Notorious Horse-Stealer and Highwayman, executed at Tyburn, 16th of December, 1741
HENRY COOK committed more robberies, singly, than Wild, Turpin or Hawke, and was long the terror of travellers on different roads, but particularly in Essex. The story of his career makes a long narrative of curious and daring exploits, with hairbreadth escapes, before he was taken. Cook was the son of creditable parents in Houndsditch, who, having given him a decent education, apprenticed him to a leather cutter, with whom he served his time, and then his father took the shop of a shoemaker at Stratford, in Essex, in which he placed his son. Having some knowledge of the shoemaking business, he was soon well established, and married a young woman at Stratford, by whom he had three children, before he commenced as highwayman. However, it was not long after his marriage before the associating with bad company and the neglect of his business involved him so far in debt that he was obliged to quit his house in apprehension of the bailiffs. He was afterwards obliged wholly to decline business, and having taken up goods in the name of his father he was ashamed to make application to him for relief in his distress.
Among the idle acquaintances that Cook had made at Stratford was an apothecary, named Young, who was concerned with him in robbing gardens and fishponds, and in stealing poultry. The persons robbed offered a reward for apprehending the offenders, and Cook having been known to sell fowls at Leadenhall Market a warrant was granted to take him into custody; but, having notice of it, he concealed himself two months at the house of a relation at Grays, in Essex. During this retreat it was determined not to execute the warrant; but Cook, learning that a bailiff at Stratford had vowed to arrest him if he could be found, sent the officer a letter, advising him to consult his own safety, for he would blow his brains out if he should meet him. This threat effectually intimidated the bailiff; and Cook, having dissipated all his cash, went to Stratford, where he found a man so intimate with his wife that he became enraged in the highest degree, and taking several articles of furniture with him went to London and sold them. This being done, he went to the house of a relation in Shoreditch, where he was treated with civility while his money lasted; but when that was nearly gone there was no further appearance of friendship; and, being now driven to extremity, he went to Moorfields, where he purchased a pair of pistols, and having procured powder and ball went towards Newington, on his way to which he robbed a man of fifteen shillings, and returned to London.
Thus embarked on the highroad to destruction, he determined to continue his dangerous trade; and on the following day went to Finchley Common, where he stopped a gentleman, the bridle of whose horse he seized, and ordered him to dismount on pain of death. The rider, complying, was robbed both of his money and horse; but he offered the highwayman three guineas if he would send the horse to an inn at St Albans, which he promised to do; but afterwards finding that he had a valuable acquisition in the beast he failed to restore him.
This robbery being committed, he crossed the country to Enfield Chase, and going to a public-house where he was known said that he wished to hide himself lest he should be arrested. Having continued here two days, he proceeded to Tottenham, where he robbed a gentleman of about six pounds, and leaving his horse at an inn in Bishopsgate Street he went to his kinsman's in Shoreditch, where he was interrogated respecting his possessing so much money; but he would give no satisfactory answer. On the following day he went on the St Albans Road, and having robbed the passengers of a stage-coach of eight pounds he went to Enfield Chase, to the house he had frequented before; but while he was there he read an advertisement in which his horse was so exactly described that he determined to abscond; on which he went to Hadley Common, near Barnet, where he robbed a gentleman, and taking his horse, gave the gentleman his own.
Soon after this he went to an inn at Mims, where he saw a gentleman whom he had formerly robbed, and was so terrified by the sight of the injured party that he ran to the stable, took his horse and galloped off with the utmost expedition. On the road between Mims and Barnet he was met by eight men on horseback, one of whom challenged the horse he rode, saying that a highwayman had stolen it from a gentleman of his acquaintance.
Our adventurer replied that he had bought the horse at the Bell, in Edmonton, of which he could give convincing proofs; on which the whole company determined to attend him to that place. But when he came near Edmonton he galloped up a lane, where he was followed by all the other parties; and finding himself in danger of being apprehended he faced his pursuers and, presenting a pistol, swore he would fire unless they retreated. Some countrymen coming up at this juncture, he must have been made prisoner, but, night advancing, he quitted his horse and took shelter in a wood.
When he thought he might safely leave his lurking-place he hastened to London, going to the house of his relation in Shoreditch, where he was challenged with having committed robberies on the highway; but nothing could be learned from the answers he gave. Having dissipated his present money, he went again upon Finchley Common. His late narrow escape, however, made such an impression on his mind that he suffered several persons to pass unattacked, but at length robbed an old man of his horse and five pounds, though not till after it was dark. Soon afterwards he met a gentleman, whom he obliged to change horses with him; but in a few minutes the gentleman was stopped by the owner of the stolen horse, who said a highwayman had just robbed him of it. Enraged at this, the gentleman swore the place was infested with thieves; however, he delivered the horse and walked to London.
Cook, riding to his old place of resort, near the Chase, remained there three days; but, seeing the horse he had last stolen advertised, he rode off in fear of discovery, and had not proceeded far before he was seized by the owner of the horse, assisted by three other persons, who conducted him to Newgate. At the next Old Bailey sessions he was indicted for stealing this horse; but acquitted, because the owner would not swear to his person.
Soon after his discharge he returned to his former practices, but, his affairs with his creditors having been by this time adjusted by his friends, he lived at Stratford with his wife, and committed his depredations chiefly in Epping Forest. Having acquired a booty of thirty pounds, he showed it to a journeyman he kept, named Taylor, and asked him how he might employ it to the best advantage in buying leather; but Taylor, guessing how it had been obtained, offered to go partners with his master in committing robberies on the highway; and the base contract was instantly made. They now stopped a great number of coaches on the borders of the Forest; but acted with such an uncommon degree of caution that they were for a long time unsuspected. The neighbours being at length terrified by such repeated outrages on the public peace, a Captain Mawley took a place in the basket of the Colchester coach to make discoveries; and, Cook and Taylor coming up to demand the money of the passengers, Taylor was shot through the head; on which Cook ran to the Captain and robbed him of his money, on threats of instant death. The carriage driving on, Cook began to search his deceased companion for his money; but on some of the neighbours coming up he retired behind a hedge to listen to their conversation; and having found that some of them knew the deceased, and intimated that he had been accompanied by Cook, he crossed the fields to London.
Having spent three days in riot and dissipation, he went to his relation in Shoreditch, whom he requested to go to Stratford to inquire the situation of affairs there. When his relation returned, he told him there were several warrants issued against him, and advised him to go to sea. This he promised to do, but instead thereof he bought a horse and rode to Brentwood, in Essex, where he heard little conversation but of Cook, the famous highwayman of Stratford; and on the next day he followed a coach from the inn where he had put up, and took about thirty pounds from the passengers.
Cook now connected himself with a gang of desperate highwaymen in London, in conjunction with whom he stopped a coach near Bow, in which were some young gentlemen from a boarding-school. A Mr Cruikshanks riding up at this instant, one of the gang demanded his money; but as he hesitated to deliver it, another of them knocked him down and killed him on the spot; after which the robbers went to a public-house near Hackney Marsh, and divided the spoils of the evening.
Oppressed in mind by contemplation of his crimes, and particularly by reflecting on the murder of Mr Cruikshanks, Cook went to St Albans, where he assumed a new name, and worked as a journeyman shoemaker for about three weeks, when, a highwayman being pursued through the town, the terrors of his conscience on the occasion were such, that he hastily left the shop and ran across the country towards Woburn, in Bedfordshire. On his way to Woburn he robbed a farmer of fifty pounds and his horse, and bade him sue the county. The farmer soon raised the hue-and-cry; but Cook escaped, and, riding as far as Birmingham, took lodgings at a public-house, and disposed of his horse. Cook had now taken the name of Stevens, and the landlord of the house where he lodged telling him that there was a shop to let, he took it, and entered into business as a shoemaker. He now hired one Mrs Barrett as his housekeeper, but she soon became his more intimate companion; and accompanying him to horse-races, and other places of public diversion, his little money was soon dissipated. Thus situated, he told his housekeeper that he had an aunt in Hertfordshire, who allowed him a hundred per annum, which he received in quarterly payments; and that he would go to her for his money. Under this pretence he left her, and went to Northampton, and from thence to Dunstable, near which place he robbed a farmer of his horse and sixteen pounds, and then rode to Daventry.
At this last place he met with a Manchester dealer going home from London, and, having spent the evening together, they travelled in company next day and dined at Coventry. Cook, having an intention of robbing his fellow-traveller, intimated that it would be proper to conceal their money, as they had a dangerous road to travel; and, putting his own money into his boot, the other put a purse of gold into his side-pocket. Prosecuting their journey till they came to a cross-road, Cook demanded his companion's money, on pain of immediate death; and having robbed him of thirty-five guineas he travelled immediately to Birmingham; so Mrs Barrett imagined he had been supplied by his aunt, agreeable to the story he had told her.
He now carried on trade as usual; but as often as he was distressed for cash he used to have recourse to the road, and recruited his pockets by robbing the stages. At length, a London trader, coming to Birmingham, asked Cook how long he had lived there, which terrified him so that he quitted the place, and travelled towards London, and near Highgate robbed a gentleman, named Zachary, of his horse and money. On his stolen horse he rode to Epping Forest on the following day; and, having robbed a gentleman, returned to London by the way of Stratford, at which place he spoke to a number of his old acquaintances, but was not imprudent enough to quit his horse.
Going to a house he had frequented at Newington Green, he sent for his relation who lived near Shoreditch, who advised him to make his escape, or he would certainly be taken into custody. On this he went to Mims; and on his relation visiting him Cook begged he would sell five watches for him; but the other declined it, recommending him to dispose of them himself in London. On the following evening, when it was almost dark, he rode towards town, and observing a chaise behind him permitted it to pass, and followed it to the descent of the hill towards Holloway. There were two gentlemen in the chaise, whose money Cook demanded; but instead of complying they drove on the faster; on which he fired and wounded one of them in the arm; but the report of the pistol bringing some people towards the spot he galloped off, and went to Mims, his old place of retreat. Coming to London next day to sell his watches, he was seen in Cheapside by a woman who knew him, and followed him to Norton Folgate, where, observing him to go into a public-house, she went and procured a constable, who took him into custody, and found on him five watches and about nine pounds in money.
On his examination before a magistrate, Mr Zachary, whom he had robbed near Highgate, swearing to the identity of his person, he was committed to Newgate; but not before he had offered to become evidence against some accomplices he pretended to have had; but this offer was rejected. He now formed a scheme to murder the keepers and to make his escape; but, being detected, he was confined to the cells, and, being brought to his trial at the Old Bailey, was capitally convicted.
After sentence of death he for some time affected a gaiety of behaviour; but when the warrant for his execution arrived he was so struck with the idea of his approaching fate that it occasioned convulsive fits, and he never afterwards recovered his health.