Williams Jennings life cut short after boasting about horse in Honiton pub

A drawing by M Feltham in 1792 of a stagecoach outside St Margaret's Chapel in Honiton

A drawing by M Feltham in 1792 of a stagecoach outside St Margaret's Chapel in Honiton - Credit: Honiton Museum

Margaret Lewis, curator of Honiton Museum, writes for the Herald.

Margaret Lewis (outside the Honiton Museum) is keen for the building to host the town's new TIC. mhh

Margaret Lewis (outside the Honiton Museum) is keen for the building to host the town's new TIC. mhh 25-16TI 2287. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

If William Jennings had kept quiet while he was drinking in the Exeter Inn, Honiton, he probably would not have been noticed, and he might have lived to see his 27th birthday.

He was boasting to anyone within earshot that he had the finest stallion in England.

He described it as bay brown in colour and fifteen hands high. It was to be sold for twenty five guineas to the landlord of The White Horse, in Radcliffe Street, Bristol.

He seemed to know Somerset well and bragged that he had the acquaintance of many gentlemen who lived there.

Jennings announced that he had just four words to say to a short gentleman who was travelling to London on the Exeter Stagecoach. Shortly after lunchtime,

William Jennings set out from the Exeter Inn to catch up with the horse drawn coach to London. He knew he wasn't far behind and told the landlord he would soon be with it.

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At about 2pm, William Jennings, highwayman, caught up with the coach on the road near Northcott Lane. With a pistol aimed at the coach door he ordered the travellers to give him their money. The short gentleman offered silver.

The highwayman refused it, saying that he knew the gentleman had a purse of guineas. The gentleman handed over his purse which contained about twenty guineas - a small fortune.

The Honiton landlord’s description was that he wore a waistcoat trimmed with gold lace and he had a mole or black spot under his jaw.

His victims described him as being five feet, six inches tall with a black spot or mole under his jaw. He wore his own hair, dark brown, short, and curled, not a wig.

He wore a "great coat" and a plain cape, a dark waistcoat, trimmed with narrow gold lace, and a green velvet coat which had three yellow buttons and buttonholes.

His horse was described as a bay brown mare of about 15 hands high with a defect in its eye.

Four men found Jennings in an alehouse in Milverton, arrested him and took him to Taunton Goal. In October, Jennings appeared in court charged with robbing on the highway but was discharged because of lack of evidence.

Two other complaints made against him kept him in custody - one by his wife for assault and the other by a man he had threatened to kill. Several bailiffs were disappointed as they were waiting outside to rearrest him.

In another court appearance in November, it was revealed that he started life as a servant but some years ago became a gentleman who married tradesmen’s daughters and lived upon their fortunes until they were exhausted.

His respectable parents had disowned him.

Later at the Exeter Assize, he was one of eight men who were capitally convicted. On April 10, 1752, Jennings was executed at Heavitree Gallows for robbing the stagecoach near Honiton.

A reporter who was a witness and wrote: "He was seemingly penitent and behaved with as much decency as could be expected. But he made no confession in relation to his life, only confessed the crime he died for."