I hadn’t realised I was in such a bad mood. It was sunny. The Heath was busy but not stupid, and by the time I reached Kenwood, I might as well have been on the lip of Etna: whatever was going off in the hollows no longer concerned me.
My destination was Glebelands Nature Reserve, Finchley, a small strip of scrubby woodland in the north-east quarter of the junction between the Great North and North Circular Roads.
The wood is a remnant of Finchley Common which straddled the Great North Road back in the day and was second only to Hounslow Heath in its reputation for violent crime. It wasn’t highwaymen that caught my attention when I flicked through the news archive later, but it was murder.
A dragoon named Thomas Moon was with five other soldiers escorting a deserter from the Savoy (not a hotel but a barracks in 1813) to Northampton. Somewhere near the eight-mile stone on Finchley Common, Moon noticed a couple of boys in a field about one hundred and seventy yards distant. They were taking a break from work to look at slugs. Though he would later claim it to be accidental, he takes two or three steps forward, kneels, shoulders his carbine and fires. One of the boys is killed, a witness raises the alarm, and when the troop is stopped and their carbines inspected, Moon’s is the only one that has been fired.
His trial at the Old Baily has an unexpected outcome. Guilty of manslaughter, confined three months in Newgate and fined one shilling.
Not the most Christmasy story. Notwithstanding, I would like to wish all my readers a Very Happy Christmas. May 2021 put a flower in your carbine and a vaccine in your side-arm.