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1676 - James Nevison (Highwayman)
About this time, James Nevison (nicknamed 'Swift Nick') the notorious Highwayman, roamed these parts and his name is still remembered locally more than 300 years later. According to folk law he robbed the rich to give to the poor but in truth he appears to have been nothing more than a very charming common criminal. A deep cutting through the rock between Pontefract and Ferrybridge is still called 'Nevison's Leap' and an Inn was named after him. He was finally captured while drinking at the Magpie Inn at Sandal near Wakefield and executed at York on May 4th., 1684.
Note: Also referred to as John Nevison and William Nevison with his date of death being given as 1682, 1683 and 1684. Nevison was most probably born at Wortley near Pontefract in 1648 and hanged at York in 1684.
It seems that his romantic reputation was sealed through a renowned ride from the south of England to York in 1676. Popular legend says Dick Turpin made this famous ride on a horse called Black Bess fifty years later but this is not true - the highwayman who rode from Kent to York in one day was James Nevison. This is the story:
At 4 a.m. one summer morning in 1676, a traveller at Gads Hill in Kent, England was robbed by Nevison. The highwayman then made his escape on a bay mare, crossed the River Thames by ferry and galloped towards Chelmsford. After resting his horse for half an hour, he rode on to Cambridge and Huntingdon, resting regularly for short periods during the journey. Eventually, he found his way to the Great North Road where he turned north for York. It is claimed that Nevison jumped the narrow gorge called 'Nevison's Leap' and then crossed the River Aire at Castleford during this ride.
He arrived in York at sunset after a journey of more than 200 miles, a stunning achievement for both man and horse. He stabled his weary horse at a York inn, washed and changed his travel-stained clothes, then strolled to a bowling green where he knew the Lord Mayor was playing bowls. He engaged the Lord Mayor in a conversation and then laid a bet on the outcome of the match - and Nevison made sure the Lord Mayor remembered the time the bet was laid - 8 p.m. that evening.
Later, Nevison was arrested for the robbery in Gads Hill and in his defence, produced the Lord Mayor of York as his alibi witness. The Lord Mayor could prove Nevison was in York at 8 p.m. on the day of the robbery and the court refused to believe that a man could have committed a crime in the early morning in Kent and ridden to York by 8 p.m. the same day. He was found not guilty of the crime and emerged as a folk hero, even impressing the King of England.
Nevison was a charming man of tall gentlemanly appearance and bearing and it is claimed that he never used violence against his victims.
My thanks to Mike Marshall who along with Leonie run the Fretwelliana Web Page. He says "You report that Nevison was born at Wortley, near Pontefract, and that his father was a steward at Wortley Hall. However there is only one Wortley Hall in England and that is located at the only other Wortley --- a remote little village near Sheffield". He also sent me the following from his site as evidence of this:

John Hobson's Diary Entry for 19 Aug 1727/8 (looking back to earlier days)
At Pilley. There was there Mr. Skelton, who has been game-keeper to the Wortleys for above 60 years. He was born in the year 1642. He knew old Sr Francis Wortley who got the battle at Tankersly moor. He was afterwards taken prisoner by the Parliament forces at Wolton hall, and was put in the Tower of London, where he died, and was buried at Westminster. He was a tall, proper man, with grey hair, and one of the first who took up arms for the king. This Mr. Skelton, when he was about eight years, went into the service of young Sr Francis Wortley, who then lived at St. Hellen's well, nigh Monkbretton, having for some time before resided beyond sea, but was permitted to come back by the Parliament upon the death of his father, whom he had disoblieged upon this account. There was a certain man call'd Bailie, of Dodworth, who by the Commission of Array had been pressed into the king's service; this man deserted, and was retaken; whereupon young Sr Francis, without any tryall by a court-martiall, caused him to be hang'd upon a tree near Wortley Hall. Old Sr Francis was so much displeased at his son for so rash an action, that, to avoid his anger, he went into Italy, and staid there till his father's death. This young Sr Francis had no legitimate issue by his lady, but left a naturall daughter by Mrs. Newcommen, the elder called . . , the younger, Penelope. He died at Turnham green, nigh London, where he had a fine seat, and was buried at Westminster. He was a little lean man, with yellowish hair; drunk very hard, and seem'd to be melancolick, and troubled in mind. His eldest daughter was married to the late Sidney Wortley, esqre.
At St. Hellen wells there was a room called the yellow chamber, thro' which, if any one attempted to carry a candle in the night, it would burn blue and go out immediately: and over the kitchin there was an open gallery; and this Mr. Skelton, as he has sate by the fire, has often seen the apparition of a boy or a girl walk along the gallery. This house is now pulled down, and lately rebuilded by Mr. Sydney Wortley, for a habitation for a mistress of his, Mrs. Grace Bingly, who now resides there. At the same time, there lived with this Skelton . . Nevison, who afterwards was an exciseman; but, being out of his place, became an highwayman, and was ordered to be transported; but, returning before the time limited, he was thereupon executed at York. At the same time there lived there a young woman, mother to the present dame Walker, of Pilley; one Wood, of Burton Smithies, made love to her; whereupon two of Sr Francis Wortley's servants (one of them call'd Lapish) quarreled with him, and one of them clove Wood's head with a spade, in the court at St. Hellen's. They were sent to York, and, at the intercession of Sr Francis, came of. It was said that they pretended Wood was attempting to ravish her, so they cleared themselves by saying that what they did was in defence of the young woman. This Skelton was quarter-master to a private troup which was raised to quench, the Farnley wood plot, and assisted at the taking of . . Oates and Greathead. He also went along with his master, Sydney Wortley, to York, to the revolution, and saw Sir John Riersby, then governour, deliver the keys of the city to my lord Danbye; and he went along with his master to Exeter, where he met the Prince of Orange, who thanked Mr. Wortley for the good service he had done at York, and promised to see him paid. This Skelton is now 86 year old; is very hearty, and rides about to look after the game in Mr. Edward Wortley's liberty.

Wortley Hall, in which Nevison's father was employed as a steward, is still a very famous building in Wortley village near Sheffield. However there is no Wortley Hall anywhere in the Leeds/Pontefract area. Also, Pilley and Tankersley, mentioned in the diary entry, are immediately adjectent to Wortley Village near Sheffield. - Mike.
An account of the gentleman highwayman John Nevison written by Marie Campbell and titled "The Devil Takes The Highway" was available from Whins Wood Publishing House, Keighley. Unfortunately it appears to be out of print.
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