“One of the Most Notorious Thieves and Clippers in England”

The Life and Death of Daniel Awty (1644-1702)

In the 17th century, the village of Dewsbury was, according to Raine, ‘one of the most disreputable in Yorkshire’, and here in 1644, was born Daniel AWTY.

The family was quite an ancient one, the surname in its various forms (Auty, Awty, Autie, Otty and so on) appearing in the records connected with Dewsbury from the mid 14th century onwards.

All the various branches of the Awty family, again quoting Canon Raine, ‘seem to have been adept in dishonest practices’ and they were certainly well known to Justice Pikering, the Puritan magistrate, the men for drunkenness and profane language (especially on the Lord’s Day), and the women for making affrays upon their neighbours. They found it convenient to live in isolated farmhouses away from the village where they were unlikely to be taken unawares in their dubious occupations, and where the dogs would give early warning of approaching strangers.

Edward AWTY married Alice Tebb in October, 1635. There was a stillborn child buried the same year, but only Mercy, baptised 1637 and Daniel, 1644 seem to have been their surviving children.

Most of the Awtys were ostensibly clothiers by occupation but Daniel was no doubt initiated into other skills as he grew up in the family home on the moor side, and by the time he was thirty he had become the best clipper in the district, acknowledged as such by his rivals in the trade.

Success breeds envy, unfortunately, and no sooner was Daniel doing well than he was informed upon, convicted and had his first taste of life behind prison bars. This pattern was repeated many times as the years went by, and though the regime in York Castle goal was dreadful to endure, a stay there had its advantages. Daniel was able to make many useful contacts during his incarcerations, not to mention keeping abreast of the latest developments in his own particular line of business.

It was whilst he was in York Castle in the summer of 1675 that Awty and some other like-minded scoundrels began to consider whether it would be possible to make away with the splendid communion plate then in use at services in the Minster, “what a rare booty it would be, if it could be got,’ they mused, and one night in the following February ‘gott’ it was, the Minster being broken into and most of the plate carried away. Awty was out of goal by this time, and living in York.

The criminals his their tracks so well that no charges could be brought until 1686, a full nine years later, and then only through the loose talk of Daniel’s sister Mercy, who had come to live in Bedern. She, it seems, was a lady whose tongue ran away with her at the slightest encouragement, and tow men who had drawn her out to some tune proceeded to lay information against Awty and his sister.

The first was Joseph LOCKWOOD, clothier, now of Kirkheaton but resident at the time of the robbery in a mansion near the Minster where he was some kind of upper servant. Raine believed that this same Lockwood had been gaoler of York Castle and would therefore know both Awtys well. Lockwood deposed that shortly before the plate was stolen, Awty had hinted to him that, living where he did, he could be very useful to the gang in the quick concealment of the booty after its removal from the Minster premises. Mercy, he said, had told him many times, both at Dewsbury and more recently in York, that her brother had got the Minster plate, and that it had been conveyed to their mother’s house in Dewsbury in a coarse canvas bag.

The other informant, James Dinsdall of the Minster Yard, an acquaintance of only two or three months, could quote Mercy as saying ‘that she had the Minster plate, which was stolen from thence some years ago, in her arms at her mother’s house in Dewsbury when and where her brother Daniel Autie was present. She further said that the plate, or a great part of it, was there melted down, and part of the table upon which it was melted burnt in the melting of it. And he also heard her at some times speaking of the said plate, say that she would make the Minster bells ring, and that, if she pleased, she could hang a hundred of them. And he hath heard her say that her brother would have given her money to be gone out of the city of York to Dewsbury because she made much talk and discourse of him’.

Mercy’s reckless chatter earned them both a spell in York Castle upon this charge, but it was only hearsay evidence and could not be proved. Awty was soon a free man once more, and an incident in a York street shows his vicious, bullying nature. It seems that Awty had brought a bill of indictment before a York court which had been thrown out by the grand jury there. Now one of these same jurors, an esteemed glass painter named Benedict Hosley, suddenly found himself face to face with Awty in a narrow street with no way of escape. Awty recognised him at once and confronted the timid tradesman in a most frightening manner.

‘Thou art a pitiful fellow,’ he sneared contemptuously, ‘There is thirteen or fourteen of you’ (meaning the grand jury), ‘and I would sell you all to the Devil for twopence apiece.’

Money he certainly had now, and in course of time he looked for a property where he could carry on his counterfeiting in maximum safety. Because of the number of coining gangs operating there, the area encompassed by the towns of Thirsk, Hemsley and Boroughbridge was known in those days as The Unholy Triangle. Here, on the banks of the Swale, near Kirkby Wiske, Awty, now calling himself Otty, found a lonely farmhouse ideally suited to his purpose. The land round about was completely flat, no road led past the property, and any approaching strangers would be visible long before they neared the farm.

Tradition says that he fitted out the cellar there with all the equipment needed for counterfeiting, and with entry by means of a secret staircase from the room above, was able to carry on completely undisturbed. His daughter, Elizabeth, married a man called BUSBY who joined Daniel in the illegal trade, though the two men, apparently, never got on well.

One night in the year 1702, Awty and Busby had a violent quarrel, supposed because Busby felt he was not getting his fair share of the profits. There was a struggle, and Busby strangled his father-in-law. He dragged the body out of the cellar and concealed it under some bushes at a distance from the house. He then returned, covered in mud, sat in his chair and proceeded to get very drunk.V

Her husband’s suspicious appearance and behaviour, coupled with her father’s non-appearance at the supper table, aroused Elizabeth’s deepest forebodings. A week later, she denounced Busby, a search was made, and the body found. After being tried and convicted of his father-in-law’s murder, the unfortunate man suffered death by hanging, after which the body was hung in chains on a gibbet near Sand Hutton. The gibbet was long known as Busby Stoop, and the inn there bears the name to this day. The farmhouse, Danotty Hall, is still standing, though much altered since Daniel’s time.

THORSBY, riding north in 1703, wrote in his diary, ‘along the banks of the Swale, and the very pleasant gardens of Sir William Robinson, late Mayo of York, but a few miles after, a most doleful object of Mr Busby hanging in chains for the murder of his father-in-law, Daniel Awty….. who having too little honesty to balance his skill in engraving & etc…., was generally suspected for coining and other indirect ways of attaining that estate which was the occasion of his death, even within sight of his own house.’

Calendar of State Papers Domestic
Calendar of Treasury Books
West Riding Quarter Sessions Roll: Wakefield Record Office.
Dewsbury P.R. (1538-1653) ed Chadwick: Y.A.S. Claremont, Leeds
Depositions from York Castle: Surtees Society Vol. 40 (1861)
Diary of Oliver Heywood: Volume II p.287.
Criminal Chronology of York Castle: Burdekin (1867)
Diary of Ralph Thoresby: ed. Rev J Hunter (1830)
Justice’s Notebook of Captin John Pickering: Thorsby Society Volume XI Misc.
Thirsk and District Past and Present: Hall (1914)
My Thanks to Miss Lilian Robinson, Dr. G Redmonds and Mr. Bill Harm, Chairman, Thirsk Museum, for information supplied.

NB. The above including the bibliography is retyped from pages 23-25 of a book of unknown title sent to myself by Pam Auty
John Blake – March 2004.