The following is a précis taken from
"Tales of Old Somerset"
Published by Countryside Books 1989
Born in 1666 so the story relates, one TOM COX the younger son of a west country gentleman, grew into a startlingly handsome youth with a penchant for women and gambling, joint passions which soon swallowed up his meagre inheritance. Egged on by the shady characters with whom he spent his time it was not long before he was persuaded to look to the highways to supplement his loses by relieving those more endowed of their guineas.
He was at first fairly successful, but like most other "Gentlemen of the Highway" he was soon arrested not once but on three separate occasions and tried at the Assizes at Winchester, Gloucester and Worcester and was fortunate enough to be acquitted. At the Worcester trial however, his attractiveness and elegance caught the attention of a young lady who promptly fell madly in love with him. She was a pretty girl but more to the point her fortune of £1500 was more than sufficient to persuade him to accept her advances for marriage.
Tom did not settle for long and after only two years of squandering his wife's money on gambling dens and at brothels, was back on the road, with Somerset highways and byways receiving his best attention. The old Roman town of Somerton is said to have been where he stayed at the town's oldest hostelry - known simply as The Inn (now a private house called 'Cockspurs'). One exploit took him to the road leading to Chard where he encountered one Thomas Killigrew, King Charles' I Jester, returning to his home in Cornwall. Thomas though commanded to 'Stand & Deliver' attempted not to hand over his purse. He even asked Tom if this were some joke being played on him, prompting this original reply:
" Nay, I am in earnest, for though you may live by jesting, I can't; therefore deliver your money,
before a brace of balls make the sun shine through your body"
The rejoinder persuaded the hapless courtier to decide it was therefore in his best interests to agree and handed over his purse of 25 guineas.
Another escapade involved a well-known brothel-keeper, one Madam Box. When Tom accosted her he found that he seemed to have met his match as she raised such a commotion with her verbal abuse it soon became a torrential exchange of words. Madam Box was well able to hold her own, especially as she recognised Tom as a recent visitor to her establishment and threatened to see him hanging from the gibbet. Tom became even more infuriated at these threats and cast more than a few doubts on her facial make-up and lack of teeth, ending: -
"Why do I stand here spending my breath about such a toad as you, who's the common nuisance of a civilised society!
Come, Come, you bitch, deliver your money or else your life must be sacrifice to my fury"
He snatched the moneybag from her grasp, while she continued to scream and shout abuse at him and Tom finally losing his temper, thought to teach her a lesson. He roughly stripped her of all her clothing and galloped away, leaving behind him Madam Box standing stark naked in the middle of the road.
It was now nearing the end of the 17th century and Tom's life was to take a turn for the worse. At a hold up near Chard he was arrested and sent to the County Goal at Ilchester. This prison built beside the river Yeo, was full with felons and debtors awaiting trial, and convicted criminals awaiting death. The over-crowding was so ruthless that less serious offenders were kept at an abandoned priory a short distance further along the road. Tom was probably incarcerated in one of the cells reserved for male felons, which was situated next to the turnkey's lodge by the main entrance.
Tom, realising the opportunity of this situation, was soon planning an escape and luckily for him, the gaoler was usually blind drunk by evening. Obtaining the key was simple task for nimble-fingered Tom and he quickly extracted himself from the confinement. He even had the cheek to enter the turnkey's lodging and help himself to the silver tankard that presented itself to his astute eye. He then made his getaway over the prison wall, stealing a horse on the way from a nearby stable, complete with saddle and bridle and made off on the road to Gloucestershire through Bath.
Tom was just 25 years old when he met his maker on the gallows 3rd June 1691 near Newgate in London. He had been caught robbing a farmer on Hounslow Heath. The crowd gathered to witness his execution cheered this handsome highwayman, still immaculately dressed in his favourite white waistcoat and breeches, sporting a hat adorned with cherry-coloured ribbons. Arriving at the gallows he made one last protest before the noose was placed around his neck - he tried to kick both the chaplain and the executioner both off the cart.
In a book by Jonathan Swift (1727) - Going to be Hanged - an ode is written to the event:
'And when his last speech the loud hawkers did cry
he swore from his cart "It was all a damn'd lie"
The Hangman for pardon fell down on his knee;