A somewhat unusual subject for a street name, although strictly speaking this is the entrance to Claude Duval House, since it commemorates a career criminal, albeit a rather romantic and dashing figure of his age. For Claude Duval (1643 – January 21, 1670), variously spelt Du Vall, Du Val, or Duvall was a highway man at the time of the Restoration. He has been described “as the most dashing highwayman ever to haunt the roads of England”, a “true gentleman of the road”, and “an eternal feather in the cap of highway gentility.” For the wealthy and sometimes not so wealthy travellers, highwaymen were a menace. They were however seen as a step up from the common or garden footpad, who were to use the modern term, simply muggers. Even among this higher echelon, Duval was in a class of his own. The son of a miller he was born in Normandy and by the time he was 14 he had landed a job as a stable boy in Rouen hired by a some English royalists to tend their horses. It was here no doubt that he learn horse craft and probably the ways of an English gentleman, as well as English. With the collapse of the Commonwealth and the return of Charles II, Duval joined his masters who returned home. It wasn’t long before he began his career on the road, elegantly dressed, perfect manners and a reluctance to use violence he soon gained a name for himself among travellers using the northern approaches to London, especially Holloway, between Islington and Highgate. It was on Hounslow Heath that perhaps his most famous exploit is said to have taken place. There are two versions of the tale, which may or may not be true. William Pope writing Duval’s execution ballad tells how Duval held up a coach with a nobleman and his lady. Attempting to hide her fear the woman took out a flageolet and played, he responded in turn by taking his own instrument and accompanying her. When they had finished he asked her to dance on the heath before escorting her back to the coach. Then, returning to business he told the man that he had not paid for the music and robbed him of £400. He was caught sometime later, drunk in a pub on Chandos Street, and later tried and sentenced to execution. Despite pleas from many society figures, including Charles II, the judge refused to commute the sentence and Duval was hanged at Tyburn. His body was cut down and taken to the Tangier Tavern in St Giles for a lying-in-state before a grand funeral at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
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