William Tidd, c. 1729-50

Orphan and Resourceful Thief

Orphaned at an early age, William Tidd appeared destined for a life of crime. However, although he was a disorderly apprentice and stole from his master, he did not embark on more serious criminal activities until he was 14 or 15, having spent months trying to support himself by other means. He soon acquired a reputation as a dissolute and corrupting character, who convinced many others to steal alongside him. Although he proved much cleverer than his collaborators in avoiding arrest, he almost inevitably ended his life on the gallows.

Early Life

William Tidd was born in Deptford around 1729 and was orphaned while still an infant. Due to this misfortune he never received a formal education and according to the Ordinary "the seeds of wickedness grew up in him very early, and he was always looked upon as an unlucky sad fellow, always given to profaneness and debauchery".

He managed to gain an apprenticeship with a barber in Southwark, but he was punished for stealing from his master; and discontented with this, he ran away at the age of 13 or 14. He was persuaded to return to by some friends but he only stayed for another week or ten days. He stayed out late with his companions and sneaking back into the house through a skylight. When he was caught doing this and punished, he ran away again.

Back to Top

Vagrancy and Early Crime

After leaving his apprenticeship, Tidd spent several months begging and surviving on what "his Wits procured for him", in Southwark and St. George's Fields. When his destitution became too much for him he once again tried to return to his master, but he had become bankrupt in the interim. Tidd then fell into company and committed "several little thieveries". Fearing arrest, after one robbery he found a position on a ship and fled to Newfoundland, where he stayed for about a year. On his return to England he squandered what little money he had earned in America on alcohol and prostitutes, once again falling into destitution.

In 1744, at the age of 15, he was committed to Bridewell for attempting to pick a merchant's pocket in the streets, and "appearing to be a loose disorderly person having no visible way of living". He stayed in this house of correction for at least three months.

He soon acquired a reputation for leading others into crime. A former shipmate, James Johnson, blamed Tidd for encouraging him to rob. Following his conviction for theft and capital sentence, Johnson told the Ordinary that on the 25th of June 1749, being drunk, "he met Tidd and two others in Whitechapel" where they were drinking. They went on to rob at 1 or 2 in the morning Henry Aplen, a man driving sheep, the crime for which he and Valentine Godwin were condemned. Also condemned and executed for this offence was 17 year old Philip Lacy, but Tidd, who had initiated the robbery, managed to avoid arrest.

Back to Top

First Death Sentence

He did not remain free for long. In October 1749 he was apprehended and tried for a burglary committed with Mathew Gilbert, not yet taken. The evidence was insufficient and he was acquitted, though according to the Ordinary he subsequently confessed to the crime. At the same sessions he was also tried for an assault on Henry Aplen and, although the Proceedings do not directly report it, he was convicted and sentenced to death. Tidd, however, contracted "the itch and vermin" which led to him gaining a full pardon.

Back to Top

"One Continued Scene of Robbery and Burglary"

According to the Ordinary Tidd "returned to a lewd woman, with whom he had before kept company", and as soon as he recovered he "went to his old trade". However, fearing arrest he once again found employment on board a ship, and stayed away from London until he thought it was safe to return. From that point, the Ordinary reports, his life became "one continued scene of robbery and burglary".

After his return to land, and together with Anthony Byrne [or Bourne], Randolph Branch, Richard Pett and James Webster, he broke into the house of Mary Ormand, a widow, and stole over £8 worth of goods on July 25, 1750. Although she advertised the lost goods the robbers were not detected until November, when one of them, a boy, turned king's evidence. When Tidd appeared before Justice Henry Fielding, he reportedly confessed to stealing the goods but not to breaking open the house, and he damned Fielding "and said he was as big a thief as himself". At the trial, Tidd's sole defence was to say "I know nothing of it".

Back to Top


Both Tidd and Byrne were convicted and sentenced to death. During his time in Newgate he refused to confess any other crimes, being resolved, as the Ordinary reported, "to die as he had lived, a harden'd, wicked wretch, whom no warnings or admonitions could prevail with". In the week before his death Tidd called for a shopkeeper whom he had robbed in Newington Butts and demanded that he pay Tidd so that he could find out where his goods had been hidden. The shopkeeper refused this deal as he had no guarantee that Tidd could be trusted, while Tidd would receive certain cash that could be spent in prison.

Tidd was executed on the 31st of December 1750 at the age of 21. The Ordinary reported that while the other convicts "behaved very decently", Tidd "shewed some levity, unbecoming a person so near his last moments". His body was taken away to be anatomized by the surgeons. The execution was accompanied by some disorder: a cart holding spectators was so overloaded it collapsed, several spectators were injured, and a boy who got too near the gallows was trampled to death by horses.1

One of the other convicts executed that day was John Newcome, also 21 and what the Ordinary described as a persistent thief. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Tidd was a confederate in the robbery for which Newcome was condemned, Tidd having fired a pistol at the victim.

Back to Top

External Sources

  • Old England. 5 January 1751.
  • Penny London Post or Morning Advertiser. 31 December 1750.


1 Penny London Post or Morning Advertiser, 31 December 1750; Old England, 5 January 1751.

Back to Top

About this Biography

Created by

David Gibbons

Further contributions by

Bob Shoemaker