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Law and Order in LondonCrime and Punishment: Henry Jones, Francis Phoenix & Charles Burton
Posted on Jun 09, 2002 - 12:14 AM by Bill McCann

Three experienced thieves who were found guilty of a daring robbery, committed by breaking into the house of Sir Robert Ladbroke, an alderman and banker, in the City of London. They were executed at Tyburn on the 3rd of February, 1772.


Notwithstanding the precautions taken by bankers against robbers, and particularly housebreakers, we have many instances of men being hardy enough to break into their strong- rooms and therefrom steal cash, silver-plate, or whatever valuables might have been therein deposited. The plunder to which bankers were further liable was from knavish clerks running off with large sums which they were in the daily habit of collecting. But their profits being enormous, and without risk (for surely those who cannot take care of their own money ought to pay those handsomely who keep it safe for them), they still made immense fortunes.

Mr Child, the celebrated banker at Temple Bar, would not give his consent to his daughter marrying the Earl of Westmorland; and actually pursued the young couple in their flight to Gretna Green, solely because the purse-proud parent had a fortune to portion her to a duke. In the year 1755 the cashier of a bank in Dublin, kept by a Quaker, ran off with no less a sum than eighty-four thousand pounds of their money, which caused business there to be at a standstill, other houses failing with the loss. He was apprehended, and lodged at Mr Sheriff Crampton's and only twenty-four thousand pounds was found upon him. Enormous as this robbery was, capital punishment could not reach him; it was, by the law, held merely a breach of trust.

The daring gang, the immediate subjects of the case before us, on the night of the 20th of December, 1771, with iron crowbars wrenched open the doors of the house of Sir Robert Ladbroke, on St Peter's Hill, and though the whole family were in bed, and five men-servants in the house, yet the villains effected their purpose, and escaped undiscovered. The articles which at the time were advertised to have been stolen on this occasion were :

Item StolenWorth
Sir Robert's gold chain, the insignia of his office, as alderman of London 100
An alderman's wife's gold chain 80
Several pieces of plate 100
A coronation medal, a broad 25s. piece, a guinea of the coin of Oliver Cromwell, a guinea of the coin of George I. and other pieces 40 40
In old crown-pieces about 15
Two gold snuff-boxes 20
A brilliant breast-buckle 25
A diamond hoop-ring 20
A pair of valuable Moco studs 10
A pair of cluster-stone buttons 10
other articles, at a small computation 30
Total value of the larceny 45

The robbers, finding this large booty in the apartment they first broke open, appear to have been satisfied, for they searched no other part of the house. A silver-hilted sword, which hung in the room, was not carried off, though it was taken down and laid upon a chair. An iron crow was found next morning in the passage.

Though Sir Robert and his whole family slept so sound as not to hear what was going on below them, a gentleman living at the next house was alarmed by a noise, which he fancied arose from the wrenching open of a door and breaking into a house. He sprang out of bed, seized a blunderbuss, and threw open his window. Observing a watchman standing on the other side of the way, he asked him if he had not heard a disturbance. The treacherous guardian of the night answered that it was nothing but the wind, for everything was safe in that quarter. The gentleman then asked him why he did not cry the hour, as the clock had some time struck; to which the watchman replied that he had called it, and, on being contradicted, went surlily away.

A short time after this another watchman, in passing, saw that Sir Robert Ladbroke's house had been broken open, and immediately gave the alarm; but the robbers had decamped.In the morning the first watchman was sent for, but he was nowhere to be found - in fact, he was privy to the villainy; and by such wicked connivance many robberies were accomplished which could not have been effected if watchmen had been honest and done their duty.

The villains melted the gold articles ; and on their trial a dispute arose between Sir Robert Ladbroke, the loser of the gold, which had been cast into an ingot, and Mr Cox, the purchaser. The latter urged that he had bought it in the face of day, in an open shop, and at a fair price; while Sir Robert insisted on a prior claim, of which he had been violently deprived. The Court were inclined to favour Sir Robert, who, finding this, offered it as a favour to Mr Cox; but he disclaimed all favour, standing up for his right to the ingot, and then put it into his pocket. Thus he may be said to have very wisely "pocketed the affront."

The three thieves were carried to Tyburn, and executed, on the 3rd of February, 1772.

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