JAMES FILEWOOD ALIAS VILET
Convicted of picking Pockets, and sentenced to Death. Executed at Tyburn in October, 1718
THIS fellow was often called Vilet, though Filewood was his right name. He was born in the parish of St Peter's, Cornhill. His father was a poulterer, which occupation he, and two or three other brothers, pretended originally to follow; but, finding that the fiddling work of scalding, picking and gutting cocks and hens and other poultry was not so beneficial as picking pockets, they took up that employment, knowing there was their ready money as soon as they had done their work.
As soon as he had listed himself under the banners of wickedness he first went a-clouting -- that is, picking handkerchiefs out of pockets -- in which having pretty well improved himself, often after being ducked in a horse-pond, or pumped, he next ventured to pick pockets and fobs of money and watches. To which purpose he always gave his constant attendance at the King's going to the Parliament House, the Lord Mayor's Show, the artillery- men making a mock fight, entries of ambassadors, Bartholomew and Southwark Fairs, Drury Lane and Lincoln's Inn playhouses, or any other place where a great concourse of people were drawn together upon any occasion; and to be sure he never missed going on Sundays to church, though it was more to serve the devil than that omnipotent Majesty to whose honour and glory the house of prayer is erected; and here he would, as well as pick pockets, change an old hat or two for a new one.
One day this Vilet, meeting with another of his own profession, named Clark -- "Come, Clark," quoth he, "since we have so happily stumbled upon one another, let us take a pint together." "A match," says the other; so they went into a tavern in Holborn. Having drunk a bout for a while, when they came to examine their pockets they found themselves deceived, one thinking the one had, and the other thinking the other had, money enough to defray the reckoning, when indeed both of them could not make above a groat.
"Hang it, then," said the inviter, "we had as good be in for a great deal as a little."
So they called lustily till it came to five or six shillings; then, looking out of the window, as if they had been viewing the descent, says one to the other: "I have it now." Upon that, knocking, and desiring to speak with the master, up he came.
"Sir," says Vilet, "we came hither about a mathematical business -- to measure from your window to the ground. I have laid upon thirteen feet, my friend on thirteen feet nine inches; and you are to be judge that I slip not this line" (which was packthread upon a piece of brass, which joiners and carpenters use in mensuration) "till he goes down to see whether from this knot" (showing it him), "which is just so much, it reaches to the ground."
The vintner was content. The other sharper, being below in the street, cried it did not reach by eleven inches. "Pray, sir," said Vilet to the vintner, "hold it here till I step down and see, for I won't believe him." So down he went, telling the drawer he had paid his master, and away they both scoured, leaving the string for the reckoning.
He was at length taken in picking a pocket, and though the value he took from the person did not come to ten shillings, yet he was convicted thereof; and likewise upon another indictment preferred against him by Mrs Frances Baldock, for snatching from her a pocket valued at one shilling, and in which were twelve guineas and two pistoles, For these facts he received sentence of death at Justice Hall, in the Old Bailey; and accordingly, on the 31st of October, 1718, he took shipping at Newgate, sailed with a fair wind up Holborn river, and striking against the rock of St Giles's' was cast away at Tyburn in the twenty-seventh year of his age.