Visit the church of St Mary’s in Northchurch, Hertfordshire and you will see, on a raised section of the churchyard opposite the south porch, a plain weathered gravestone carved with the inscription, ‘PETER the Wild Boy 1785’
One day in 1745 in the hamlet of Gubblecote, near Tring in Hertfordshire, an elderly woman named Ruth Osborne went to beg for some buttermilk at a local farm. She lived in poverty with her husband, John, neither of them able to get much work or support from their neighbours. The Osbornes were shunned for the double reason that they were thought to be witches and Jacobites (1745 also happened to be the year of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s rising).
To be thrice-memorialised on a single stretch of road might seem extravagant for a monarch, let alone an obscure, hapless highwayman. But though one of these remembrances of Spence Broughton is a kitsch and somewhat macabre reproduction of the after-life of his corpse, the other two would register briefly or not at all on the consciousness of the passer-by.