A dead highwayman murdered my ancestors

Two of my distant ancestors were murdered in their kitchen reputedly for the money in the teapot.  This was 1750 when William Spurret and his wife Elizabeth ran the local alehouse, Hobcroft’s Holt. Standing on the site today is the Holt Hotel, its sign depicting a highwayman said to haunt the hotel.

Now nobody wants to point a finger at friends and relatives but it was obviously an inside job so what did the authorities do?  Blame the atrocity on the local highwayman, a French chap called Claude Duval, who was hanged at Tyburn on the 21 January 1670 – 80 years earlier.   As you have probably guessed, I enjoy art galleries and not too long ago, I was delighted to find a painting of this very rascal hanging on the wall of Manchester Art Gallery – sadly replaced by a another painting a month or so ago.

There is obviously no way Claude could have been responsible for the beerhouse murders.  Apparently, he was a gallant rogue; when he stopped a stagecoach, if a pretty female passenger danced with him, she could keep her belongings.    

This painting, thank you Manchester Art Gallery Collections, is by William Powell Frith RA (1819-1909) donated in 1917 by the James Gresham Bequest.  Claude, in his scarlet jacket, is clearly expecting the lady in white to dance…. If you look closely just between the arms of the  two masked robbers to the left of the painting, you can see a tiny gibbet on the horizon whence dangles a convicted highwayman.

After his execution at Tyburn in London, legend has him buried in St Paul’s church, Covent Garden; the parish register records the burial of Peter Duval in January 1670.

A memorial in the church reads:

Here lies DuVall: Reder, if male thou art,

Look to thy purse; if female, to thy heart.

Much havoc has he made of both; for all

Men he made to stand, and women he made to fall

The second Conqueror of the Norman race,

Knights to his arm did yield, and ladies to his face.

Old Tyburn’s glory; England’s illustrious Thief,

Du Vall, the ladies’ joy; Du Vall, the ladies’ grief.

A gruesome description of the murder –not a whiff of Claude Duval – can be found here under  the title Murder at the Holt on Steeple Aston Village Archive website.

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