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Highwaymen
An old Roman road north-west of Buxton was once the haunt of a band of robbers led by a man named Pym. He is said to have kept watch over the road from a stone chair on top of a hill, ready to send his men to hold up packhorse trains. The stone chair was broken up many years ago but the hill is still known as Pym Chair.

A highwayman known as Black Harry was the scourge of packhorse trains crossing the moors around Longstone and Wardlow. Black Harry had a very busy career until it was cut short on the gibbet at Wardlow Mires. His name lives on at Black Harry Gate and Black Harry House near Stoney Middleton.

A very famous highwayman waylaid travellers in the Hope Valley during the reign of Charles II. He went by the name of ‘Bold Nevison’ or ‘Swift Nick Nevison’. Legend has it that he was a Robin Hood-type figure because ‘he demanded purses in the most courteous manner; he gave largely to the poor what he had taken from the rich’. This verse is from a contemporary ballad about his exploits:

‘So dauntless she bore him, so swift did he ride,
Many purses he gathered on hill and on moor;
Yet gentle in deed, while the law he defied,
He never harmed woman or took from the poor.’

One popular story about Bold Nevison tells how he befriended a farmer from Padley, who had just sold some cattle at Bakewell market. The farmer needed the money to pay his rent, due at Michaelmas. He and his new friend spent a few hours drinking and the rather merry farmer learned that, by a strange coincidence, they were both going home the same way.

They rode together as far as Stoke, where beneath some dark trees Bold Nevison suddenly drew his pistol and demanded his companion’s bag of gold. The farmer pleaded that if he couldn’t pay his rent, his family would be thrown out of their home. But Nevison took the money, turned his horse towards Eyam and was gone.

Came the night before Michaelmas and the despairing farmer was sitting up late. At midnight he heard two shots from Grindleford bridge, where a night-watchman was keeping guard. The sound hadn’t died away before the farmer heard hoof beats galloping in his direction at breakneck speed. Suddenly there was the sound of breaking glass and the unseen rider sped off into the night. The farmer rushed downstairs to find a canvas bag lying in the glass from his shattered window. It contained the ‘borrowed’ gold and an extra guinea.

As time went by, Nevison moved further afield but was captured and executed at York on 4 May 1684.

You can see a copy of an 1820 reward poster in Wirksworth Heritage Centre. The sum of ten guineas was offered after a highway robbery in which a Kirk Ireton butcher was robbed of his takings.

In fact most highway robbers of the old days were not the romantic Dick Turpins of popular legend but muggers who attacked ordinary folk for small ammounts of cash.

Want to know more?
May the Lord have Mercy on Your Soul, Philip Taylor. Derbyshire Heritage Series 1989.
Stand & Deliver, Julie Bunting. Peak Advertiser 18 September 1995.
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