British Executions

William Cox

Age: unknown

Sex: male

Crime: robbery

Date Of Execution: 27 Oct 1773

Crime Location:

Execution Place: unknown

Method: hanging

Executioner: unknown



Who played Marbles and kept a Pet Sparrow to aid him in the Commission of Robberies. Executed at Tyburn, 27th of October, 1773

COX'S father having been transported -- first initiating his son in the art of robbery -- young Cox was left to act on his own account, and as usual, with other wicked habits, he began by picking pockets; but he was soon apprehended and committed to Bridewell, where he was reduced to a most miserable degree of poverty. He no sooner obtained his liberty than he procured decent apparel, and was from that time remarkably clean and neat in his appearance. He lived some years at the house of his uncle, West, in Feather's Court, High Holborn, who encouraged him to pursue those illegal courses which led to his destruction.

He got unperceived into a grocer's, at the corner of Long Lane, in Aldersgate Street, and stole a silver-hilted sword from a room on the first floor. Returning through the shop with his booty, he was asked some questions; on which he said he had been playing with Master Billy, which, he had informed himself, was the name of the grocer's son. But on going out of the shop the sword struck against the steps, and he was taken into custody and brought to trial; but it was his fortune to escape conviction.

Being provided with a tame sparrow, he let the bird fly into a window of a house in Hanover Street, and the door happening to be open he went in, and concealed plate to a considerable amount. Hearing some person walking toward the room he sought refuge in the area, where, being perceived by an elderly gentlewoman, who was the only person in the house, he burst into tears, and saying his sparrow had flown into the window begged he might be allowed to catch it. The old lady complied; and he soon found an opportunity of decamping with his booty.

It was the common practice of Cox to play at marbles, and other games, with young gentlemen before the doors of their parents, and he seldom suffered an opportunity to escape of getting into and robbing the houses. He had a very remarkable boyish appearance; and on a variety of occasions that circumstance greatly assisted him in the pursuit of his felonious designs. So childish, in fact, was his appearance -- for he was very short and slender for his years -- that sometimes he provided himself with marbles, and, dressing himself like young master, would ask to play with any gentleman's children whom he might observe in the environs of London amusing themselves in their father's courtyard. Thus he would insidiously get every information from the innocent and unsuspicious boys, and repay their little acts of hospitality by plundering the houses of their parents.

Cox was connected with a notorious thief, who called himself Captain Davis; and by means of the most artful stratagems that could be suggested these accomplices perpetrated a surprising number of robberies. Davis was at length apprehended, and sentenced to suffer death; but he was reprieved on condition of transportation.

About the middle of the summer, 1773, the apartments of Mr Kendrick, in Oxford Street, were privately entered, and a bureau was opened and three bank-notes of one hundred pounds each, a hundred and thirty guineas, and a silver watch were stolen thereout, to the amount of four hundred and forty pounds. Soon after Mr Kendrick's robbery Cox and William Claxton went together to Reading, in Berkshire, and there purchased three horses, for which Claxton paid with one of the notes stolen from Mr Kendrick, receiving in part of the change a fifty-pound bank-note, which he afterwards changed at the bank for notes of smaller value, two of which were found in the possession of West, Cox's uncle.

On the first examination of these offenders at the public office in Bow Street, which was on Wednesday, the 11th of August, West said he received the notes from his wife on the day preceding that of her decease, which was about the time of Mr Kendrick's robbery; but on the following Wednesday he assured the magistrates that the notes had been in his possession three years. In contradiction to this it was proved that the notes had not been many days issued from the bank.

Mr Knapp and Mr White, of Reading, appeared, and the fifty-pound note, given in part change of that of a hundred, was regularly traced from the hands of Claxton to the bank, where he had changed it for others of smaller value. West was discharged, and Claxton was admitted an evidence against Cox, who was committed for trial at the ensuing sessions at the Old Bailey.

The evidence against Cox was chiefly circumstantial; but it was of such a nature as to be almost as strong as positive proof, and on that evidence he was convicted.

Finding the end of his career fast approaching, Cox began to prepare himself for eternity. He was executed along with four more unhappy men, who excited much commiseration from the spectators.