Chippy’s Own Highwayman: Dick Turpin or Robin Hood?
Politics, crime, philanthropy, seduction and love . . . the adventures of James Hind hold all the ingredients of a contemporary classic.
This highwayman with a heart even made it into the BBC series ‘Horrible Histories’, for the 17th-century exploits which finally led to his head being skewered on Worcester Bridge as a warning to others who might be tempted to follow the same shady path.
This controversial Chippy figure romped through the 1600s, wooing the ladies, helping the poor, charming the toffs he held up on the highways, and evading authorities for years as he led them a merry dance around the English countryside.
A man of great passion – both political and personal – Hind was born in Chipping Norton and attended the local grammar school until he was 15. Then apprenticed to a butcher who abused him, Hind ran off to London with £3 borrowed from his mother. It was there he joined a gang of highwaymen, which set him on his path to notoriety.
But Hind was no ordinary robber. He was a committed royalist, robbing only followers of Oliver Cromwell, who had deposed and killed his beloved Charles I. It is said that Hind became a Royalist Captain during the Civil War, and made a point of trying to rob as many Parliamentarians as he could find after the King’s execution.
Yet he never used violence if he could avoid it, even against his political enemies, and only resorted to it when trapped.
It’s little known that Hind came close to killing Cromwell himself after he and fellow highwayman Thomas Allen held up Cromwell’s coach. Allen was captured and later hung, while Hind escaped to defy his enemies for another day. But the course of English history could have been changed there and then had Hind’s daring plan succeeded.
He was capable of extraordinary kindness, reminiscent of Robin Hood. When he took 40 shillings from a poor man at Wantage Market – the peasant’s life savings – he returned a week later with 100 shillings and told the bemused man to buy the best cows in the market to support his family.
Hind travelled a long way from humble beginnings – his father was a saddler – but returned to Chipping Norton, his birthplace, at the age of 20 to marry local girl Margaret Lownes in the parish church.
Unfortunately for her, his life was far from settled. He was a womaniser, a robber, a drinker and a risk-taker. Finally, the law caught up with him, and he was tried for High Treason in 1652. After a guilty verdict, he was hung, drawn and quartered, and his head mounted on Bridge Gate, Worcester, as a deterrent to other wannabee robbers and enemies of the state.
Just before his execution, he spoke the following words from his prison cell.
“Neither did I ever wrong any poor man of the worth of a penny: but I must confess, I have (when I have been necessitated thereto) made bold with a rich Bompkin, or a lying Lawyer, whose full-fed fees from the rich Farmer, doth too too much impoverish the poor cottage-keeper: And truly I could wish, that thing were as little used in England amongst Lawyers, as the eating of Swines-flesh was amongst the Jews.”
Hind featured in the BBC series ‘Horrible Histories’, Series 3, Episode 4, first aired on 2 June 2011.
A book about James Hind by O M Meades called ‘The Adventures of Captain James Hind of Chipping Norton: the Oxfordshire Highwayman’ can be purchased for £4 at Chipping Norton Museum. Call Pauline on 01608 641712 during the winter months and delivery can be arranged. It will also available as a great Christmas gift at Chippy Museum’s stall on the 4 December Festive Chippy shopping evening.
James Hind robbing Colonel Harrison in Maidenhead Thicket (above left)
Engraving from A General History of the Lives and Adventures of the Most Famous Highwaymen, Murderers, Street Robbers, &c (1734), by ‘Captain Charles Johnson’
*Opening graphic is reprint of a book by Smeeton in 1817 www.mullocksauctions.co.uk