William Udall, 1716-1739

From Watchmaker to Highwayman

Born to reputable parents and with a good upbringing, William Udall's descent into crime in 1738-39 was perceived as a classic tale of the consequences of sin.

Early Life

William Udall was born in 1716 in the parish of Clerkenwell, the centre of watch making in London.1 According to the Ordinary of Newgate, his parents were reputable, and he received a good education, being taught "to read, write and cast Accompts". He was sent to the Charterhouse school and received further education at "Mr. Groves's in Red-lion-street". When Udall was "of age" he was apprenticed to a "Watch maker in Leadenhall street", described as "eminent", whom he, at least initially, served well and honestly.

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Ill Company and Debt

The Ordinary describes Udall as having "a very good Hand in his Business", with aspirations eventually to set up his own watch making business. What stopped Udall pursuing this ambition was the apparent "ill company" he kept. Udall’s group of friends led him to become "much addicted to gaming, drinking and other Vices".

Apparently the final straw was his rejection by the woman he was courting. Set to marry a "Woman of Credit", she refused to marry him on discovering the company he kept. She found out that Udall had associated with Thomas Raby, a highwayman. Raby had recently been executed, and Udall's potential wife "suspected him of following the same Courses".

After this incident Udall apparently took up residence in a "bawdy house" (brothel) in Cheapside. During this time Udall lodged with one prostitute in particular, identified only as P - g Y - g. He was subsequently to blame her and her associates for his misfortunes.

Udall spent his money extravagantly. The Ordinary notes the he "let fly his Money after a strange Manner". He spent all the money his father had given him and quickly fell in debt to the sum of four hundred pounds, and was committed to the Marshalsea Prison. But with Thomas Mann, he managed to escape.

On the 6th of August 1738 Udall and a companion were out riding, when they stopped at the house of William Young. Udall said he had "he had been riding hard" and desired that Young give him a "Bit of Diaculum Plaister", which he did and Udall paid him 3d for it. Soon after they left, however, Young noticed his hat was missing and he quickly ran down the road and caught Udall. Young found his hat hidden under Udall’s coat. According to Young, Udall "begg'd I would use him civilly", but Young took him to a constable who took him before a Justice, Captain Margets, who committed Udall to Newgate.

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First Trials

On 6 September 1738 Udall was tried at the Old Bailey for stealing Young's hat, worth ten shillings.

Udall did not deny the crime, but pointed to the fact that he had served as king's evidence in another trial in that sessions. The jury accordingly committed "pious perjury" and found him guilty of stealing goods to the value of ten pence only, making the crime petty larceny. He was sentenced to be whipped.

The other trial in which Udall gave evidence was that of John Slade and Henry Fluellin, who were tried for the highway robbery of Henry Davies.

From Udall's testimony we find further evidence about his deviant behaviour. Protected by his status as king's evidence, Udall actually states he was directly involved with, and was indeed a primary agent, in this crime. Udall testified that he and the other two men met at the Coach and Horse, Temple Bar, where they stayed for a while before they "agreed to go a Street Robbing".

Apparently the group got as far as Charring Cross without finding anyone to rob. They then returned to the parish of St Clements Danes, to a place called the "dead wall", part of the St Clements Danes alms house. Here Udall states they ran into Davies, whom he and Slade held against the wall with a pistol while Fluellin robbed him. The group then fled though the churchyard to a public house on Butchers Row where they shared out the money. The next day Flluellin and Udall pawned the hat they had stolen from Davies on Aldersgate Street.

Udall’s story was confirmed by Henry Atkins, who had arranged for Udall to give evidence to Captain Margets before the trial. After learning of the crime, Atkins went to the pawnbrokers on Aldersgate Street and found the stolen hat.

In his defence, Fluellin called Udall "a lewd Rascal; he lives upon the Spoils of lewd Women". He went so far as to say that Udall only gave evidence to escape the punishment for his own crimes. When Slade and Fluellin brought their character witnesses, Udall gave some additional information. John Cook claimed that Slade was a good man and that his sister was married to harpsichord-maker. Udall on the other hand alleged that Slade’s sister actually kept a bawdy house at the sign of the Barley-Mow. Udall went further saying "I have been at it several Times".

Despite Udall’s testimony Slade was acquitted whilst Fluellin was found guilty and sentenced to death.

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A Second Trial and the Tables Turned

Udall did not stay away from the Old Bailey for long. In February 1739 he was tried for robbing William Thorn on 26 December 1738 on the king's highway of "a Silver Watch with a Tortois-shell Case, value 40 s. a Hat, value 2 s. a Brass Seal, value 2 d. and four Shillings in Money".

Thorn testified that he was riding from Holloway to Highgate late at night on 26 December 1739. Thorn could not see anything that night and could not swear that Udall was the man who robbed him. However he could confirm that the watch that had been recovered from a pawnbroker on Shoe Lane was his. The main evidence against Udall once again came from a man who had turned king's evidence, this time Thomas Mann. Mann stated that the day after Christmas he and Udall rode to "the Castle" in Holloway, and on the way they stopped at a house for pork steaks. On their return journey at about seven or eight in the evening they robbed a man, taking their loot back to Udall’s lodgings at White Lyon Court. Mann claimed that Udall threatened to kill Thorn to prevent him being able to identify his attackers, until Mann stopped him. The next day they pawned the items on Shoe Lane, dividing the money between them.

How and why Udall and Mann were caught is not entirely clear, but Richard Wernel, apparently a constable, was the man responsible. Mann quickly asked to turn king's evidence. During the trial it emerged that Udall also tried to turn king's evidence, to avoid being hanged for what was a capital offence. According to Wernel, Udall "wanted to have been made an Evidence against Mann, and said he could put three or four more into his Information. He did not deny the Fact at all". According to Wernel the request was denied, "as he had been admitted an Evidence several Times before".

Udall's only defence was to argue that Mann only gave evidence "for the Sake of the Reward, that he may clear himself of his Debt", the debt for which he had been imprisoned at the Marshalsea.

Udall was indicted a second time for robbing John Bradford on the same night. Bradford was riding from London to Finchley when he was assaulted by two men near Upper Holloway. Bradford was attacked savagely by the two men who took from him "a Hat, value 1 s. a Drugget Coat, value 5 s. and five Shillings in Money". He identified Udall as one of his attackers. Mann confirmed this story and once again argued that he was a restraining influence upon Udall, preventing Udall from killing the man, only to have Udall threaten his life too. Mann also found out during the trial that Udall had sold the items for more money than first reported, and that "he cheated me of a Shilling".

Udall was found guilty of both indictments and sentenced to death.

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The Ordinary of Newgate and His Execution

Despite condemning Udall's earlier life, the second half of the Ordinary’s Account reveals another side to him. The Ordinary, James Guthrie, saw Udall in the chapel at Newgate frequently, and though he occasionally found Udall to be mischievous, Guthrie was confident that he was earnest enough to be saved. But no one was more confident of his salvation than Udall himself who "declar'd his Hopes of Salvation thro' Christ, that he repented of a wicked and profligate Life, and died in Peace with all Mankind".

Ordinary's Accounts published around this time frequently include appendices with additional material concerning the condemned, and Udall provided Guthrie with three writings which he wanted to have printed after his death in order to preserve his reputation. The first was Udall's own account of his life, in which he provided more details concerning the antics recorded by the Ordinary. Although much of this echoed what the Ordinary had already reported, Udall gave more attention to the effect his debts had upon his life.

The second item was a letter addressed to the woman he cohabited with at the bawdy house. This recounts Udall’s own self conviction that by confessing his sins he would gain salvation. He implores this woman to give up her own ill-life so that she can join him in heaven one day.

The final item purportedly written by Udall was a short poem addressed to his mother. The poem reaffirms that Udall’s criminal activities were caused by the bad company he kept. Once again it implies that Udall will be saved by his confessions.

Udall was executed at Tyburn on 14 March 1739.

External Sources

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1 Family Search, consulted 23 April 2010, under the name of William Uvedale. According to the Ordinary of Newgate, he was born in Clerkenwell.

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About this Biography

Created by

Edward Duncan 

Further contributions by

Robert Shoemaker