Continuing our look at the significance of Croydon during the golden age of the Highwayman, KERRY MCQUEENEY looks at the story of Jerry Abershaw.

Jerry Abershaw often described as the last of the highwaymen' was tried and sentenced to death for murder at Croydon assizes on July 30 1795.

Abershaw started his villainous career at the tender age of 17. Despite his youth, he quickly earned a reputation for being an uncompromising robber who thought nothing of thrusting his pistol into the mouths of his victims.

But although Abershaw was far removed from the romantic image of the loveable rogues, he possessed a healthy sense of humour, often incorporating his ironic wit into his robberies.

An extract from the history book, Local Highwaymen, reads: “Abershaw's humour seemed to be at its best when his personal fortunes were at their worst, for instance, at the time of his trial and eventual hanging a classic example of gallows humour.”

The fact that highwaymen committed their crimes masked made it difficult to attribute specific incidents to individuals. But newspaper reports at the time showed a significant increase in highway robberies from 1790 the year Abershaw started his career. And some robberies had Abershaw's trademark banter stamped all over it.

Abershaw managed to evade the authorities throughout his five-year crime wave, taking refuge in a Clerkenwell safe house when the heat was on.

His luck ran out in 1795 when two Bow Street runners, David Price and Bernard Turner, caught up with him.

The book states: “Acting on a tip-off they found Abershaw in the Three Brewers inn at Southwark. The highwayman tried to shoot his way out, killing Price and seriously injuring Turner who nevertheless brought Abershaw to trial and recovered.”

At his Croydon trial, Abershaw mimicked Judge Baron Pentryn when he put on his black cap to pass the death penalty. As he awaited execution, the highwayman asked for black cherries, using the juice to draw pictures of his escapades on the cell walls.

Abershaw's high spirits didnt dampen even on the day of his hanging at Kennington Common. He laughed and joked with the large crowd, keeping up an incessant conversation' as a cart took him to the gallows.

It was on the gallows that he threw open his shirt with a flower clenched between his teeth and kicked off his boots with a flourish to disprove his mother's prophecy that he would die with them on.

*Adapted from Local Highwaymen by Clive Whichelow, available from all good bookshops locally or direct from Enigma Publishing, 4 Charnwood Avenue, London SW19 3EJ at £3.25 post-free.