Jerry Avershaw

The 3rd August 1795 wasn’t a good day for meek and mild John Little from Kew. He was down to be hanged on Kennington Common Gallows with two other murderers – a notorious highwayman and a child killer The huge and bloodthirsty crowd of spectators that gathered couldn’t believe their luck. Three in a day!

John Little worked as a curator in the laboratory at Kew Observatory in the Old Deer Park at Richmond. This quiet and religious man had become a favourite of King George 3rd who he often attended on walks through the Observatory gardens. There was however another darker side to this apparently decent fellow. He had borrowed money from a friend, an elderly gentleman named McEvoy, who lived on the lane between Kew and Richmond. When Mr McEvoy suggested that it might be a good idea if the money was paid back John Little climbed into his house one night and beat him to death with a large stone. While he was there he also murdered McEvoy’s elderly housekeeper Sarah King in similar fashion. The cries of distress roused the neighbours who called the constable. Instead of making an escape while he had the chance, John Little hid himself in a chimney of the house where he was soon found and brought to justice. It was later suggested that John Little might have been involved in the murder of a man called Stroud whose body was found under an iron vice in the Octagon Room at Kew Observatory, proving that you never can tell with people!

bloodthirsty crowd of spectators

John Little was found guilty and sentenced to hang on Kennington Common. Joining him on the gallows was Sarah King who had murdered her illegitimate baby son. A newspaper of the day would not fail to remark on the curious coincidence that Sarah King was also the name of Little’s second victim, the housekeeper.

But the huge crowd hadn’t gathered on Kennington Common to see John Little and Sarah King swing for their crimes. The star attraction on that summer’s day in August 1795 was the foul mouthed and notorious highwayman and ‘constable killer’ Jerry Avershaw. Following a fracas outside the ‘Three Brewers’ pub in Southwark Avershaw had fatally shot Constable David Price – a member of the Bow Street Runners – and wounded his colleague, Bernard Turner. The trial was almost indecently short, with Avershaw being found guilty in a matter of three minutes. Contemporary records suggest that Avershaw was quite the wit, mimicking Judge Baron Pentryn when he put on his black cap to pass the death penalty.

Jerry Avershaw went to his death seemingly unconcerned by the fate that awaited him. He chatted to the other occupants of the cart taking him to the gallows and laughed and shouted out to his friends in the crowd. As they adjusted the noose round his neck Avershaw put a rose into his mouth and opened his shirt and jacket to expose his chest. He then kicked off his boots, explaining laughingly to the crowd that he wanted to disprove his mother’s prophecy that he would die with them on. His last words were a string of curses directed at the officials, the judges, the jury and the entire legal system! Afterwards his body was hung in chains on Kennington Common at a place still known as Jerry’s Hill. As the corpse rotted it became an attraction for souvenir hunters who stole the buttons from his clothes and used his toe and finger bones as tobacco tampers and pipe scrapers!

No such attention came to the meek and mild murderer John Little. He went to an unmarked grave with little fuss and no recognition… but you would expect no less from a gentleman of Kew.

— from Martyn Day