Highwayman who set Fire to a Prison. Executed at Tyburn in March, 1713
TOM GRAY was born in the parish of St James's, Clerkenwell, of very honest parents, who put him apprentice to a tailor, with whom he served out his time, but not without some shrewd suspicion of wronging his master sometimes, which was three or four times made up with a sum of money. But when the term of his apprentice ship was expired, taking great delight in going to Beveridge's Masquerade School, in Short's Gardens, which was the nursery a long time for bringing up a great many wicked villains, he there got acquainted with such a pack of rogues that their fellows were not to be met with on this side the grave.
Here Gray, being enamoured with one Pat King, took to such irregularities that they soon brought him to be burned in the hand. A little after which disgrace, his father dying, and leaving him about eighty or ninety pounds, he had then so much thought in him as to quit the society of all his wicked companions, by leaving London and going to the city of Oxford, where he kept a victualling house for some years; and improving his stock there, he left off that employment and came up to London again, where, with what money he had, he set up a salesman's shop in Monmouth Street, in the parish of St Giles in the Fields. This occupation he followed about three years, when, encumbrances with debt lying very heavy on him, he left his house and quickly complied with the wicked insinuations of bad men again, and embraced the unhappy opportunities of doing a great deal of mischief to honest people.
Now he had grown so abominably wicked that he committed not a fact but what was worthy of death. Beginning first to go on the footpad, he went one day into an inn in Bcaconsfield, where he pulled out an old horseshoe which he had found on the road; then, calling for a flagon of ale, he desired the landlady to lend him a frying pan, into which he put his horseshoe, and fell to frying it as fast as he could, to the great surprise of all the company who were drinking in the kitchen. "But," quoth he, "had I now but one slice of bacon with this horseshoe, I should have a dinner fit for a prince." There being two or three good flitches on a rack over his head, the landlady cut him off a good hand some slice or two, perhaps not so much out of generosity as for fear of having her frying pan burned to pieces, for want of butter or dripping with the horseshoe.
"Now," quoth Gray, "had I but two or three eggs too, to fry with my horseshoe and bacon, I would not change dinners with the best man in the town." Said an old farmer who sat by, and had a bag with fifty pounds in it before him: "I am going home, friend, with this money, not above half a quarter of a mile out of the town, and if you can stay for your dinner a little till I come back, I'll bring thee a few eggs." Gray thanked him very kindly, and setting the frying pan aside for the present, no sooner had the old farmer gone away, but he, making some excuse to go into the yard, met him backwards over the fields, and pulling out a couple of pistols quoth he to the farmer: "Stand, sir." The farmer replied: "Why, how then can I fetch you eggs for your horseshoe and bacon?" Said Gray: "Deliver me that bag under your arm, and I can buy myself eggs without being beholden to anybody." The farmer made a great many words about his money, but Gray offering to shoot him through the head, he not only parted with it without any further denial, but also suffered himself to be tied hand and foot.
Gray, having obtained this booty, soon laid out twelve pounds of it for a horse and a couple of guineas for two pairs of pocket pistols; and being now (as he thought) qualified for a true bred highwayman, his next attempt was upon a Scots pedlar, near Cirencester, in Gloucestershire, taking from whom his whole pack, valued at about sixty pounds, and a hue and cry being expeditiously sent after him, he was apprehended and committed to Gloucester Jail, from whence he made his escape in a short time, by setting it on fire, and thereby smothering three of his fellow prisoners to death.
One day, drinking at Pancras, and espying a coach and six horses coming from Highgate, he presently mounted, and meeting it in a narrow by-lane attacked the gentleman who was in it, from whom he took forty-eight guineas, and then robbed the coachman, postilion and two footmen of about fifty shillings. Not far from the same place he assaulted a justice of the Peace coming from Hampstead, and taking from him a silver watch, and about sixteen shillings, he bade him observe what oaths he had sworn (which, to be sure, were not a few), to the end his Worship might make him pay for them in case he should ever be brought before him for any misdemeanour. He then committed several robberies in company with Edmund Eames and William Bigs, particularly on the 2nd of January, 1713, when they stopped a coach coming from Hampstead and took from the passengers who were in it about one pound, eight shillings. But at last he was apprehended for assaulting and robbing one Mrs Baxter, as she was coming from Hampstead towards London in a coach, which he stopped near the halfway house and took from her three shillings; also for robbing one Mrs Wilson of some money as she was riding to Hampstead; and for robbing one Mr Samuel Harding of nine shillings near the halfway house to Hampstead.
For these facts he was committed to Newgate, where his behaviour was very abominable and wicked all the while he was under confinement; and though sentence of death was passed on him, yet was he so hardened in his sin that he said to the ordinary, because he refused to administer the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper to him, he would certainly kill him if ever he durst venture to come to pray with him in the cart at Tyburn, where he was executed on Wednesday, the 10th of March, 1713, aged above fifty years.