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Nevison The HighwaymanWilliam (or John) Nevison - The Terror of the Great North Road
A Highwayman who, dying Of the Plague as was thought, reappeared as his own Ghost, and was finally executed at York in 1684 (see Note 1).

The Sandal connection: Nevison was apprehended at the Magpie (the old Three Houses Inn) in Sandal Magna in 1684. He was then conveyed to York and subsequently hanged.

Nevison is also possibly one "Swiftnicks" (or "Swift Nicks") - the highwayman who made the epic ride to York, which was later incorrectly ascribed to Dick Turpin in the novel Rookwood by Harrison Ainsworth.

In these pages about the highwaymen Nevison, Swiftnicks and Turpin, much use has been made of the following works:

a. The Newgate Calendar (Nevison's story), read more.
b. Swiftnicks in Preface to the Newgate Calendar, read more.
c. A Complete History of the Lives and Robberies of the Most Notorious Highwaymen, Footpads, Shoplifts & Cheats of Both Sexes, by Capt. Alexander Smith*, (4).
d. Lives and Exploits of English Highwaymen, Pirates and Robbers, by Capt. Charles Johnson*,(5) .
e. Nevison The Highwayman by Sheila Holmes, January 1989. (10)

(* Both of the good captains' works also feature in the Newgate Calendar.)

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Nevison meets King Charles IIThe Highwaymen - Nevison, Swiftnicks and Turpin

William Nevison (perhaps John or James, there are several variations). He was born about 1639 in Yorkshire. He was captured in the old Three Houses Inn in Sandal Magna in 1684 and hanged at York in 1684 (** see Execution Dates, side panel).

On the  strength of The Records of York Castle, it has been suggested that Swiftnicks/Swift Nicks and Nevison are the same man, but other sources (Smith and Johnson) make no suggestion of his being Swiftnicks. Nor, earlier still, did Defoe, in the account of the ride to York in his Tour through Britain.

Samuel (?) Nicks. Dubbed "Swiftnicks" or "Swift Nicks" by King Charles II. There are two versions of the ride, the first, Captain Alexander Smith's account, has the journey starting in Barnet, London. The second account, by Daniel Defoe, has the ride starting further south across the River Thames. In this version, Nicks made the epic ride from Gadshill, Kent to York in a single day in 1676. According to Arthur L. Hayward, who edited the work by Captain Alexander Smith, "Nicks is possibly John Nevison, also known as William Nevison". Later, Nicks was apparently "made a captain in the Lord Moncastle's regiment in Ireland, where he married a great fortune, and afterwards lived very honest."

Dick Turpin (1706 - 1739) was active some time after Nevison and Swiftnicks. William Harrison Ainsworth in the 1834 novel Rookwood, credits Turpin with the ride from London to York. It was pure fiction. Read more about Turpin.....

Turpin, whose life we know, did not ride to York; Swiftnicks, of whose career we know hardly anything, apparently did. Read more about this puzzle.... 

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William Nevison - Ballads and Songs of Yorkshire 1860
Ballads and Songs of Yorkshire, 1860

Read the Ballad of Bold Nevision (PDF). (6)

The Nevison Story - Introduction

Nevison was born in the 1630s or 40s in Yorkshire, perhaps in or near Pontefract ("Pomfret") or possibly in Wortley. There is no mention of his birth in the parish records of Pontefract.(7)

He was, apparently, also called John Nevison, Nevinson, Nevis, Tom Nevison, Johnson, and perhaps, according to some tales: Nick or Nicks - dubbed by King Charles II "Swiftnicks".

He was made famous in ballads and folklore. Becoming a villain at an early age, he continued his career in the Netherlands, where he was arrested for theft and imprisoned. He escaped, fought with English regiments in Flanders, and then deserted to England. In Yorkshire he became an extortionist, murderer and highwayman, eventually in partnership with a couple of other highwaymen, Thomas Tankard and Edward Bracy.

According to Thomas Macaulay (History of England), Nevison "levied a quarterly tribute on all the northern drovers, and, in return, not only spared them himself, but protected them against all other thieves; he demanded purses in the most courteous manner; he gave largely to the poor what he had taken from the rich." Arrested more than once, he managed reprieves and escapes; but, finally betrayed by an inn mistress, he was again arrested, tried, and hanged at Knavesmire on 8th May 1684 (** but see Execution Dates, side panel).

Nevison was apprehended in the Magpie, later to become the old Three Houses Inn (* see The Capture, side panel), asleep in a chair in Sandal Magna by Captain William Hardcastle in the year 1684 and conveyed to York Castle. He was hanged at York on 8th May 1684 or 15th March 1684 (5, 10) or 4th May 1685 (6) (** see Execution Dates, side panel). Nevison murdered a constable by the name of Darcy Fletcher, a stone marked the spot at Howley Hill, later removed to the grounds of Howley Hall.(7)

Nevison was spared the drawing and quartering that might have been expected to be part of the execution. He was buried at St Marys, Castlegate.(8)

[# The price of justice - see side panel]

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The Epic Journey by Nevison .....

The stories about Nevison, Swiftnicks and Turpin have been conflated. Nevison may have been a completely different character to Nicks, although there is some doubt; Turpin never made the epic ride. Nevison was executed in 1684, Turpin was not born until 1705. Nicks was of Nevison's period and apparently met Charles II (1630 - 1685).

Nevison's romantic reputation was not just because of his daring deeds, charm, gallantry, but also as a consequence of his reputed epic ride from Kent to York in a day, some 350 kilometres (220 miles) or so - no mean feat! Although that ride was not mentioned in his story in the Newgate Calendar (1). However, he was a murderer, and self-appointed judge of who deserved to be robbed and, of course, he doubtless took care to ensure that only deserving cases should receive any of his ill-gotten gains.

The story is that at 4am one summer morning in 1676, a traveller at Gadshill in Kent was robbed by Nevison. He then effected his escape on a bay mare, crossing the River Thames by ferry and on to Chelmsford, Essex. After resting his horse for half an hour, he rode on to Cambridge and Huntingdon. Eventually, he found his way to the Great North Road [now more or less the A1] and headed north for York, where he arrived in the early evening. He then placed a bet with the Lord Mayor of York at 8pm on the outcome of a game of bowls - his alibi was in place. It had taken him about 15 hours altogether.

Nevison or Swiftnicks (if they be the same) was acquitted of the Kent robbery at his trial because he could prove that he was in York at 8pm that evening, it was surely an impossible feat for him to have committed a crime some two hundred miles further south in the same day!

or was it Swiftnicks who rode that day? Are they one and the same?

The snag with Nevison story is that that the ride is attributed in The Newgate Calendar and other original sources to one Mr Nicks - dubbed Swiftnicks, with whom the highwayman Captain Richard Dudley was associated (Dudley was executed in 1681).

Daniel Defoe's account of the ride to York in his Tour through Britain makes no link between Swiftnicks and Nevison, and neither does the Dudley story. Captain Alexander Smith's A Compleat HISTORY of the LIVES and ROBBERIES of the Most Notorious Highway-men, etc. (4) also makes no connection between Nevison and Swiftnicks, and nor did Captain Charles Johnson, in a long account of Nevison's life (5), make any suggestion of his being Swiftnicks. Read more from the Newgate Calendar (1). The records at York Castle suggest that Nicks and Nevison were indeed one and the same, but other sources do not.

In any event, Defoe's description of Swiftnicks' journey is so similar to the popular Nevison tale that it is obviously the same story; whereas the alternative version of Swiftnicks' journey described in the Richard Dudley piece has the starting point as Barnet, North London at 5am, not Gadshill, Kent at 4am. According to the Dudley story Swiftnicks apparently mended his ways "and was made a captain in the Lord Moncastle's regiment in Ireland, where he married a great fortune, and afterwards lived very honest." Nevison, on the other hand, met a very different end in York.

"In all his exploits, Nevison was tender of the fair sex, and bountiful to the poor. He was also a true loyalist, and never levied any contributions upon the Royalists." (5) He was a discerning and caring mugger!

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Information Sources include:

1. The Newgate Calendar (Nevison's story) and the Preface more on the identity of the horseman who made the epic ride.
2. Sandal Magna, A Yorkshire Parish and its People by Mary Ingham and Brenda Andrassy (see Links Page);
3. John Hobson's Diary (references to 'Nevison')
1727/8 At St. Hellen wells there was a room called the yellow chamber, thro’ which, if any one attempted to carry a candle in the night, it would burn blue and go out immediately: and over the kitchin there was an open gallery; and this Mr. Skelton, as he has sate by the fire, has often seen the apparition of a boy or a girl walk along the gallery. This house is now pulled down, and lately rebuilded by Mr. Sydney Wortley, for a habitation for a mistress of his, Mrs. Grace Bingly, who now resides there. At the same time, there lived with this Skelton . . Nevison, who afterwards was an exciseman; but, being out of his place, became an highwayman, and was ordered to be transported; but, returning before the time limited, he was thereupon executed at York.
1732/3March 10th. Coz. Beet at our house, who sayd the wife of Nevison, the hywayman, is dead at Kirkby, aged 109. Wee hear Mr. John Morton, of the Alienation Office, is dead. Mr. Dennis Hayford, aged 100, is dead.
http://fretwell.kangaweb.com.au/The%20Fretwells/Links/johnhdiary.htm
4. A Complete History of the Lives and Robberies of the Most Notorious Highwaymen, Footpads, Shoplifts & Cheats of Both Sexes, Capt. Alexander Smith, edited by Arthur L. Hayward, reprinted from the 5th edition published in 1719; George Routledge & Sons Ltd., 1926 & 1933
5. Lives and Exploits of English Highwaymen, Pirates and Robbers, Capt. Charles Johnson, 'revised and continued to the present time' by C. Whitehead, Esq., 1842, Henry G. Bohn, York St., Covent Garden, London
6. The Ballads and Songs of Yorkshire, C.J. Davison Ingledew,
Bell & Daldy, London, 1860.
7. Chronicles of Old Pontefract, Lorenzo Padgett, 1905, Oswald Holmes, Advertlser Office, Pontefract.
8. Julie Moore, writing in the Wakefield Express 28/3/1985.
9. Tour Through Britain, Daniel Defoe.
10. Nevison The Highwayman by Sheila Holmes, January 1989, printed in Pontefract.

■ See also Borough of Castleford - James Nevison

Stand and Deliver!  Adam Ant - The Dandy Highwayman!

He was the dandy highwayman who we were "too scared to mention", but our tale does not involve that New Wave and New Romantic music icon Adam Ant. The real highwaymen of yore were nasty pieces of work.

 

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* THE CAPTURE
at the Three Houses.

The Three Houses, click to enlarge
The modern Three Houses.
Nevison was captured in the Magpie, later to become the old Three Houses Inn.

# The price of justice
An entry in the Wakefield Sessions of 09/10/1684 records an "Order for Constable of Sandal to pay John Ramsden 10s 6d for the Constable of Sandal & William Hardcastle gentleman, three days conveying one Nevison, a highwayman, to the Castle of York, and 2s 6d for obtaining the order."(2)

**Nevison's Execution Dates
8th May 1684 or 15th March 1684 (5, 10) or 4th May 1685 (6).

Burials 1683/4
Mar. 16 John Nevison was buried here.
(from the Parish Register of St. Mary's Castlegate, York. (10).

As two calendars were in use, the Julian and Gregorian, the year started either on 1st January (New Style) or 25th March (Old Style). The parish entry '1683/4' indicates that John Nevison was buried on 16th March 1684 (New Style, i.e. the Gregorian Calendar, later confirmed by The Calendar Act of Parliament in 1752).
A word about dates.... (Gregorian & Julian Calendars)


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