The Black Horse Inn of Saltisford in Warwick records the exploits of highwayman Bendigo Mitchell thus: ‘Bendigo Mitchell was an 18th century highwayman. He plied his trade on the Warwick turnpike and waylaid those who had enjoyed a profitable trade at Warwick market. He rode ‘Skater’ – named after an icy escape from imminent arrest. Eventually captured, he was tried at Warwick Assizes in 1776 and publicly hanged across the road at the top of what is now the Sainsbury’s car park.’ However, Roy Palmer in his book ‘The Folklore of Warwickshire’ claims that Mitchell was hanged in 1772.1 I have not been able to find any court records to confirm either date, so the story may be a myth (though probably based on oral tradition). Does anyone have concrete evidence of the trial and execution of Bendigo Mitchell? Do add a comment if so.
Who was Bendigo Mitchell?
The highwayman led a gang of robbers based at the Trumpet Inn who preyed on the Fosse Way. Skater was named after a narrow escape when Mitchell rode him across the Chesterton mill pond. His life inspired a play ‘Stand and Deliver’: a re-enactment written by Chris Willsmore and performed by the Slaughterhouse Players in the Old Court House, Jury Street in Warwick.
The name Bendigo is probably a corruption of the biblical Abednego (one of the men who survived the burning fiery furnace). If this is correct, several Abednego Mitchells appear in local records (with some creative spelling of the first name). Perhaps the best candidate is the Abednego Mitchel who married Hannah Slinn on 17 January 1771 in their parish of Walsgrave on Sowe (near Coventry); a son of the same name was born to them a year later. Was the father the notorious highwayman?
If so he was a respecter of traditional values: the couple had the banns read for three weeks before their marriage and christened their son! Another Abidnego Mitchell was baptised on 25th December 1776 in Combroke: working people had very few holidays then and so sometimes got christened, married or buried on Christmas Day.2 And yet another Abednego Mitchell was discharged from the Warwick House of Correction in 1818 to be returned to his place of settlement (which suggests he was a troublesome vagrant).3
Bendigo Mitchell roundabout and Forklift Truck company
A roundabout on the Fosse Way was named after the highwayman, where Harbury Lane crosses the Fosse Way. And a local firm is called ‘Bendigo Mitchell’ after this roundabout because the founders originally intended to set up near there, although they actually ended up in Kenilworth instead.
1 Palmer, R. ‘The Folklore of Warwickshire’, Batsford, 1976, p. 26.
2 Combrook Parish Register, Warwickshire County Record Office reference DR28.
3 Warwickshire County Record Office: Quarter Session Minutes 39/12 p. 483.