Roderick Awdry, c. 1698-1714

A Juvenile Delinquent in a Criminal Family

One of three brothers executed at Tyburn in 1714-15, while only a boy Roderick Awdry committed a series of substantial thefts in several different places in the metropolis, using similar methods and always stealing valuable items, primarily silver. Although he always worked with accomplices, he did not steal with his brothers. Treated with mercy by the court no doubt due to his young age, he avoided a death sentence until at least his fourth appearance at the Old Bailey.

Early Life

Son of Mary Awdry, Roderick was born in the parish of St Giles in the Fields around 1698. After his father died when he was young and his mother remarried he was "turn'd out of doors" and forced to fend for himself. He was poorly educated (according to the Ordinary of Newgate he, "could read very little") and brought up without a trade. According to the Ordinary, he put together a livelihood by stealing and pilfering. He started by robbing orchards but proceeded to commit a number of large thefts and robberies.

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Appearances at the Old Bailey

He was tried at the Old Bailey on four occasions. His first appearance, at the age of no more than 12, was on the 6th of September 1710, when Roderick and a William Meekins were charged with stealing twelve shillings and sixpence from a box in a cellar whose door had been apparently left open. Perhaps because he was so young, the jury committed pious perjury and convicted him of petty larceny only (theft of goods to the value of less than a shilling).

A year later he was tried with two other men from St James Westminster for breaking into a dwelling house and stealing silver spoons, forks and a cup, by using a hook fastened to a stick to remove the items through a kitchen window. Henry Sweet was convicted, but the evidence against Awdry was deemed insufficient and he was acquitted.

Four months later he was once again in the dock, this time with William Yarwood, and described as being a "boy" from the parish of Whitechapel, on the other side of the metropolis from Westminster. Once again he was charged with stealing silver, this time to the substantial value of £30, from a parlor. The boys were taken up by a coachman near Aldgate on suspicion they were up to no good, and when they were searched their profits from selling the stolen items (£8) were discovered. This time Awdry pleaded guilty, but once again he appears to have secured the mercy of the court and he was sentenced to be branded.

Later in 1712 he was described as one of the accomplices of another boy who was tried at the Old Bailey, but Awdry did not appear on this occasion because he had not been apprehended. His accomplices were new, but the crime was familiar, once again involving the theft of silver from a house through a window, but this time in Kensington on the western side of the metropolis.

His final trial took place in May 1714, when he was accused with a different accomplice, William White, of stealing in yet another part of the metropolis, this time in the parish of St Margaret Lothbury in the City of London. Once again he stole silver from a house, this time being caught red handed when a servant returned home. The jury found both guilty on a new statute, 12 Anne c. 7, which made the theft of goods over the value of 40 shillings from a house a capital offence without benefit of clergy. Perhaps because he was caught red handed, or perhaps owing to the contemporary panic over theft from houses, he was convicted on the capital offence and not pardoned. It seems likely, though there is no evidence to confirm this, that the jury and/or judges were aware of Awdry's substantial criminal record.

Roderick was hanged at Tyburn on the 28th of May 1714 at the age of no more than 16. According to the Ordinary, he died penitent.

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Crimes not Prosecuted

While awaiting execution, Roderick provided the Ordinary with a detailed, and possibly exaggerated, list of the sins and crimes he had committed since about the age of 12. It is an extraordinary list, comprising 38 substantial thefts committed in almost every neighbourhood of London. The Ordinary reported: "To these Robberies he said he might add a great many more, if he could remember all he had committed, but they were now out of his Memory."

Some of his accomplices were also eventually hanged, and in their accounts to the Ordinary they mentioned the crimes they committed with Awdry. Christopher Moor told the Ordinary he and Awdry had stolen some plate from Lady Edwin’s House in March 1714.

While he avoided prosecution for the vast majority of these crimes, Roderick was apprehended and punished more often than the account of his Old Bailey trials given above suggests. According to the Ordinary:

Records of these commitments may survive in house of correction calendars, and in the manuscript sessions and Old Bailey indictment rolls. The Old Bailey Proceedings (OBP) are missing for several sessions between 1710 and 1714.

Roderick also added sexual immorality to his sins, telling the Ordinary that he had engaged in "Whoredom, Adultery, and all manner of Lewdness". Although he clearly revelled in telling the Ordinary about his wickedness, he did claim that he was prompted to steal by "notorious Receivers of Stolen Goods, and known Thieves", and given his young age, it is possible that older thieves had taken advantage of him.

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A Criminal Family

It is likely that he was also encouraged by his family. Roderick was part of a criminal family which appears to have specialised in thefts from houses and shops, particularly of silver goods. Although both his older brothers and his mother also appeared at the Old Bailey, it would appear almost as likely that Roderick led the others astray as vice versa, since Roderick had the longest and most substantial criminal record in the family. It is notable however, that there is no evidence that the brothers stole together.

According to the Ordinary Roderick's brother John, who was ten years older and had been in the navy for sixteen years, was involved in several felonies and burglaries, had once been convicted and branded, and on another occasion was committed to a house of correction. He first appears in London Lives in April 1712, when he confessed to stealing several silver items from a cheese monger, but perhaps because he informed on the man who melted the silver down knowing the goods to have been stolen, he was spared prosecution. Only seven months after Roderick was executed, John was accused of breaking into a shop and stealing a large amount of butter, cheese, and bacon, and delivering them to their mother Mary, who was charged with receiving stolen goods. Another brother, Samuel, who was three years older than Roderick, testified against John, but absolved his mother. Other witnesses testified similarly, indicating that she did not know that the goods were stolen. While John was convicted and sentenced to death, she was acquitted. John Awdry was executed on December 22nd.

Four months later it was Samuel's turn to be capitally convicted, this time for "privately stealing" a silver-hilted sword. As the Ordinary commented:

Samuel Awdry was executed on May 11th, 1715.

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About this Biography

Created by

Molly Fisher

Further contributions by

Robert Shoemaker