A misogynistic highwayman hit the gallows in the 17th century, following a life devoted to debauchery and avarice.
Thomas Wilmot was hanged at Newgate for holding up travellers and extensive thieving.
Short of readies
Despite a good education and an estate worth a healthy £600 a year Wilmot was a hedonist and pretty rough round the edges too, so he had no idea how to treat women. Sadly for them, Wilmot had an eye for the ladies and he’d naturally try it on, but they’d tell him in no uncertain terms to push off, which is probably how his unhealthy disrespect for women flourished.
Wilmot was a waster to boot, so within a few years he’d frittered away his fortune and managed to mortgage himself up to the short and curlies. So he turned to robbery as a means of maintaining his debauched lifestyle.
Rings and fingered
And nothing and no-one was safe. On one occasion he stopped a well-to-do man only to find the victim had no money on him. So not to be outdone he nabbed his coat in recompense instead.
Legend has it that once when a woman struggled to remove a diamond ring from her finger, he lost patience and cut off the ring, it just so happened that the finger came too.
Wilmot’s highway activities were to span the Home Counties from Essex to Sussex. When he had established himself as the scourge of the Southeast, he turned his attentions to the west of England where he was to focus most of his robberies before heading north. He even teamed up with a hoard of other fellow highway man and headed up the team as captain.
Of his time with his cohorts, little is known, but Wilmot’s story is resumed up North after he’d ditched hi compatriots.
He accosted one feisty gent who, after Wilmot has stripped him of his valuables, decided he’d pursue him. Wilmot managed to nick off and laid low in Chester for a while, where he busied himself on spending his ill-gotten gains.
But the money soon ran out, which is when the gentlemanly upbringing gave him the perfect cover. Attracted by a lively household, he knocked on the door of an affluent man and pleaded for a bed for the night. At first the host was reticent, refusing him by saying it was his birthday and the house was full. But finally the victim succumbed and offered him the last room in the house…which was purported to be haunted.
As the legend went, the victim’s grandfather had a barbarous barber who committed suicide by slitting his own throat in the house due to unrequited love. From that point, he was said to have roamed the house calling ‘Will you be shaved’.
Something clicked in Wilmot’s head – a plan was in the offing. With dinner ended, Wilmot excused himself and retired to bed, while the others settled into an evening of cards and gambling.
Perfect. With money on the table for the taking, how could Wilmot resist?
Drink flowed and the time ticked on – the grog set in. Wilmot in the meantime kitted himself out in a white sheet rubbed chalky white paint off the walls on his face and brandished a bloodied razor with his chamber pot.
Panic and dread enveloped the hapless group and they all scarpered in fear. Of course, winner and losers forgot their bets in the need to escape this sinister apparition. And with the room all but empty, Wilmot pocketed the spoils and tripped lightly off to bed.
Come the morning, the post-birthday party was very subdued as they realised that not only had they scared themselves senseless, but they had been fleeced of their winnings. But not for one second did they thing it was our man Wilmot.
But by all accounts these chumps got off lightly. Wilmot bought a horse and guns with his winnings and went on the rob again, but, by this time, he was a wanted man.
So where to go from there but abroad – Switzerland via France to be precise? And it was a Swiss household that provided the bloodiest encounter. He slaughtered a Swiss man, his wife and three children, even their maid. He then shipped all their valuables out of the country. But he stuck around long enough to see two innocents executed for his crimes.
Not long after, Wilmot returned to England and resumed his daylight robberies. But such was his ego that maybe he thought he was beyond the grip of the law, or maybe it was pure greed that motivated him to jump the Duke of Buckingham (George Villiers). He managed to secure the handsome sum of over 200 guineas. But he was caught just a few days after that and sentenced to be hanged for a range of crimes.
As he waited for the deathly moment, he addressed the crowd and in particular the young people. ‘…the vices of my youth were the immediate spring of all my irregular actions and the unhappy causes of my current misfortune.’ He warned, ‘your appetites…must be put under restraint of reason, or they will certainly plunge you into destruction’.
And with that the gallows were sprung and he fell to his death, aged 38.