Town, who constantly supplied them with Mony, which they Clipped and return'd again. The Widdow and her Son in Law, one John Baker Confessed they had in one Night Clipped and finisht one hundred pounds;
this Discovery being thus brought forth, the beforementioned Piggen coming up to London, was Arrested upon an Action of Debt, and being in hold, was accused as a Robber, but upon the promise of his Pardon, he with one Gerrat before named, confessed all the forementioned Robberies, with this Action of Clipping, upon which these Men were Apprehended, and young Baker gives the Relation, that one Sammuel Baker his Uncle, one Luke Ouldome, Benjaman Ouldam and one Nash, was concerned with them as Workers in Clipping and Filing, returning their Clippings melted into Bullion, to a Goldsmith in London, who upon the Discovery denied he ever knew any of them.
The Widdow and her Son having a Boy about some fifteen years of Age, which was a Servant, that knew many of their Actions they Murdered him and hid him in a Vault, and afterwards made their escape with one Widdow Rose of Lenton, near Nottingham, who entertained them.
Piggen and Baker received their Pardons, the rest were Executed according to their Sentence. At the place of Execution they seemed very penitent, confessing their Facts as is here related, which is affirmed by several who heard both their Tryals and Confessions.
One assumes that then, as now, many of the robbery victims were personally known to the robbers, who would have used "inside" knowledge to ensure quick entry and egress. Places mentioned in the account include:
Records of the 1679 assizes court appear to no longer exist, and this case is not mentioned in the records of another court, the quarter-sessions, that were published in Charles Cox's Three Centuries of Derbyshire Annals (1890). Cox notes (volume II, page 38) that the gaol delivery papers, listing those hung at Derby, have only been kept disjointedly from Elizabethan times. He appears to suggest none are extant from the 17th century.
So far we have not been able to confirm the ancestry of Richard Piggin, although it is highly likely he was one of the several men named Richard Piggin born at Elvaston. The fact that he bolted to hide in Ockbrook, where a branch of the Piggin family lived, can be taken as evidence of kinship. One Smedley family also lived at Elvaston, so the fellow member of the gang may have been a childhood friend (though the Smedleys are numerous in the whole area).
A clipper of money named Richard Piggen was sentenced to death 15 years later in London (see legal citations page) and it is plausible to suppose that this was the same man, although the report makes no mention of his criminal record. It is not unlikely that Piggen would have continued his life in crime despite the pardon, and the handicraft and metallurgy skills involved in clipping and forging would not have been so very widespread in England's population at this time that two men with the same rare name would have been independently engaged in the same crime.
We have yet to discover whether Richard, a publicly branded robber, left any descendants, but it would seem unlikely. According to Roy Branson, the gang's story is briefly referred to in the book Hanged for Three Pennies by Edward Garner, (Breedon Books, Derby, 2000, ISBN 1 85983 191 5).
Acknowledgements: Special thanks are due to Rosemary Lucas for her advice during the editing.
Publication right to the edited chapbook text belongs to Jean-Baptiste Piggin 2001-2026.
© Jean-Baptiste Piggin 2000-2009
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