Christopher Plumley d. 1780

Tailor, husband, father... and a drunk?

Since Christopher Plumley was a master tailor, it is difficult to understand why he was also a recidivist thief; gambling and drunkenness provide possible explanations.

Early Life and Bastard Child

Little is known about Plumley’s early life. The first reference to a Christopher Plumley is on a petition from Journeymen Tailors agreeing to a change in regulated pay and working hours, showing that he was working as a tailor as early as 1764.

In December 1773 it was alleged he fathered a female bastard child called Ann. The mother, Elizabeth Brigden, claimed to be a domestic servant in Middlesex, although this part of the bastardy examination was later crossed out. Elizabeth claimed she fell pregnant after he slept with her several times in December 1772, giving birth to Ann in September in the parish of Saint Clement Danes. It was reported Plumley knew he was the father but he had ‘run away’. The report also confirmed Plumley was a tailor.

He allegedly had four aliases: John Williams, and 'Hughes... Spencer... Grant', and may have been living under such names throughout his adult life.

Criminal Activity

It appears Plumley was involved in an incident outside of the 'Bull and Gate Inn’ in Holborn October 1774 involving another man named John Walworth when Martha Keppel’s apron was stolen. Keppel alleged that Plumley ‘knocked her down with great violence’ whilst Walworth tore off her apron. No information could be found on the verdict of the case (which may have been tried at the Middlesex Sessions), or the other man involved.

In December 1778 Plumley was tried at the Old Bailey for an incident involving the stealing of a bay gelding from one Thomas Smith on the 23rd of October. Smith leant a chaise to Plumley - after hearing he had a good character – when Plumley needed it to travel to Epsom common. The Morning Chronicle would later claim ‘Plumley is one of those worthies known by the name of swindlers, and had been down to Epsom with a lady of pleasure’, one Sarah Rawlins. After losing all his money, the Chronicle went on, Plumley decided to recoup his losses by selling the borrowed chaise.1 Smith found his horse and chaise in the possession of someone else a few days later. Plumley, it appeared, had attempted to sell them on, but being ‘exeedingly drunk' the broker, John Burton, did not want to deal with him, suspecting this was a borrowed item. Burton claimed Plumley was ‘very drunk at all the different times that I saw him.’ Despite this the broker declared that he believed Plumley 'meant to return it when he was sober’. Plumley was found not guilty, seemingly thanks to the good character references he received including one calling him an 'honest industrious man’.

But Plumley was involved in another incident in April of the following year. This time he was indicted for stealing a pair of silver shoe buckles and a pair of plated spurs after going to look at a lodging in Great Marylebone Street. He was eventually convicted of stealing the spurs to the value of 10 pence from one John Savin who was staying at the house at the time after the spurs were found in the inside pocket of his coat by a constable. The men who apprehended him told the court that Plumley had tried to bribe them to simply turn him over to the army as punishment; Plumley also told the jury he would be ‘willing to serve his Majesty if I am found guilty in any capacity the court may think proper.’ During times of war, sending convicts into the armed forces served as both a punishment and a valuable resource to the army. Plumley, committing his theft in the middle of the War of American Independence (1775-1783), evidently thought this could be his chance of escape. 2 This was not to be the case, and Plumley was sentenced to be whipped. The other man involved was not prosecuted.

When visiting the lodgings Plumley had claimed to be a master tailor who had two lodgings and a 'house of his own’. In his defence statement he mentioned he had a wife and was a tailor who had been contracted to work by a man living in the building in which the crime took place. Whether Plumley’s claims were true, or simply a ruse to gain access to the house by appearing to be respectable is unclear, but if Plumley was in a financially sound position it seems unlikely that financial gain was his motive for crime.

Sentenced to Death

A year later, in February 1780, Plumley was convicted and sentenced to death. A week earlier he had been involved in the theft of a quart tankard (value of 5 1), a silver pepper castor (value of 12 s) and a silver spoon (value of 5 s) from John Abbott in his dwelling house, the Buffalo’s Head. The incident again involved another man, but his name was not reported. Plumley and the other man, who had been drinking a ‘couple of tankards of beer’, climbed out of the window of the house, making off with the items. However they were spotted by passersby including the servant William Legg who believed ‘there was some mischief done’ when he saw the two men run off leaving the empty room. When asked if Plumley had been drunk, Abbott claimed he was not the least ‘disguised in liquor’. Plumley said he would leave himself to the mercy of the court after the tankard was found in his coat pocket. Despite receiving a good character reference from a woman named Ann Bird, who confirmed he was a master-tailor, he was sentenced to death.

Plumley Reprieved...But not for long

Despite his death sentence, the judgement was ‘respited’ during the king’s pleasure, and he was ‘ordered to remain’ in prison. In June 1780 the Gordon Riots shook London and Plumley and the other inmates were ‘set at liberty by the mob who burnt Newgate.’3 His freedom did not last long.

Sentenced to Death Take Two

Three weeks later, Plumley was arrested for stealing a tankard (value of 5 1) from one Alexander Sutherland in his public house. Plumley and another man came to the public house asking for a tankard of beer and a light. Whilst Alexander Sutherland was out of the room his wife Martha Sutherland witnessed Plumley putting the tankard under his coat. She grabbed his collar when he tried to escape and was dragged along two streets but would not let go. He attempted to slip his coat off but failed and was held by Martha Sutherland until he was arrested. In court, Plumley claimed he was ‘much in liquor’ at the time of the offence, but the Prosecutor denied this to be the case, and Plumley was sentenced to death a second time. Underneath his sentence, the Old Bailey Proceedings confirm Plumley had indeed been set free by the rioters.

It is unclear why Plumley repeatedly returned to crime; since he appears to have been well employed a financial motive seem unlikely. However if the Morning Chronicle’s assertion that he tried to sell on Smith’a chaise to recoup his lost winnings is correct, perhaps a gambling habit may have prompted him to steal, although there is no other mention of Plumley's gambling to back this up. Drunkenness seems to have played a large role, with Plumley claiming to have been drunk in nearly all of his defences, although prosecutors denied this several times. Whatever prompted this respected tailor to steal is uncertain, but ultimately, it cost him his life.


Plumley was sentenced to hang at Tyburn on the 13th July, the same day that those convicted of partaking in the Gordon Riots were also executed. 4 The large number of hangings which took place that day meant that the sheriff and his officers had to meet Plumley on the way to the scaffold, as they returned from the other executions. 5

The St. James Chronicle gave this account of his final moments:

he prepared himself for death with a mix of manly resignation and unaffected penitence that made a deep impression on the surrounding multitude. When the executioner put the rope about the neck of Plumley, the latter was so engaged in his Devotions, that he seemed insensible of this awful Circumstance. A friend ascended the Cart, and took an affecting leave of him; after which, he was turned off. 6

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External Sources

  • General Evening Post, July 4 1780- July 6 1780, Issue 7231; July 6 1780- July 8 1780, Issue 7233.
  • London Chronicle, July 11 1780-July 13 1780, Issue 3690.
  • Morning Chronicle, Friday, October 30, 1778, Issue 2947.
  • Old Bailey Proceedings Online, Miscellaneous Punishments, consulted 17 March 2012.
  • St. James Chronicle, July 13 1780- July 15 1780, Issue 3017.


1 Morning Chronicle, Friday, October 30, 1778, Issue 2947.

2 Old Bailey Proceedings Online, Miscellaneous Punishments, consulted 17 March 2012.

3 General Evening Post, July 4 1780- July 6 1780, Issue 7231.

4 General Evening Post, July 6 1780- July 8 1780, Issue 7233.

5 London Chronicle, July 11 1780-July 13 1780, Issue 3690.

6 St. James Chronicle, July 13 1780- July 15 1780, Issue 3017.

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About this Biography

Created by

Matthew Watson

Further contributions by

Eleanor Veryard