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Hartshorn's Highwayman

Hartshorn Many people in Ash refer to Hartshorn as “Dick Turpin’s haunt”. However, it was the also famed Jerry Abershaw who actually frequented Ash. The Reverend Huband’s papers record that Abershaw’s cutlass was still in Ash at the turn of the twentieth century. The writer was some time ago invited to value the many artifacts that Mr Ward of Bricklyn (now Azor Place) had collected. A cutlass was listed, but it was missing, whereabouts unknown.

In the last decade of the 1700s two notorious highwaymen were active, Jerry Abershaw and “Galloping Dick” Ferguson. Abershaw was the more famous because a number of historians called him “The last of the Highwaymen”. The fame of this pair owes much to their entries in the Newdigate Calendar, and George Borro, who refers to them in Romany Lye as “two most awful fellows who enjoyed a long career”. As the two men did not meet until Abershaw was well known, Abershaw described as a “capital rider” was said to be inferior to “Galloping Dick”.

RL Hadfield, in his book of Picturesque Rogues described Abershaw as the last of the genuine highwaymen thus; “Here was no sneak-thief, robbing old women or unarmed men and scurrying into hiding at the slightest sign of danger. Here was no common assassin who would shoot a defenceless man just to shut his mouth, as the highly overrated Turpin did. Jerry had something of the swaggering carelessness of the consequences about him, that has given glamour to the calling of highwaymen. He was a brave man, and though a robber who deserved his fate, seems to have succeeded, if one can use such a term in this connection, in playing the game!”

Jerry was born in Kingston upon Thames in 1773. His real name was actually Louis Jeremiah Abershaw, and his parents were “poor but honest folk”, to quote his biographer. The boy took to horses as a child and drove a post-chaise in his early teens. His first hold-ups were at Putney Bottom.

At the age of seventeen he frequented the Bald Faced Stag at Beverly Brook, a meeting place for a band of highwaymen.

On his own, he operated on Putney Heath and Wimbledon Common with success. Although the Bow Street Runners were active, he did not boast, and kept clear of women who could betray him. He did eventually meet Galloping Dick during an assignation with the same girl.

Abershaw and Ferguson proved a formidable partnership whenever they rode out together. But Jerry met his moment of fate on his own. He was in a Southwark public house when he was suddenly cornered by two Bow Street Runners, David Price and Bernard Turner, who had been on his trail after being “sold” information about his whereabouts.

Although Abershaw made a desperate attempt to escape, by firing at the two men as they entered the inn, killing Price and seriously wounding Turner, who recovered and gave damning evidence at Abershaw’s trial at the Croydon Assizes on 30 July 1795, Jerry remained unperturbed throughout the case. When the Judge, Mr Baron Pentryn, put on the black cap to pronouce sentence, he mimicked him by putting on his own hat. Later in his cell he ordered black cherries, and for the first time spoke about his career, using the juice of the cherries to draw pictures of his exploits on the walls.

Abershaw was hanged on Kennington Common, on gallows standing on land now occupied by football pitches. The report in the Public Advertiser describes a moment of grim humour introduced into the event. “On the way to execution he kept up an incessant conversation with the persons who rode beside the cart, frequently laughing and nodding to others of his acquaintance who he perceived in the crowd, which was immense. Arrived there, he kicked off his boots amongst the crowd and died unshod, to disprove an old saying of his mother’s that he was a bad lad and would die in his shoes.”

The highwayman was afterwards hung in chains in his old haunt of Putney Bottom. He ended his life at the age of twenty-two. In these parts a legend related that passing soldiers fired at the bloated body, which although tarred created a poisoned atmosphere.

A well know haunt of highwaymen, or “Gentlemen of the Road”, was Cockadobby Hill, now the roundabout opposite the Queen’s Hotel in Farnborough. It was said that they preyed on the traffic on the Portsmouth Road and routes to Bath. The Tumbledown Dick public house in Farnborough may have referred to “Galloping Dick” rather than to Dick Turpin, who plied the east coast, where he was caught and hanged at York.

By John Daniels


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