The Flying Highwayman, executed at Hertford, 28th of March, 1763
William Harrow and the gamekeeper
THIS malefactor may be said to have galloped to his fate over the beaten road. He commenced his career in idleness, the parent vice; then he became dexterous at throwing at cocks and cock-fighting. These cruel and infamous acquirements led to robberies, adultery, and every other deadly sin. Such is the general course of highwaymen, and their goal -- the gallows.
He had likewise a propensity to poaching. The gamekeeper of a gentleman near Hatfield having detected him in a fact of this kind, Harrow threatened his destruction; the consequence of which was that he was lodged in Hertford Jail; but before the time of holding the Quarter Sessions he broke out, and made his escape. Thereupon a reward of fifty pounds was offered for taking him into custody. Made desperate by this circumstance, he took to robbing on the highway, and the depredations he made were very numerous. He obtained the name of the "Flying Highwayman," by his horse's leaping the several turnpikes, so that he constantly escaped detection. His career in villainy was, however, happily but short. He laid a scheme for committing a burglary and robbery, for which he and two of his associates forfeited their lives. In company with Thomas Jones, a noted travelling rat-catcher, William Bosford, and another desperate villain, he went to the house of an old farmer, named Thomas Glasscock, who had, by a very extraordinary degree of parsimony, accumulated a very considerable sum, of which these abandoned men determined to rob him, under the pretence of being peace officers who had come to apprehend some deserters. The old gentleman refused them admittance; on which they forced their way through the window and, binding Mr Glasscock and his housekeeper, searched the house, and found a tea-chest which contained three hundred pounds, which they seized and departed.
Having divided the booty, they separated; and Harrow, taking a girl with him as a companion, travelled into Gloucestershire, and put up at an ale-house in a small village, and, assuming the character of a sailor who had brought home prize-money to a considerable amount, he continued there for two months without any suspicion arising. At length a quarrel happened between some of the customers of the house and Harrow, when a scuffle ensued, and, a pistol in one of Harrow's pockets going off, a suspicion arose that he was a highwayman, on which he was carried before a magistrate for examination.
Nothing like proof arising to incriminate him, he was dismissed; but thinking it not prudent to remain any longer he set out with his girl, but did not tell anyone the road that he intended to travel. Very near to the time that he departed, one of the magistrates of Gloucestershire received a letter from Sir John Fielding, requesting that he would order a search for one William Harrow, who stood charged with having committed a variety of robberies in the neighbourhood of St Albans. Thereupon the magistrates sent some persons in pursuit of him, and, having taken him into custody, he was conducted to prison at Gloucester. By a writ of habeas corpus he was removed to Hertford, where he lay till the assizes, when he was indicted for robbing Mr Glasscock, and being convicted on the clearest evidence was sentenced to die.
A number of clergymen visited him after conviction, and laboured to convince him of the necessity of making an immediate preparation for eternity. He was likewise visited by his mother, who burst into tears at the sight of her wretched son.
On the night before his execution he sawed off his irons, with an intent to make his escape, but he had not quite time enough to effect his purpose. When the jailer came in the morning, he said he would have saved the hangman his trouble if he had not come so soon, and threw at him the irons, which he had by this time got from his legs. Before he was put in the cart a sermon was preached on the occasion of his fatal exit.
Immense numbers of people attended at the place of execution, to see the last of a man who had made himself dreaded through the country by the enormity of his conduct.
Harrow, Jones, and Bosford, were executed at Hertford, March the 28th, 1773, along with John Wright, for a highway robbery on the Buntingfield road.
The unfortunate Mr. Glasscock seems to have been a devoted prey to robbers. On the 7th of September, 1764, he was attacked in his own fields by a daring villain, at noon-time of day, who obliged him to go to his house, and deliver his money. On entering, the robber shut the door, knocked the old man down, and carried off everything valuable that was left by Harrow and his gang, with which he escaped.