A Hertford tragedy
On Tuesday the 24th June 1741, a very extraordinary affair happened at the county gaol in Hertford, where four highwayman, very stout lusty fellows, viz, Theophilus Dean, Charles Cox (alias ‘Bacon Face’), James Smith, and Luke Humphrys, lay under sentence of death, passed upon them the last assizes, and were intended to have been executed the following day. Mr Oxenton, the Gaoler, who keeps an Inn opposite the prison, went into the gaol, about 4 o’clock in the morning, as was his custom, attended by three men, to see if all was safe, and having locked the outward door, sent one of his men down to the dungeon where the four felons had found means to disengage themselves from the pillar and chain to which they had been locked down and one of them, Bacon-Face, had got off both his handcuffs and fetters; when opening the door they disabled the man and all rushed out; then coming upstairs they met the gaoler and his other two men, of whom they demanded the keys, threatening to murder them if their request was not immediately complied with; they then forced his men into the yard beyond the hatchway, and a battle in shoot in which the Gaoler behaved so manfully, though he had but one man to assist him, that he maintained the possession of his keys, till he was heard by his wife, then in bed to call out for assistance, who fortunately having another key to the gaol, ran to rescue him; the fellows saw her coming and demanded her key, threatening to murder her if she offered to assist her husband. By this time the neighbourhood was alarmed, and several persons got to the gaol door, when Mrs Oxenton not withstanding their threats, at the utmost hazard of her life, open the same and caught hold of her husband, who was almost spent, and with the assistance of some persons, got him out and locked the door without suffering the fellows to escape.
They continued cursing and swearing that they would murder the first man that attempted to enter the gaol. In the meantime Robert Hadsley, Esq, High Sheriff, who lives about a mile from the town, was sent for, and came immediately; he parlayed with them for some time to no purpose, and then ordered firearms to be brought, and in case they would not submit, to shoot at them, which these desperados refusing to do, they accordingly fired on them, and Theophilus Dean receiving a shot to the groin, dropped; then they surrendered and the Sheriff instantly caused Bacon-Face to be hanged on the arch of the sign iron belonging to the Gaoler’s house, in the sight of his companions and great numbers of people; the other three were directly put into a cart and carried to the usual place of execution, and there hanged before seven a clock that morning.
(From the London Magazine, July 1741, page 360)