BEING at the junction of the main coach roads from London to Bath, Bristol and Salisbury, the area around Devizes was plagued by highwaymen during the 18th century.

But there was none so bold or intriguing than Thomas Boulter, who would regularly return to his native clay in the village of Poulshot, a couple of miles outside Devizes.

Boulter was seen as a local hero like Robin Hood or Dick Turpin, but he never gave any of his ill-gotten gains to the poor, preferring to blow it all on high fashion and living.

Boulter left the Devizes area to work in the general store run by his sister and her husband on the Isle of Wight. But he grew restless and spent his savings on a highwayman's cloak and mask and a pair of pistols, and took to the roads of Hampshire and Wiltshire.

He was a most unlikely hero. Short and stocky and often seen riding a draft horse rather than a thoroughbred, Boulter was nevertheless a noted brigand.

While in Yorkshire he was captured and escaped the hangman's noose by agreeing to enlist in the Army. He absconded.

Then he was taken close to London and clapped in Clerkenwell Prison, where he broke out by removing bricks from the wall.

He teamed up with James Caldwell, the landlord of a Bristol tavern, and the two enjoyed even greater success.

Boulter was not to be crossed lightly. On one occasion he was shot in the face at the door of a stagecoach. Half-blinded, he still pursued his assailant and threatened to blow his brains out unless he emptied his pockets.

The end finally came when Boulter was betrayed and taken to Winchester Castle, where he was tried, found guilty and hanged on August 19, 1778.