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Stand and deliver
Highwaymen were a hazard to travellers for centuries. One notorious highwayman was Captain James Hind, a saddler's son, who was born in 1616 in Chipping Norton, educated at the local grammar school and apprenticed as a butcher. James however wanted a life of adventure and left to seek his fortune in London.
After a drunken binge he ended up in prison, where he met the highwayman James Allen. On their release they teamed up.
Despite travelling the country in the course of his career, he married a Chipping Norton girl, Margaret Rowland, and had four children.
Many stories tell of his consideration towards his victims. He held up a countryman near Wantage, who pleaded that the money he was carrying represented all his savings, which he wanted to use to buy a cow for his family.
Hind responded that he needed the money immediately, but if the man would meet him at the same place in a week's time, he would give him enough money to buy two cows.
He sometimes wore a disguise, and was unrecognised when he robbed a butcher friend, but soon returned the six shillings he had taken, plus 20 shillings to buy some gloves.
The old road from Oxford to London, which crossed Shotover Hill, was notorious for highway robberies. The Methodist John Wesley was accosted there in 1737.
Hind became a Royalist captain during the Civil War, and made a point of trying to rob as many Regicides as he could find after the execution of Charles I.
He fought for Charles II when he tried to regain his throne at the Battle of Worcester, but was captured in 1651 and questioned as a political prisoner at Whitehall.
At first he was tried for his Royalist acts, but this accusation was dropped and, instead, he was charged with highway robbery and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered on September 29, 1652.
Dick Turpin, the notorious highwayman, was based for a while at Manor Farm, Appleford, while holding up travellers on the Oxford to London road. He was later hanged for his crimes in York in 1739.
The old road from Oxford to London, which crossed Shotover Hill, was notorious for highway robberies.
The Methodist John Wesley was accosted there in 1737. The highwayman, on taking his purse, asked if he had any more money in his pockets. Wesley replied that he had not, and the highwayman trusted him, as he was a preacher, and left him in peace although in fact Wesley had lied to him.
The Dunsden brothers, Tom, Dick and Harry, were born of respectable yeomen stock at Fulbrook. Richard (Dick) was the eldest, born in 1745.
Apparently an injustice was done to one of them, so they took to the road where they robbed farmers of stock and money, which they hid in various places, including a cave, in Wychwood Forest. Then they became more ambitious and stole £500 from the Oxford stagecoach.
A planned robbery at Tangley Hall went disastrously wrong when their plans got out, and the owners and several constables were laying in wait when the Dunsdens arrived.
Dick slid his arm through the look-out shutter of the front door to open the catch. To his horror, his arm was grasped firmly from inside and the only way for him to escape was for one of his brothers to amputate his arm at the elbow.
Dick disappears from the story at this point, so probably died from his injury.
Another time, the brothers were burying a body early one morning when they were spotted by a hedger and ditcher. To avoid detection they murdered him and buried him in the same grave.
They took their shoes to be mended by the shoemaker at Fifield, arriving on horseback at dead of night and leaving the shoes outside his door, returning to collect them another night, leaving a tip as well as the fee.
Tom and Harry shot and mortally wounded a man while gambling at a race meeting at Burford on Whit Sunday 1784, and were overpowered by racegoers.
They were subsequently convicted at Gloucester and their bodies were gibbeted in cages on an oak tree at Capps Lodge, near Fulbrook, where people gathered around the tree on Sunday afternoons to see how much was left of the bodies.
The initials .D and T D and the date 1784 were carved in the bark of the tree, which remained a local landmark for decades.
Claude Duval, a Frenchman, made his headquarters at Hopcroft's Holt on a crossroads between Oxford and Banbury for several years. He is commemorated today by the sign at the Holt Hotel, passed by hundreds of commuters daily on the A4260. He had an eye for the ladies and when he robbed a coach, would often let an attractive lady keep her jewellery, if she consented to dance with him.
He was eventually captured and after conviction hanged at Tyburn around 1820.
The Quiet Woman public house near Chipping Norton now an antiques centre was said to have been run by a deaf and dumb woman and so proved an ideal haunt for highwaymen who knew that she could not give them away.
The 18th century was a time of great danger from highwaymen. Many attacks were reported in Jackson's Oxford Journal, such as an article published on March 30, 1734, describing the execution of Giles Freeman for highway robbery between Headington and Stanton St John.
Although he was penitent, he refused to reveal the names of his associates. The penalty if caught was death, but that does not seem to have deterred the highwaymen.
Christine Bloxham's new book Folklore of Oxfordshire, published by Tempus, is available at £14.99 from bookshops.