Saturday, 27 October 2018

Madness in their Methodism; Robert Tilling (1737-1760) Bunhill Fields

Execution day at Tyburn - the Idle Apprentice by Hogarth

Researching the history of Bunhill Fields I came across an intriguing account of the funeral of 23 year old coachman Robert Tilling in the Oxford Journal of Saturday 03 May 1760. Executed criminals were not normally peacefully laid to rest in burial grounds or churchyards; they generally ended up in the hands of the anatomists of the Royal College of Surgeons.  And why was there a crowd of 20,000 in attendance? Striking too was the fact that the obsequies were conducted by no less a luminary than the reverend George Whitefield ,  who along with John Wesley, was one of the founders of Methodism and a hugely popular preacher at the time;  

Wednesday Evening, between Five and Six, the Body of Robert Tilling, the Coachman, who was executed on Monday last, for robbing his Master, was conveyed in a Hearse, attended by one Mourning Coach, to Tindall's Burying Ground in Bunhill Fields, and there interred. The Rev. Mr. Whitefield attended the Corpse, and made a long Oration upon the Occasion, amidst the greatest Concourse of People there ever was assembled in that Place; it is thought more than 20,000. The Corpse had been previously exposed in Mr. Whitefield's Tabernacle near the Burying Ground.

The cross eyed Mr Whitefield preaching to the converted

Robert Tilling had been a coachman in the employ of Mr Samuel Lloyd, a silk merchant of Devonshire Square on the outskirts of Spitalfields. Mr Lloyd was a very successful business man and a prominent Methodist, a friend and supporter of John Wesley. He was known for his good nature and patient disposition. His father Thomas had been a Spitalfields silk weaver with a huge family of 20 children. Samuel was the brightest and in 1724 he was apprenticed to a Mr Bullock, a mercer at the Wheatsheaf on Ludgate Hill. He became an extremely competent shopman and, according to a correspondent in the Lady’s Magazine, writing after his death, ‘a sharp little beau.’ Some young ladies ‘from the court end of town’ took it into their heads to ‘go and plague Lloyd’, the dapper shopkeeper with the impeccable manners.  The young man rushed to hand them out of their carriage when they arrived at Ludgate Hill and accompany them into the shop where the young ladies demanded to see the latest silks.  The Lady’s Magazine correspondent from Derby takes up the story: 
The newest and richest silks were requested with the greatest avidity and opened with agility and dispatch, some wanted novelty, others taste, these too tawdry, those too dull ,so that having filled his counters with the greatest variety that any house in town could produce to no end but his own fatigue and sweat, he said one rich piece had remained in petro, brought from the Fields just before they came in, the first that had been wove of the pattern.  On producing it they all owned it exceeding pretty and although it was several pounds a yard desired a shilling worth of it. He replied -Ladies you shall be welcome to that quantity I beg the favour of the shilling, which being given him, he laid it on the fagg end and with his scissors cut off a round bit the exact size, put the same up in two or three papers, presented it very courteously and conducted them into their vehicles politely with thanks for the honour done him. All the while he never changed countenance though doubtless not a little chagrined.

The following day the same ladies returned and bought £300 pounds worth of the silks they had professed to despise the day before, all the while marvelling at Mr Lloyd’s patience. Maybe this sort of teasing from his female customers put him off the fair sex. He never married. Consequently he was alone on the night of 18 February 1760 when the following disturbing events unfolded:

Tuesday Morning, between Four and Five, Mr. Lloyd, a Merchant in Devonsltire-Square, Bistopsgate-Street, thinking he heard some Body in his Room, on turning himself about saw a Man by his Bedside with a Dark Lantborn and a Pistol cocked, which he presented to Mr. Lloyd’s Head, demanding his Money. Mr. Lloyd desired he would give him Leave to reach his Breeches, and he would give it to him.  But the Villain told him it was not that he wanted, but the Keys of his Scrutore, which Mr. Lloyd gave him. He then told Mr. Lloyd, that if he moved while he was gone down Stairs, there was another in the Room that would dispatch him. When the Villain had taken the Money out of the Scrutore, he went Stairs again Mr. Lloyd, delivered the Keys, and then said, Sir, take Notice, that I have only taken your Money out of the Scrutore ; your Plate, Watch, or anything else I have not meddled with; as to the little Money in your Pocket I scorn to take; and then made the best of his Way.  (Oxford Journal 23 February 1760)

The thieves had taken Mr Lloyd’s iron escritoire key, a thirty-six shilling piece of gold, a moidore (a Portuguese coin, a corruption of moeda d'ouro, which literally means gold coin) and ten guineas. Mr Lloyd suspected an inside job and was convinced one of his manservants were involved, either one of the two footmen or his coachman. Within a few days he found proof of the involvement of his the latter, as explained by the Derby Mercury of Friday 29 February 1760;

Monday Evening last Robert Tilling, Servant to Mr. Lloyd, of Devonshire-Square, (who was robbed on the 18th Instant, as mentioned in our last) was taken up and sent to Wood-street Compter, on Suspicion of being concerned in the said Robbery. On his Examination before the Lord-Mayor, it appeared, that a printed Shop Bill, belonging to a Chymist and Druggist near Norton-Folgate, had been found in Mr. Lloyd's. Counting-House after the Robbery was com mitted,, and Mr Lloyd imagining that the Person who was in his Chamber was disguised by Sticking- Plaister being put on his Face, and that it was one of his Servants, went to the Person who kept the Shop, and desired to know whether any Li very- Servant, had lately bought Black Sticking-Plaister there; he was answered in the Affirmative, and that not having a Twelve penny Paper, he bought two Sixpenny ones ; and the Shopkeeper being desired to come to , Mr. Lloyd's the next Day, on his coming,  his Coachman and two Footmen were called, when the Coachman was fixed on by the Shopkeeper.

Things were not looking good for Robert Tilling. Wood Street Compter was a small prison just off Cheapside. From here Robert was taken to be examined by the Lord Mayor, Sir Thomas Chitty,  who ordered him to be detained at Newgate. Further suspicions fell on the hapless coachman’s head when there were further accusations of robbery, this time highway robbery at Blackheath on Saturday 12 January where it was said he had robbed Thomas Haywood and George Greenwood.  According to Thomas Haywood the two men had been riding in his post chaise when Tilling, mounted on a chestnut mare and without any neckerchief across his face to disguise himself,  had demanded they stand and deliver. He had told them “No trifling gentlemen, for I am in distress, having a wife and several children” and held out a long pistol towards them. They were alarmed to see the highwayman’s arm tremble and were worried that the pistol might go off simply because of the thief’s nerves. Haywood’s horse would not quieten down and seemed in danger of bolting. Still they managed to hand over 11 guineas and their watches before Tilling rode away. According to the Leeds Intelligencer of 11 March he confessed to the robbing of the two gentleman but denied robbing the mailcoach, a crime which had been added to the growing list of accusations against him. He told Sir Thomas Chitty:

The trowsers in which he robbed his Master, he bought on Tower -hill, and the dark-lanthorn in Fenchurch. street. The pistol he made use of in ail the robberies he committed was his Master's, but he said that it was never charged. He denied robbing the mail, and said that robbery of his Master was the last action which he intended to commit. He declared he had no accomplices. He said he broke open Mr. Lloyd's desk, and took out the money, before he went into his bedchamber; and that there was a bank vote of  £100, which he left there, as he knew not how to negotiate it.

The case was heard by Sir William Moreton, the Recorder of London in April. Tilling had confessed to his crimes but Sir William ordered his execution. Tilling was very repentant, as the Ordinary of Newgate, Stephen Roe, acknowledged in his traditional account of the last days of the doomed man.  He wrote out a confession addressed to the Ordinary which began:

Sir, I Wose born in the parish of Ashton Keynes in the county of Wilts of honest parents who acording to their abiliteys gave me a tolabral eadecation and wose corfull to instruct me in my duty towards god and my neighbour I wose brougth up a member of the church of England which from my youth I wose corfull to atend to and payd my constant worship there till within these few years I went in and out amongst the of people called methadis but wose neever joynd to any one of their sociatey should the queastion be askd why I atended those peoples praching I answer because I believd they prachd the peure gospel of Jesus Christ.... 

Highway robbery
It was not Methodism which was his downfall however, that can be laid at the door of love. He told the Ordinary that “what tempted him to so horrid a crime as he was charged with, for that as he had good wages in wealthy families, where plenty surrounded him, it was to me very amazing what could seduce him to think of such a course of wickedness. He readily answered, that it was done in order to gain the consent of a beloved woman to marry him; that he courted her, but she would not hear of him without a better foundation than that of a servant.”  To convince the girl, who was the same age as him, to marry him he lied that he had a fortune of £60 put away in savings from his ten years in service. He took up robbery as the method of supplying real money to replace the pure invention of this fortune, so desperate was he to marry the girl. He also confessed an additional crime, committed the previous December in Islington, where he had held up a man with a pistol and robbed him of £2 and some shillings. He told the Ordinary that the horse and pistol used in the robberies both belonged to his master. He begged the Ordinary to allow unrestricted visits by the girl he had planned to marry and to request a visit from Charles Wesley. Both requests were refused; he seemed to most upset by not being allowed an interview with the Methodist, perhaps he hoped Wesley would intercede on his behalf with his master? He remained unforgiven until the end.

28 April was set as the day of the execution. Tilling was to die in the company of three other men, William Beckwith condemned for stealing goods in the dwelling house of Mr John Moore and John Guest and Thomas Smith who had burgled a silversmith’s in Fleet Street.  On the morning of the execution Tilling received a visit just before 6am from 3 gentlemen, presumably fellow Methodists, one of whom were much distressed by his plight. At 7am the Ordinary found the four condemned men knelt in prayer together – he made them rise and join him in the Chapel where they joined in with prayers and the communion. Tilling had hopes of a reprieve and the Ordinary remarks that this affected his composure on the day of the execution. The other three men seemed perfectly at ease with their fates but Tilling had “less composure, calmness, patience and resignation, than was observable in the three other prisoners.” At the end of the service the prisoners had their irons knocked off and were instead bound with rope before being put into the carts that would take them to Tyburn.  On the scaffold Tilling turned toward the crowd and addressed them; “Beloved friends! O! now look and learn by one who has forgot his God. Temptations prevailed over me; I have fallen by my iniquities, and transgressed the law of my Maker. But thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift! O! that you would attend to one who is now within a hand's breadth of death.” He then spoke for twenty minutes, exhorting the crowd to put their faith in Jesus Christ and reminding his ‘fellow sufferers’, the other four prisoners, that “you are going out of a world of sorrow and sin, out of a howling wilderness, full of pits and snares; here is nothing but trouble here.” When at last he fell silent, the respectful hangman withdrew the carts and the four condemned twisted and writhed at the end of the rope in their final agonies, dancing the Tyburn jig as these were irreverently called.  

The end you already know. Apparently forgiven by his Methodist brethren Tilling’s body was retrieved and taken to George Whitefield’s tabernacle in Moorfields.  Did Samuel Lloyd suffer a twinge of conscience when he saw so many of his fellow co-religionists turn out for his coachman’s funeral. 20,000 people! He must have been astonished, perfectly well aware that he would be lucky  to gather even a hundredth of that number for his own funeral.  

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