In 1723 a statute was enacted (9 Geo. I, c. 22) bearing the following title: ‘An Act for the more effectual punishing wicked and evil disposed Persons going armed in Disguise, and doing Injuries and Violences to the Persons and Properties of His Majesty's Subjects, and for the more speedy bringing the Offenders to Justice.’ This statute is commonly known as the Waltham Black Act—a name indicative of the local circumstances which led to its being passed. According to Blackstone, the statute was enacted to stop the depredations which were being committed near Waltham, in Hampshire, by persons in disguise or with their faces blacked; he also observes that the technique of these offenders, who operated in the forests of Waltham, seemed to have been modelled on the criminal activities of the famous band of Roberdsmen, or followers of Robert, or Robin, Hood, who committed great outrages in the reign of Richard the First on the border of England and Scotland. An interesting reference to the Waltham Black Act occurs in Gilbert White's ‘The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne in the County of Southampton,’ and it is significant that while Blackstone cautiously refrains from expressing any opinion on this statute, White says that it is ‘severe and sanguinary’ and that ‘it comprehends more felonies than any law that ever was framed before.’ Actually, no other single statute passed during the eighteenth century equalled 9 Geo. I, c. 22, in severity, and none appointed the punishment of death in so many cases. The Waltham Black Act may, in fact, be looked upon as a kind of ‘ideological index’ to the large body of laws based on the death penalty which were in force in England at the end of the eighteenth, and the beginning of the nineteenth, centuries. The main features peculiar to this Act reappear, sometimes in a modified form, in almost all the other capital statutes of the period. Thus, an accurate knowledge of the Waltham Black Act is essential if the structure and guiding principles of the capital enactments in general are to be understood; moreover, the fact that the struggle for the repeal of this extraordinary statute was both intense and prolonged, further enhances the symptomatic importance of the Act, which might otherwise seem to be but an obscure enactment designed to meet a purely local emergency.