The Death of Thomas Anderson

Some decades ago, I wrote a song called Thomas Anderson based on an article written by Ron Nurse. The song itself, with a lot of background information, can be heard here.

Revisiting it recently for a chapter I’m writing, I thought it would be a good idea to have all the source material I have on Anderson’s death in one place, including some articles from the 19th century, all in the public domain, that Ron had probably seen.

Apart from Ron’s article, which I transcribed from the Shrewsbury Folk Club magazine, the older articles are taken from a number of printed and digitized sources..

Black Velvet (article by Ron Nurse)

An article written by the late Ron Nurse for Issue 10 of the Shrewsbury Folk Club Magazine in 1973.

The two figures are of solid stone, but in spite of that fact, and the pious plea once carved between them (now almost effaced), some vandal has helped the hand of time to give them many a hard knock.


These images which represent St. Crispin and St. Crispian, and the arch of which they are part, once graced the entrance to the “Shoemakers’ Arbour”. But that was long, long ago: now they are part of the Dingle, that elegant centre piece of Shrewsbury’s Quarry Park. In its present position it does little to grace the orderly plots and rows of flowers, but the arch does have one thing in common with the flora of the Dingle, for it was transplanted here just as they were.

Years ago the arch stood on Kingsland, high on the other side of the river, and was the gateway to one of the many guild arbours that once stood there. Until well into the middle years of the last century the tailors, smiths, butchers, saddlers, and well as the bakers and shoemakers, had small fenced-off guild halls on the stretch of open ground that was Kingsland. These made a centre for all the drinking and merrymaking which took place after the show day procession of the Shrewsbury guilds. This took place on the second Monday after the Trinity Sunday, each year.

What scenes of revelry these old mutilated effigies must have seen in those far-off days, but then, can stone eyes see? Can stone hearts feel? Mayhap it is a blessing at times if they cannot.

One cold December day in the year 1752, a tall man dressed in a handsome suit of black velvet, was standing just below the shoemakers’ arbour on Kingsland. Despite the cold biting wind he was not alone, many others were braving the elements on this dull winter’s morn. Most were here of their own free will, but not the man in black, nor the row of scarlet-clad soldiers facing him.

Behind the soldiers a motley crowd of townsfolk stood silent, and waiting for the last act of a grim drama. Soon that black velvet suit would be stained a sodden red; clothing a corpse, as cold and lifeless as the two stone figures on the arch of the shoemakers’ arbour, overlooking this grim scene.

Sharp and clear across the river, the towers and spires rose above the huddle of buildings sheltering behind the ancient town walls. Sharp and clear on the frosty air rang out the musket shots, and the towers and spires of Shrewsbury flung back the sound. But Thomas Anderson did not hear the echo; did not feel the wind which now seemed to be blowing a little colder; and there was no warmth in the ray of sunlight that broke through the grey clouds, putting its finger on the grey stone arch and its inscription. “We are but images of stone, Do us no harm we can do nonne”.

Fate has a way; a path which each of us must follow to the end. She gives favours with one hand, then takes them back with the other. The victim of this grim drama had been spared from death on the battlefield of Culloden, but only to die here on the bank of the Severn. Shot down like a mad dog this raw December day. As warning to the people of Shrewsbury town that it was dangerous to think that a Stuart King could ever again sit on the throne of England.

It all started on the 10th of June 1752. The workers of John Ritchards, master builder, had received their pay at a pub called the ‘Crown’, which once stood on Pride Hill near the old ‘Butter Cross’. The day had been very hot, and building being thirsty work, it was no wonder that some of the hard-earned pay had been exchanged for liquid refreshment. Strong ale can lower the inborn sense for caution so that when a patrol of soldiers happened to pass by the pub, they became the butt for a stream of abuse and coarse with from the drinking men.

In 1752 the events of the 45 Rebellion, when Bonnie Prince Charlie marched his army as far South as Derby, in his bid to place his father on the throne, were just that few years past to be looked upon with a romantic nostalgia. Flora MacDonald, who helped to save the life of Charles Stuart, was a heroine in the eyes of the majority of the people of Britain.

[There is a hand-drawn illustration of the archway and the effigies here in the original article, but they haven’t survived the photocopying process very well. One of these days I’ll see if I can scan them in and clean them up in Photoshop, but in the meantime here is a photo of the arbour across the Dingle pond, to take their place. DH]


On the other hand, the Hanoverian Prince, the Duke of Cumberland, had made a dismal failure of the only victory he ever won in the whole of his military career. For the cruelties he ordered, or allowed, against the Highland Scots after the battle of Culloden had brought him the title ‘The Butcher’.

It was a fact that none of the early Hanoverian kings captured the least spark of respect or loyalty from their British subjects. The only thing in their favour was the fact that they were Protestants.

Then in the year 1750, Prince Charles Stuart renounced the Catholic religion and declared himself a member of the Church of England. Then in 1752 he was plotting to kill or capture the Hanoverian family, and place the ill-fated Stuart line back on the throne.

All these facts made the Whig authorities somewhat jittery. Watch was kept for any hint of the Stuart cause being supported by the people, the faintest sign of which must be stamped out quickly, before the fire could spread.

The affair which started at the ‘Crown’ in Shrewsbury would be looked upon as a demonstration in favour of the Stuarts, for some of the pub’s patrons were wearing white roses, and bawling Jacobite songs at the red-coated soldiery. It is on record that one of the songs they sang was this one, once very popular but now seldom heard.


Come boat me o’er, come row me o’er
Come boat me o’er to Charlie
I’ll gie John Ross another bawbee T
o row me o’er to Charlie

We’ll o’er the water, we’ll o’er the water
We’ll o’er the water to Charlie
Come weal, come woe, we’ll gather and go
And live or die wi’ Charlie

It’s weel I lo’e my Charlie’s name
Though some there be abhor him
But oh! To see ‘Auld Nick’ gaun hame
And Charlie’s foes before him

I swear by moon and stars sae bright
And the sun that glances early
If I had twenty thousand lives
I’d gie them a’ for Charlie

I once had sons, I now ha’e nane
I bred them toiling sairly
But I would bear them a’ again
And lose them a’ for Charlie

[There’s a version from Mudcat including the melody. Ron didn’t have the advantage of the Internet when he wrote this article. – DH]

Needless to say, such conduct by the citizens of Shrewsbury could not be overlooked. Something had to be done to bring the common rabble back into line, and to show them to what end their traitorous action could lead them. Therefore the stage was set for the tragic even which took place six months later.

Thomas Anderson, the man in the handsome black velvet suit, was killed on that steep green slope, just downriver from the ‘Boathouse’, for more than one reason. He had deserted from Sir John Ligonier’s regiment of dragoons. It was alleged that he had taken part in the 1745 rebellion, and that when the black velvet was stripped from his body, a sash was found next to his skin: the colours of the Chevalier, given him for the part he had played in the bid to depose the Hanoverian King George II. But the real reason was to put fear into the hearts of the people of Shrewsbury, especially the ones who had the audacity to sing rebel songs before the red-coated troopers of the King.

Although it is almost 200 years since ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ died in Rome, an old embittered drunk, yet we still sing the old songs. Who has never heard ‘The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond’, ‘The Skye Boat Song’, or in the smaller circle of folk song clubs ‘Bonnie Charlie’s noo awa’ or ‘Johnnie Cope’? The words and music of these songs are the same as they always were, yet they have a feeling of bitter sadness that one can almost taste. All the flame and passion has gone from them.

Could these songs have once lit the fires of civil war in Britain? In 1752, some men thought so.

Ron Nurse
(Article transcribed and very lightly edited by David Harley, to whom all errors may be attributed…)

The Death of Thomas Anderson

Here’s an account of the death of Thomas Anderson from the Shropshire Gazetteer.

One of the last executions that took place in this kingdom on account of the Stuarts, occurred in Shrewsbury … Mr. Thomas Anderson, a Yorkshire gentleman, from the neighbourhood of Richmond, had risen to the rank of lieutenant in Sir John Ligonier’s regiment of dragoons, and had deserted from it. This offence so unusual in an officer, must it is probable, have been visited with the extreme severity of military law. It originated in his attachment to the exiled family, for whose service he was also charged with enlisting men. His trial which lasted three days, commenced at Worcester on the 16th of November, 1752, and after the sentence he was removed to the town of Shrewbury, where orders were received for his execution. Several petitions for mercy were laid before the King, from Yorkshire, Lancashire, Worcester, and Shrewsbury, but these are supposed to have been very far from doing him service, as the political principles of the petitioners were more than suspected. On Monday, December 11, about ten in the morning he was conducted from the gaol to Kingsland under a guard, attended by the regiment. The mayor with his usual attendants was also present. Mr. Anderson was in asuit of black velvet, and behaved with great composure. His dying speech consisted chiefly of religious sentiments very properly expressed, but a few passages of it indicate his political sentiments. He prays God “to strengthen the ancient church, to encrease the members of the Royal family, and protect and guard the dearest P——-, (probably Prince Charles Edward,) wherever he goes. As to the late account from London” he says “that he is pre-advised of it, and can justly say that he is guilty only of one of the faults charged upon him.”

In his letter delivered to the sheriff on the morning of his execution, he holds the same language: “Nothing laid to my charge has been proved, except desertion.” He requests the sheriff to cause all that befell him at Shrewsbury, and the friendship shewed him by its worthy citizens during his confinement, to be inserted in the London evening paper. “The whole town, and you, with Lady Kynaston in particular, have an assurance of my since thanks. The rest is to assure you that I’m entirely resigned to die, annexed to an assurance that nothing gives me any material concern, solely an affection that I have offended a GOD who has always treated me so tenderly.” His last words were a request for silence, that he might exculpate Mr. Wilding, the governor of the gaol, from a malicious accusation of having treated him unkindly. “I now declare upon the word of a dying man, that both he and his wife used me with the greatest tenderness and humanity, during my confinement with him.”

Mr. Anderson then composed himself to death. Five soldiers were appointed to shoot him, but only three fired. The balls from two, entered one into each breast; the third shot him through the head. Some signs of animation still remaining, the commanding officer stepped forward with a pistol, and released him from all sensation: an action which was considered by the spectators, who deeply sympathized with the sufferer, to indicate a ferocious resentment against the deceased; but which may perhaps be more candidly ascribed to the humane desire of terminating his agonies. He was buried in St. Mary’s church yard on the same day. A strong feeling of indignation was excited in the regiment by the apostacy of Mr. Anderson. They would not permit the funeral procession to enter the church, that part of that fine service might be suppressed. In return, the curate, Mr. Brooks pronounced it all, without curtailment, at the grave.

A few years ago,  looked for that grave in the graveyard of St. Mary’s, but was unable to find it. In fact, the mossy condition of the gravestones made it difficult to identify any of the people interred there at that time. However, there is a photo dated around 1960 on the Shropshire History site here.  [Added February 3rd 2017]

From SALOPIAN SHREDS AND PATCHES, concerning the death of Thomas Anderson: exchange of views from 1874.


Southward of the Shoemakers’ Arbour on Kingsland is still to be seen the spot, inclosed by four trenches, where. on the 11th December, l752, Lieutenant Anderson was shot for desertion from Sir John Ligonier’s regiment of dragoons, which at that time had its head-quarters in Shrewsbury. The cause of his desertion seems to have been attachment to the Stuarts, for whose service he’ was charged with enlisting men. He was sentenced to death, after a trial by court-martial at Worcester, which lasted three days. Petitions for mercy were sent to the King from Shrewsbury, Worcester, Yorkshire, and Lancashire, but were unavailing.

About ten o’clock on the morning of the fatal day Mr. Anderson was taken by the troops from the County Gaol to Kingsland, the Mayor with his retinue being in attendance. He was dressed in black velvet, and behaved with great composure. He made some speeches, chiefly of a religious character, and then knelt on a white doth, that had been spread for the purpose, and prayed. After this, he placed upon his coffin a purse containing gold, which he had asked the Mayor to distribute amongst the men who were to shoot him. Having removed his wig, he put on a white cap, and, after further prayer, gave the signal of death by dropping a handkerchief which he held in his mouth. Three appointed soldiers then fired at him, and he was wounded by each, but as he still breathed, the commanding officer put an end to his life with a pistol.

The corpse was buried in St Mary’s Churchyard on the same day. Great sympathy was felt by the townspeople, but in the regiment strong indignation was shown, and the soldiers would not allow the procession to enter the church. The officiating clergyman, however, read the whole of the burial service at the grave. By Anderson’s wish, the following inscription composed by himself, was placed on his tombstone —

” Thomas Anderson, youngest son of George Anderson,
Esq., was born at Gales, near Richmond, in Yorkshire,
Jan. 13, 1720. Departed this life Dec 11, 1752, Aged 31.

Stop, traveller.
I’ve pass’d, repass’d the seas and distant lands.
Can find no rest but in my Saviour’s hands.”

The Salopian Magazine for 1815 contains (at page 497) a further account of this unfortunate young man. R. E. D.



With reference to the execution of Anderson, it seems to me that the spot would be to the north-east of the Shoemakers’ Arbour on Kingsland. I shall be glad to have more light thrown on these matters.


B, E. D. is certainly misinformed as to the site of Lieutenant Anderson’s execution. He no doubt relies on Hulbert’s Antiquities but that authority is of little value. I am now an old man but when a boy the exact site was i pointed out to me by an … old man … who when a boy was an eyewitness of the execution. The spot indicated was about twenty yards south-east of the Butchers’ Arbour. The space enclosed by trenches, southward of the Shoemakers Arbour, is, or was, called the Shoemakers’ Baoe, here some kind of game or sport was used to be held. T. M.


T.M. says “B. E. D. is certainly misinformed as to the site of Lieutenant Anderson’s execution. He no doubt relies on Hulbert’s Antiquities but that authority is of little value.” T. M. cannot possibly know what I relied on, and if his other statements have no better foundation than this they are not worth much. I was fully aware that Huibert is not a trustworthy authority, and although I used his book when I compiled the account of the execution, I did not depend upon it, but also consulted Phillips’s History and Antiquities of Shrewsbury, Archdeacon Owen’s Some Account of the Ancient and Present State of Shrewsbury and Owen and Blakeway’s History of Shrewsbury. Now with all due respect for T. M., I must say that until some better proof of my being “misinformed” is produced, I shall continue to believe that I am right. Speaking of Kingsland at page 203, Phillips writes, “Just below the Shoemakers’ Arbour, on this ground, Mr. Thomas Anderson was shot.” It should be remembered that his book was published in 1779, only 27 years after the execution took place, and whilst the recollection of it was fresh in the minds of many. It seems unlikely that Phillips should make a mistake on this point, and that Owen and Blakeway, who were not in the habit of taking things for granted, should have neglected to correct such a mistake, if made. Moreover tradition points out this as the spot, whilst there is nothing whatever to mark that mentioned by T. M., and we may expect to find some memorial of the event. It is quite likely that the inclosed space was afterwards used for some sport. I hope that T. M. will not take these remarks in an unfriendly spirit. Of course, nothing is desired by either of us but to arrive at the truth, and it is in a case like this that one perceives the value of this column of Salopian Notes and Queries, where doubtful matters can be discussed and cleared up.


[…] Kingsland probably belonged to the kings of Mercia, whence its name, which, according to Pidgeon, is spelt Chingsland in an eariv Norman grant […] The execution of Lieutenant Anderson in 1752, and the festivities at the arbours on the occasion of the Show, have already been noticed in “Salopian Shreds and Patches.” The annual horse races were formerly held on Kingsland. B.E.D.

Phillips Hulbert

Shropshire Shreds and Patches records some disagreement between contributors about the exact spot where Thomas Anderson was executed (see above). Most sources seem to have agreed that it was somewhere near the Shoemakers’ Arbour, and that assumption was pivotal to Ron Nurse’s article, but one Shreds and Patches correspondent was insistent that it was closer to the Butcher’s Arbour. Pursuing that discussion led me to several publications, including these:

  • Phillips, Thomas. The history and antiquities of Shrewsbury: from its first foundation to the present time. Containing, a recital of occurrences and remarkable events, for above twelve hundred years. With an appendix, containing several particulars relative to castles, monasteries, &c. in Shropshire. By T. Phillips 1815.
  • Hulbert, Charles. The History and Antiquities of Shrewsbury, 2 parts in one vol., second edition, 33 engraved plates (including frontispieces), occasional browning and spotting, contemporary half calf, rubbed; The Picture of Shropshire, frontispiece and 16 engraved plates, later cloth, rubbed, Providence Grove (Near Shrewsbury), Printed at the Author’s Private Press, 1837-1844, 4to; and another – which turned out to be an expanded second edition of the Phillips book.

This is an edited transcription of relevant material from the latter, though I can’t be sure which author/editor contributed what material. From the front material of the book, though, it seems that Hulbert’s main contribution was material inserted later than that covered by Phillips.

Strangely, the main description of the execution is much shorter than the footnote that follows. In any case, this material seems to have been a primary source for Ron’s article.

Just below the Shoemakers’ Arbour on Kingsland, Mr. Thomas Anderson was shot on the 11th of December 1752, for deserting from Sir John Ligonier’s regiment of Dragoons. His trial began at Worcester on November 16th, and lasted three days; from thence he was removed to Shrewsbury, where orders were received for his execution. In the meantime, several petitions were sent to London on his behalf, viz. one from Yorkshire, the place of his birth; one from Lancaster; one from Worcester, and another from Shrewsbury; but all to no purpose; for on Monday, December 11th, about ten o’clock in the morning, he was conducted from the Goal to Kingsland, under a guard, attended by the regiment with the Mayor of Shrewsbury and his attendants; he was dressed in a suit of black velvet, and appeared with great composure. –

Five soldiers were appointed to shoot him, but only three fired. The balls from the two first entered, one into each breast, and the third shot him through the head. He was buried in St. Mary’s Churchyard the same day, and agreeable to his own desire the following inscription was placed upon his tombstone, viz.

“THOMAS ANDERSON, Youngest Son of George Anderson, Esq.
Was born January 13, 1720, at Gales, near Richmond, Yorkshre.
Departed this life, Dec. 11, 1752. Aged 31.

I’ve pass’d, repass’d, the Seas and distant Lands;
Can find no Rest, but in my Saviours ‘ s Hands.


Thomas Anderson was a Roman Catholic, a native of Yorkshire, the descendant of a Gentleman; he had a very liberal education, was well versed in the modern languages, and travelled into most parts of Europe. He occasionally went by the several names of Milbank, Sympson, and Douglas; by the first of these he passed, when he enlisted himself into Sir John Ligonier’s Regiment of Dragoons, in the year 1746; but it was soon discovered that his real name was Anderson. The Regiment being quartered in the city of Worcester, about three years ago, he obtained a furlough for a few days, but instead of returning, he went abroad, and it is said, was at Prague, Hanover, and other places in Germany; after which, coming to Perth, in Scotland, he passed by the name of Charles Douglas; where being suspected of treasonable practices, himself, and his servant (Thomas Jones), were taken up, and after some examination sent prisoners to Edinburgh, where he was confined in the Castle, and though he was several times examined before the Lord Provost, &c. yet nothing could then be proved upon him, and therefore he was to be set at liberty in a few days; but in the meantime, a letter being intercepted, it was discovered that his name was Thomas Anderson, and that he belonged to Sir John Ligonier’s Regiment. Soon after this he was sent from Edinburgh, under a strong guard, who were met at Lichfield by an ‘Officer’s guard’ from Worcester, consisting of a Cornet and 25 privates, who conveyed him to Worcester, to take his trial for desertion. On Thursday November the 16th last, between nine and ten o’clock, he was brought under a strong guard from the County Goal in Worcester, to a General Court Martial, and put upon his trial, which did not end till Saturday about noon. Each day there was an incredible number of persons present, who not only observed, with much satisfaction, the great candour and impartiality of the Court in their proceedings, but likewise the suitable deportment, becoming fortitude, and genteel address of the prisoner, and it is thought there never was before known so long and remarkable a trial of a person for desertion only. The proceedings of the Court, with their opinion, were sent to London that evening, to be laid before his Majesty.

“On the Tuesday following he was brought out of the Castle, and handcuffed, and put on horseback; in which manner (one of the dragoons who rode next him holding the bridle) he proceeded through the city, under guard of the troops, marching for Shrewsbury. The first day’s march was to Kidderminster, where Mr. Anderson was lodged at the Talbot Inn, under a very strong guard.

On Thursday they arrived in Shrewsbury, where Mr. Anderson was immediately committed to the County Goal. During his confinement there, two sentinels, with their muskets charged and bayonets fixed, were placed in the room with him night and day; and no persons admitted to see him, or any letter to pass to or from him, without proper inspection.

On the Monday following a letter came from London to the Commanding Officer there, with orders for his execution, which was fixed for Monday the 11th of December. In the meantime, there were several petitions sent to London in his behalf, viz. one from Lancashire, another from Yorkshire, one from Worcester, and another from Shrewsbury; but all in vain; for on Thursday the 7th instant several letters came to Shrewsbury, confirming his former sentence. And accordingly, on Monday the 11th of December, about ten o’clock in the morning, he was conducted from the County Goal by the troops quartered there, with their Officers, together with the Mayor of Shrewsbury, and proper attendants, to Kingsland, which was the place of execution, dressed in a handsome suit of black velvet. When he came there, he addressed the Mayor and Officers in a very handsome speech, thanking them for all their favours, and acknowledged that he was a deserter, and the justice of his sentence. He then addressed himself to his brother soldiers very affectionately; begged of them to take warning by his unhappy conduct, and desired them to stand fast to their colours; he particularly spoke to the persons who were to shoot him, assuring them he freely forgave them, and hoped they would pray for him. He then kneeled down on a white cloth spread for the purpose, and prayed a considerable time: after which he again spoke to the Major. desiring him to take care to distribute a small favour he would leave to the persons who were to take away his life, and took a purse of gold out of his pocket and laid it on his coffin, which he desired them to accept, as a token of his respect and forgiveness; he then went to prayer for about ten minutes; after which he took off his hat and wig, and laid them on his coffin, and put on a white cap, tied with a black ribband, which he soon drew over his face. He then took a handkerchief, one end of which he held in his mouth; he prayed privately about five minutes, and then dropped the handkerchief out of his mouth, which was the signal for the soldiers to fire, which they immediately did by command of the officer; six men were appointed for this purpose, three only of which fired upon him, the rest being reserved in case he should not be quite dead; but he was dispatch ed immediately, for one bullet went through his right breast, another through his left, and a third through his heart. However, for fear any symptoms of life should appear, another of the soldiers shot him through the head. A Corporal was then ordered to search his pockets, out of which he took a few papers, but of no importance.

The soldiers then marched round him, one by one; after which the Undertaker delivered six pair of mourning gloves to the Major, which Mr. Anderson desired might be given to the soldiers he direct ed them for.

“He was carried in a hearse from Kingsland, and handsomely interred in St. Mary’s Church – yard, Shrewsbury. His behaviour during his confinement, and at the place of execution, was very becoming.”

The above is a copy of a paper sold about the Streets after Mr. Anderson’s execution, and was printed by a grandfather of Major Lathrop Murray, who was transported for bigamy. For this information, originally published in the Salopian Magazine, I am indebted to Mr. Tarbuck, a venerable and intelligent Inhabitant of Shrewsbury, and also for the following particulars:

“The execution of Anderson took place on Kingsland, about four yards from the door of the Butcher’s Arbour. After he was shot the body was stripped, when the colours of the Chevalier Stuart were found next his skin, in a sash given him by the Chevalier when in Scotland, as a mark of his esteem for Anderson’s activity in the rebellion of 1745, from which the kingdom was just emerging.

The axe and the gibbet having been glutted with victims, the Bullet was deemed the most Šummary way of dispatching the unfortunate Anderson, and the reason for shooting him at Shrewsbury was EXAMPLE; for there had been a sanguinary contest between the soldiers and townspeople, on the 10th of June preceding, and much blood had been shed : it was the pretender’s birthday, and Mr. John Richards, a master builder, had been paying his men at the Crown, near the Butter Cross : these men wore white roses ( which in those days were esteemed symbols of sedition ) and were overheard singing ”Charley over the Water,” and other popular airs in vogue during the Rebellion, the patrol resented this, and both sides fought with great violence, as wherever thrones and kingdoms are disputed, the passions, prejudices, and interests of mankind are always opposed.” — EDITOR.