Dick England – Georgian Rogue.
Few people have no redeeming features, but Dick England born in the gutters of 18th century Dublin seems to have been one of them. Dick was born about 1735 and like thousands of poor Irishmen, he had little prospect of improving his lot until he was apprenticed to a cabinet-maker but it was not a trade he would have chosen.
Dick the Boxer
Well built, strong, with a “Herculean form”, Dick found his way into the boxing booths where he began to make a name for himself. So confident of his ability was he, that he decided to go to England expecting to become a champion. In this he failed, for although he had a strong punch, his frame did not take kindly to severe beatings and he began to look elsewhere for success. By a combination of sharp wits, cunning and extortion, he settled in London and set himself up as a jontleman. His wealth came at a cost to the unsuspecting.
Attractive to women, Dick took up residence in a bawdy house, the Golden Cross, a London inn dating from at least the early 17th century. It stood on a site now occupied by South Africa House and was demolished when present day Trafalgar Square was laid out. Initially, Dick sponged off a woman described as not boasting “of a single attribute of body or mind to attract any man who had the use of his eyes and ears.” There, he began mixing with the clientele that frequented the neighbourhood around Charing Cross, a magnet for rich men who could afford to gamble away a small fortune, and also a haunt for those who made their living by fleecing them.
Dick the Gambler
Dick quickly learned the art of betting, both on horses and with dice, his game of choice being Hazard. Hazard gave the Banker the chance to rake in a fortune – or to lose a vast sum and with a little help from friends, Dick soon discovered how easy it was to hoodwink the newcomers. He particularly preyed on new arrivals, engaging them in play and allowing them initially to win, only to take back his losses and much more besides. Suspecting that they had been duped, many refused to pay up but Dick’s persuasion was quick and violent.
Dick the Gentleman
Aspiring to better himself, Dick paid off his lover from the Golden Cross and moved into a house in Albany Street at Piccadilly and began to take lessons in elocution and manners. He learnt some French that was later to stand him in good stead. By selective references to classical subjects he managed to create the illusion of being well bred and well read. To complete the picture, he hired a servant and acquired several well-bred and expensive Hackney horses.
Dick’s Successes – and Failures
Dick was the sort of man about whom rumours abounded, mostly concerning how he fleeced naïve strangers.
One of his regular haunts was at Munday’s Coffee House in Maiden Lane (by Charing Cross), where he frequently acted as host at the gaming table. One “Young Tradesman,” suspecting that the game had been fixed voiced his views and refused to pay up the money he owed. With shocking speed, Dick kicked his legs from under him, wrapped him in the carpet and grabbing a knife proceeded to cut off his hair near to the scalp. Shaken, the victim paid up. Their paths crossed later but no mention was ever made of the incident.
Dick was not a man to be crossed. On more than one occasion he invited a associate known as Gilly M to dine at his house. At the same time, Dick had become involved with a plump woman who worked as his cook and he promoted her to hostess at his table. Soon afterwards the woman ran away with Gilly M and the gossip was duly circulated.
Dick effected nonchalance then meeting with Gilly he suggested that they should have a trotting race and the event was arranged to take place at Barnet. On arrival, Gilly found himself seized by England and as with the unfortunate tradesman, his pigtail was sliced off at the neck. Dick then proceeded to beat him violently and when he was finished he announced to the world that “Had it been my wife, I would have forgiven him. but to seduce my (w)hore it was not to be allowed.”
Tragic consequences resulted from a scam he carried out on a young man called Damer who ended up in debt to the sum of 44,000 guineas. Damer sent word to his father for help but when he heard nothing, he got drunk and shot himself. Unhappily, at the time his father’s servant was already on his way to pay the debt.
Dick fell out with friend and foe alike. “Count” Denis O’Kelly was a fellow Irishman whose life had followed a similar route. Denis however possessed charm, and having won the country’s most famous racehorse, Eclipse in a celebrated gamble, he made a fortune both on the racecourse, at the stud and at the gaming tables.
Initially he and England became good friends. With the backing of his “wife,” Charlotte Hayes, who ran one of the most exclusive brothels in London, Denis had purchased a house, Clay Hill, at Epsom where he enjoyed the company of many of the aristocracy. Dennis, who had once worked as a sedan chairman and a billiard marker, often entertained the Prince of Wales and his friend and pleasure seeker the Duc d’ Orleans as dinner guests. Dick England was included in their number.
When it came to money, however, Dick and Denis fell out and Dick was determined to exact his revenge. Denis was sensitive about various things, not least, his inability to read and, determined to ruin his former friend, Dick coerced an associate into provoking him at the dinner table. At once Denis lost his temper and Dick strode in and proceeded to violently beat him. Denis, suffering from gout, took legal action and the case threatened to be long, drawn out and expensive. A waiter who witnessed the confrontation was threatened and agreed to support Dick’s version of events, but the truth came out and the case came to nothing. The two men remained enemies.
Theft from the Bank of England
Dick rarely worked alone but even in the company of others, the schemes sometimes went awry. Along with a gang including his erstwhile friend Denis O’Kelly, they succeeded in “winning” a huge sum of money from Charles Clutterbuck, a clerk at the Bank of England. Inevitably, Charles could not pay his debt and threatened by the gang, he stole some blank notes from the bank and filled in his own details. The amount defrauded was £5,930. As soon as it came to light, Charles fled to France. Here he was arrested and put on trial. There was a glimmer of hope for him as the indictment referred to the Bank Royal rather than the Bank of England but having referred the matter across the Channel to the King, the trial continued and poor Charles was found guilty. The king agreed that rather than sentence of death, Charles should suffer the French sentence of being confined to the galleys for life. The Ipswich Journal (September 10 1785) described how he left the court at Arras “chained together with several other felons, for his place of destination.” The Northampton Mercury observed how this “tedious and complicated Affair has cost the Bank of England double the Sum they were defrauded of.” On this occasion, Dick and his associates did not benefit from their scam.
When at Scarborough, the gang contrived to get a certain Mr D so drunk that he would not remember what passed the evening before. England approached him the next morning and handed him a promissory note along with 30 guineas that he swore he had lost to Mr D the night before. The man was impressed with his honesty, until two of Dick’s companions later came up and handed him notes stating that he owed them 80 guineas and 100 guineas. The day was saved when a waiter who had been present the evening before swore that Mr D had been too drunk to play and the gang were forced to cut their losses. Mr D, with dignity, returned the 30 guineas to Dick along with his cost for their meal. For Dick, however, the worst was to come.
In one of Dick’s shady deals his path crossed with that of a brewer from Kingston, Mr de Rowlls (also referred to Rolles and Rose). Having failed to pay a gambling debt, Dick publicly accosted him at Epsom races to be met with sneering dismissal. Like many self-made men, Dick was sensitive about his origins and he reacted sharply to de Rowlls’ response. The Gentleman’s Magazine recorded his words: Gentlemen, I have been cruelly injured in my character and my honour.
Duelling was the preserve of gentlemen and Dick clearly saw himself as such and as de Rowlls was certainly not prepared to apologise the pair agreed to meet in the garden of the inn at Cranford Bridge. Among the witnesses were Lord Derby and Lord Cremorne who confirmed that they tried to stop the event but de Rowlls was very drunk and could not be dissuaded.
There were also those who held England responsible as he was known to be such a good shot that he could extinguish the flame on a candle with a pistol ball. As they prepared for the challenge, Rowlls was so drunk he was incapable of holding his pistol, let alone firing at a target. The Hereford Journal of June 24 1784 reported that “Mr Rose was unfortunately killed.” Lords Derby and Cremorne gave witness to Dick’s character as ‘a man of decent gentlemanly deportment ‘who always tried to avoid trouble. Dick was nevertheless charged with murder but he had already left for France.
On, July 3 1784, the Oxford News relayed the information that Dick and his Second, Captain Barnes, had taken up residence at the Grand Hotel in the Market Place at Amiens. He seems to have travelled around and on May 20 1786 the Oxford Journal relayed the latest news from Lille. Here “the celebrated Dick England was at play with some French officers…when the Gentlemen of the Army, suspecting some unfair play, tossed Mr England out of the window. The Commandant sent Orders the next Morning for him immediately to quit the Town, which he, of course, complied with.” Clearly Dick had not changed his tactics.
The undercurrent of unrest in France that was to lead to revolution was already stirring when Dick first arrived but he settled quickly into the familiar round of games, the turf and gambling. Here, he renewed his acquaintance with the Duc d’ Orleans who was to prove useful to him.
The Duc, brother of King Louis XVI of France had long disliked his sister-in-law Marie Antoinette and following various quarrels he had left the court. As the country spilled over into revolt, he encouraged his reputation as a critic of the royal family and a Republican, calling himself Philippe Egalite. In 1785 Philippe came into his inheritance and, being strapped for cash, he converted his Palais Royal in Paris so that it provided numerous small outlets to be rented. Many were turned into expensive shops, high-class brothels and gaming houses. Dick was to take advantage of this opportunity.
In May 1787, the Hereford Journal announced that Dick England had become the proprietor of a hotel and its hostess, he had married in France and that “Her fortune is considerable.” It further reported that “In this hotel the Africa trade is carried on to great advantage and the Proprietor‘s knowledge in ivory has already produced a large sum of gold.” What became of the bride is unclear.
Lady Seymour Worsley.
By 1790 Dick had made the acquaintance of Lady Seymour Worsley. Seymour had been the subject of a cause celebre in England, having eloped from her husband Sir Richard. The matter was made worse when he sued her lover for criminal conversation but was judged to have conspired in her adultery, earning himself a humiliating one shilling compensation.
Headstrong, extravagant, Seymour continued to shock the English aristocracy as she took other lovers, finding the attitude of the French haut ton much more to her liking. These were, however, dangerous times and her meeting with Dick was mutually beneficial. She needed a protector and he needed an aristocratic, seductive partner to coax nervous clients into losing their fortunes in his gaming house. The game of choice was Faro.
Throughout the country things were growing increasingly volatile however and by April 1793, Orleans was arrested. His carefully garnered image as friend of the revolution did not save him and on November 6 1793 he was guillotined. By association his acquaintances both French and English came under suspicion and in October the Bath Chronicle carried the following news item. “The well-known Dick England and his nephew have both been arrested and sent to Amiens. They are accused of corresponding with the emigrants. It is believed that ere now, they have been guillotined.” Dick, probably along with Seymour, was imprisoned.
Although never confirmed, it seems that Dick, through his connections, was able to pass on useful information about troop movements in France. In these troubled times it was difficult to keep track of events, but before the duc’s death, is seems that at considerable risk to himself, he had helped various refugees escape from the country, probably aiding both Seymour and Dick to survive. Erroneously, the Bath Chronicle if February 21 1794 reported that Dick had been guillotined at Boulogne.
The Last Chapter
After twelve years, Dick returned to England. He knew that faced trial and prison but by now no witnesses remained who were likely to attest that he had been guilty of murder. In this, he proved right. As the Oxford Journal (September 8) forecast, he was certain to be acquitted. At the time of their report he had not yet arrived in England, but the Journal quoted him as saying, rather ominously, that he had more than one account to settle. They opined that: “It is certain that his Presence is not wished by certain Persons, who have been guilty of something short of a Breach of Trust, in the Hour of Distress.”
The Newcastle Courant (27 Feb 1796) printed an account of the trial held at the Old Bailey. The evidence given suggested that the accused had been the aggressor and “many honourable persons giving the prisoner the character of a good tempered man, the jury found him guilty of manslaughter and he was fined one shilling and imprisoned for twelve months in Newgate.” It has been surmised that because of his role as spy, he received such a lenient sentence.
Having been released, one would have expected that Dick, now more than sixty years old, might have settled down, but on April 2 1798, the Reading Mercury reported otherwise. “On Friday the notorious Dick England was brought to the Public Office on a charge of assaulting and wounding Captain Foster, some time since at the Bedford Arms Tavern, Covent Garden. He found bail to answer the charge.”
The press again reported on Dick’s misdemeanours on January 12 1799. Under the heading Dick England and Mr Stacpole, the Stafford Advertiser reported how a “meeting “ was to have taken place in Hyde Park. The confrontation was prevented because somebody communicated to Mr Justice Bond who sent for the parties. Dick appeared before Mr Bond at the Public Office in Bow Streed and entered into a recognizance to keep the peace.
Heading on for eighty, Dick was now slowing down. His end was fast and peaceful. On August 14 1812, he decided to spend the day quietly at his home in Leicester Square. Telling his servant that he would dine at six he sat on the sofa to wait but when the man went to call him, he had slipped away. His obituary in Salisbury and Winchester Journal described how he had climbed the social ladder and how he was always generous to Irishmen in trouble. Perhaps the best that could be said of a roller coaster life lived to the full.
– English Eccentrics and Eccentricities by John Times. Pub 1866
– Particulars of the Life of the Late Dick England by an Old Crony – The Sporting
Magazine Vol 41
– The Gaming Table, its Votaries and Victims Vol 1. by Andrew Steimetz
– Lady Worsley’s Whim by Lucie Rubenhold, Vintage books 2008.