Islington highwayman was ‘One Direction’ of his day
- Credit: Archant
Heartthrob thief’s live of romance and robbery on borough’s roads
A dashing highwayman who terrorised travellers on Islington’s roads almost 400 years ago has been brought back to life.
Claude du Vall, known as the true gentleman of the road, robbed men and romanced women during a 10 year reign of swashbuckling terror in the 1660s.
Now, the gallant rogue – dubbed “the One Direction of his day”, so popular the King tried to stop his execution –has become the star of the latest London Dungeon attraction.
Richard Quincy, who researched Mr du Vall for the exhibition, said: “He really was a fascinating character. He’s the personification of everything you think of when you imagine a highway robber.
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“When you think of that kind of dashing thief, you think of Dick Turpin.
“But Dick Turpin was actually a bit of a nasty b***ard, while du Vall was all gallantry.
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“He had women lining up at his death bed. He really was the One Direction of his day.”
In the 1600s, Islington was prime hunting ground for highwaymen, as it was the main route into the city from the north.
Mr du Vall became a household name as a gentleman thief, due to his fashionable dress, dashing good looks and well mannered, though villainous, behaviour. Wealthy people even deliberately travelled to Islington and nearby Hampstead Heath in the hope of being held up.
He was finally caught – whilst drunk – from a tavern and sent to Newgate Jail, tried by a judge and sentenced to death.
Much to the devastation of ladies of the court, and King Charles II himself who campaigned for his reprieve, Mr du Vall was hanged at Tyburn in 1670, aged only 27.
Now, his story of glamour and thievery is being re-told at a world famous visitor attraction.
Mr Quincy said: “We are really exaggerating his character, all that suaveness and Frenchness.
“He’s like an extreme Thierry Henry and it’s a lovely character to have in the dungeon.
“We’ve put him with Moll Cutpurse – a highway woman – and they give visitors a lesson in robbery from the gallows at Tyburn.”
Mr Quincy cites two stories in particular which captured the public’s imagination.
In one, while robbing a couple of their cash, the wife began to play her flute. On hearing this, the lovable rouge dismounted and began to play his own instrument. The pair dance together, much to her husband’s “absolute dismay”.
The highwayman handed the wife back, kissing her hand, and returned the cash to the couple – minus a fee charged to the husband for watching their performance.
In the second tale, the smooth criminal takes all a family’s belongings - including the baby’s dummy.
As the baby begins to cry, Mr du Vall returns the dummy to the child.
“I thinks that’s the worst thing he ever did,” said Mr Quincy. “Robbing a baby’s dummy.”
The exhibition runs until May 31.