Newgate Calendar - JOHN LANCASTER


Executed for Housebreaking, 24th September, 1748

††††††††††† We could wish, seriously, to caution all young people against a habit of attending fairs. They constitute an assemblage of idle people, where are indiscriminately mixed thieves and pickpockets, who go from fair to fair; loose women, strolling players, and vagabonds of every description, waiting to plunder the honest part of the people. Saint Bartholomew's fair, from its long continuance, is a school of vice which has initiated more youth into the habits of villainy than even Newgate itself. Some time since a numerous gang of infant thieves, of both sexes, were detected in committing depredations of every description which they could accomplish. They had, in imitation of Macheath's gang, their captain, and the receiver of the stolen property, who, though the oldest of the confederacy, were not more than thirteen or fourteen years of age!

††††††††††† The parents of John Lancaster were poor but honest people, who put him to school to be instructed in reading, writing, and arithmetic, and, when about fourteen years of age, apprenticed him to a velvet-weaver, who, as well as his parents, lived in Whitechapel. After the term of his servitude had expired, he for some time followed his trade as a journeyman. He was naturally inclined to vicious practices, and constantly associated with the most profligate company. He was known to have committed several offences against the laws, for one of which he was apprehended and secured in Newgate, where he contracted an acquaintance with a man named Lewis. They were both acquitted in the same sessionsóLewis in defect of evidence, and Lancaster because no prosecutor appeared.

††††††††††† They went together to Rumford, predetermined to obtain money by violence. At Stratford they stopped a gentleman, and robbed him of his watch, a guinea, and some silver. Their success in this attempt giving them a greater flow of spirits, Lewis (who had long been a notorious thief) said, 'Come along with me, my boy, and we shall soon get money enough to live like gentlemen;' and they agreed to seek no means of support but that most dangerous and unjustifiable one of making depredations on the public. They now determined to go lo Smithfield, it being the time of Bartholomew fair, and met there a boy of their own iniquitous profession, who, being acquainted with them, produced a silver mug, which he informed them he had stolen, at the same time offering to allow them a share in the booty. Leaving the fair, they went to Duke's Place, in order to sell the mug to a Jew named Levi Chitty; but he not being at home, they adjourned to a neighboring alehouse to wait till his return: but they had not long been there before Lancaster broke open a drawer, and from thence stole several valuable articles. They now paid for the beer they had drank, and escaped without suspicion. Having disposed of their booty, Lancaster and Lewis determined to divide the whole produce, in exclusion of the boy who had stolen the silver mug, and therefore they sent him to a public house in Bishopsgate Street, where they promised to meet him, but with a resolution to forfeit their word. On the following day they stole a quantity of brass candlesticks, which they sold for fifty shillings to the Jew, who told them that he would not have given so high a price but that he was desirous of encouraging them to steal articles of greater value. They made a booty of a number of silk handkerchiefs, and the money received for them from the Jew they spent in the company of several prostitutes, among whom was Sarah Cock, the widow of George Cock, whose memoirs we have already recorded.

††††††††††† Lancaster, Lewis, and Sarah Cock, went the following evening to the Royal Exchange, where they picked the pockets of several passengers of watches, pocket-books, purses of money, and other property. They frequented all places of public resort; and, during divine service on a Sunday evening at the Foundery, near Moorfields, they picked the pockets of several of the congregation. On their return from the place of worship they came to the house of a velvet-weaver; and, Lancaster knowing him to be reputed as a man of considerable property, it was determined to break open and rob the house. Having effected an entrance, they secured a quantity of plate, and then went into the warehouse, whence they stole velvet to the amount of more than one hundred pounds. Having obtained this considerable booty, they went to Sarah Cock, and, giving her the velvet, adjourned to an alehouse in Houndsditch, to wait till she had disposed of it to the Jew.

††††††††††† The sum Cock demanded for the velvet the Jew said was more than he could really afford to give, as the colour was very indifferent, and he should be put to expense in sending it to Holland, where all his stolen goods were exported for sale. During their conversation they were observed by a weaver and a constable, who suspecting the velvet to have been stolen, the woman was interrogated as to the manner of its coming into her possession. She acknowledged having received the property from Lancaster and Lewis, and mentioned the house where they were then waiting; in consequence of which they were both apprehended, and secured in Newgate. Lewis being admitted an evidence for the crown, Lancaster was convicted of stealing the silver mug and other property, and sentenced to die.

††††††††††† While under sentence of death the Ordinary endeavoured to give him a proper idea of his duty to his Creator; but to the very moment of his death he obstinately persisted in a refusal to make what atonement was yet in his power for the many offences he had committed. On the 24th of September, 1748, John Lancaster was executed at Tyburn. Lancaster was bred to a business that would have procured him a comfortable livelihood; but, instead of supporting himself in a reputable manner, he indulged a disposition to indolence and a fondness for the company of dissolute people, which led him to transgress the laws, whereby he was doomed to a violent and ignominious death. We shall conclude in the words of the Rambler: 'He that does his best, however little, is always to be distinguished from him that does nothing. Whatever busies the mind, without corrupting it, has at least this use, that it rescues the day from idleness; and he that is never idle will not often be vicious.'


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