Edward Burnworth alias Frazier, d. 1726

Gang Leader, Thief, and Murderer

Edward Burnworth's audacious crimes ensured his early demise. Although he was tried and executed at Kingston, Surrey, for a crime committed in Southwark on the south side of the river Thames, most of his crimes were committed north of the Thames, in the City of London and Middlesex

Early Life

Edward Burnworth was the son of a painter, who apprenticed him to a buckle-maker in Grub Street. After his father died Edward started to frequent the ring at Moorfields, kept by someone called Frazier. Burnworth appears to have been so good at "cudgel-playing" that the "mob" at the ring conferred on him the title of Young Frazier. He subsequently went by the name of Frazier, and in the crime literature is referred to as Burnworth alias Frazier.1

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His Gang

Burnworth led a gang of pickpockets whose working area went from the Royal Exchange in the East to Charing Cross, via Cheapside, St Paul’s Churchyard, Fleet Street and the Strand, in the West. His main associates were William Blewit, John Barton, William Marjoram, Thomas Berry and Emanuel Dickenson. He was named as an accomplice in a burglary in December 1718, but evaded capture. At some point Burnworth was committed to Bridewell, and then moved to New Prison, from where he escaped.2

Shortly after his escape, Burnworth had a run-in with Quilt Arnold, Jonathan Wild’s right-hand man, in a public house in the Old Bailey. Arnold had apparently been looking for him. According to the Tyburn Chronicle,

Understanding that Arnold was then alone in a back room, he went to him with a loaded pistol in his hand, and after expostulating with him, called for a glass of brandy, and throwing some gunpowder into it, he compelled Arnold to drink it on his knees, and with many imprecations to swear, that he would never touch or meddle with him directly or indirectly, or give any manner of information against him: after which he retired, leaving him to recover himself from the terror he was under as well he could.3

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Six weeks after escaping from New Prison, Burnworth and his gang broke into the house of the Justice of the Peace who had committed him to the gaol, which was in Clerkenwell. The following evening they were informed that the constables were out in force around Chick Lane, but as they were a sizeable gang, they decided to go out as they had previously intended. Burnworth was spotted by the keeper of New Prison as they came through Turnmill Street, and while the two spoke, a crowd assembled. The gang decided that it would be better to retreat back to the fields above Islington, where they had spent the day. They then decided to disperse and head for Southwark, south of the river Thames. After attending a "music-house" they assembled in St George’s Fields, when Burnworth suggested that they should search out Thomas Ball, who kept a gin shop in the Mint, and shoot him. Ball had apparently decided to become a thief-taker, following Jonathan Wild’s demise, and Burnworth had only just escaped from him a few night before.

They found Ball coming out of a public house, next to his own house. They dragged Ball into his house, where Burnworth told him he would never get a penny for capturing him, and shot him. He died a few minutes later. The gang then set off towards the Faulcon Stairs to cross the river to Pig Stairs, and spent the evening at the Board’s Head tavern in Smithfield.4

Blewit, Berry and Dickinson decided to take a packet boat to Harwich with the intention of reaching Halveot-Sluys in Holland. Burnworth, with other companions, continued to rob. They stopped the chair of the Earl of Harborough in Piccadilly, but the chairmen and the earl fought back. Burnworth shot one of the chairmen in the shoulder and escaped. Because of their increasing audacity, the government published "a proclamation for the apprehension of William Blewit, Edward Burnworth, alias Frazier, Emanuel Dickenson, Thomas Berry, and four others, unknown, being the persons concern’d in the Murther of Thomas Ball in Southwark; offering a reward of 300l. for apprehending each of the abovesaid persons".5

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Betrayal, Arrest and Trial

Burnworth was finally caught through betrayal. He was lodging with Kate Leonard and her sister, in a house belonging to Kate's husband, Christopher (Kit) Leonard, who was in the new gaol in Surrey for robbery. Leonard hoped that turning King's evidence and helping to capture Burnworth would result in his own freedom. He had turned king’s evidence before, in 1722 at the Old Bailey. Through his wife he arranged for a number of men to be at an alehouse next to the house where Kate Leonard and her sister were living with Burnworth. About 6 pm on Shrove Tuesday, as Kate’s sister was preparing pancakes for Burnworth, Kate popped next door to the alehouse for a pot of beer, having surreptitiously bolted the back door. On her return she left the front door open and six men rushed in and arrested Burnworth, who was then committed to Newgate Prison. Suspecting that Kate Leonard had betrayed him, Burnworth arranged for one of his associates to kill her. After three or four attempts on her life, the Justices placed a guard by her house. Burnworth attempted an escape from Newgate, having managed to get hold of saws and files from his mother, but he was discovered, and returned to the condemned hole, where he was secured with a staple to the ground.6

Burnsworth's accomplices, Blewit, Berry and Dickenson, had by this time, arrived in Rotterdam, been detected and returned to England, and were being held in Newgate with Burnworth. They were all carried to Kingston with two others, John Legee and John Higgs, to be tried at the assizes there, which began on Wednesday 30 March 1726.7

Blewitt, Berry, Dickinson, Higgs and Legee pleaded not guilty. Burnworth refused to plead and was threatened with the horrific procedure of peine, fort et dure, whereby heavy weights were placed upon him in a prone position until he relented. He continued to refuse, so was taken to the stock-house and the press was laid upon him. He lasted for one hour and three minutes under the weight of "three Hundred, three Quarters, and two Pounds", all the while attempting to "beat his brains out against the floor". He finally consented to plead. At their trial on 1 April they were all found guilty of murder.8

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The Daily Post reported Burnworth’s demise, and that of his companions:

Yesterday soon after 11 o’Clock in the Morning, the six notorious Malefactors condemn’d at Kingston Assizes, for the barbarous Murther of Mr Thomas Ball, were executed near the said Town, pursuant to their Sentence, viz. William Blewit, Edward Bunworth, alias Frazier, Emanuel Dickenson, Thomas Berry, John Legee and John Higgs: They were guarded from the Gaol to the Place of Execution by the Sheriffs officers, as usual, and withal, by a Party of about thirty Foot Soldiers, who were posted by the Sheriff’s Order (which they were to obey) round the Gallows with their Pieces loaded, and Bayonets fix’d to them. ‘Tis thought there were ten Thousand Spectators present, they behaved as to outward Appearance with more Penitence than at their Trial and Condemnation, but Bunworth continued more obdurate than the rest. We hear that the Murtherers are to be hang’d in Chains, two and two together in different Places.9

Burnworth and Blewit were hung in chains by the sign of the Fighting Cocks in St George’s Fields.10

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External Sources

  • Daily Post. Wednesday, February 16, 1726, issue 1996; Thursday, April 7, 1726, issue 2039.
  • Parker's Penny Post. Friday, March 25, 1726, issue 141.
  • The Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals who have been Condemned and Executed. 1735, vol. 2, pp.143-83.
  • The Tyburn Chronicle: or Villainy Displayed in all its Branches. 1768, vol. 2, p. 233.


1 The Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals who have been Condemned and Executed (1735), vol. 2, pp. 143-83.

2 Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals, pp. 145-6.

3 The Tyburn Chronicle: or Villainy Displayed in all its Branches (1768), vol. 2, p. 233.

4 Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals, pp. 150-7.

5 Daily Post, Wednesday, February 16, 1726, issue 1996.

6 Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals, pp. 161-4.

7 Parker's Penny Post, Friday, March 25, 1726, issue 141.

8 Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals, pp. 177-8.

9 Daily Post, Thursday, April 7, 1726, issue 2039.

10 Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals, pp.182-3.

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About this Biography

Created by

Mary Clayton 

Further contributions by