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Dick Turpin

Posted by Paranormal History / CJ Linton on January 4, 2009 at 10:31 AM

Richard Turpin, man, myth, legend


Everyone has heard of Dick Turpin, films of highwaymen from the 1940-1980 period often show Turpin, replete with black handkerchief across his face, dressed in black coat, tricorn hat, trousers and riding boots, wielding two flintlock pistols riding his beloved horse Black Bess. So is this true? Almost. Yes he wore dark clothes, even though his main work was done during the daytime hours, at night he would be holed up in a safe house, and when they became scarce he even made his own "cave" in Epping Forest. So why does this man have such a legend behind him, some of the stories about him are undoubtedly false, he didn’t ride from Essex to Yorkshire in one massive chase, only for Black Bess to die on York city’s Knavesmire (now a horse racing track!), although a similar true story surrounds another fugitive called Swift Nick who robbed someone near London then rode to York to play bowls with the Mayor of York the same night, this is probably where history mingles with fiction, one thing is for sure, around 80% of public houses between Epping Forest and York say that Turpin stopped off there on his epic ride, if that were true it would take him years to reach York. Most of his myths actually came from a book called Rookwood written nearly 100 years after his death!


So who was Dick Turpin, was he a malevolent man, a murderer, or just someone who had to steal to survive like so many people have had to do down the years. Richard Turpin was born in Hempstead, near Saffron Waldon in Essex, his father John Turpin was a holy man and he saw his son as nothing of the sort, possibly he was something of a trouble child, he was apprenticed as a butcher in Whitechapel, East London, where he again got into trouble during his apprenticeship, it is more than likely he was under strict rules whist learning his trade, no alcohol, women or gambling, three things Dick Turpin seemed to have been fond of sadly. During his apprenticeship it is debatable wether he found his real niche as a thief stealing cows, sheep, pigs and Lambs. Of course with his new found skills as a butcher he had no problems disposing of the produce, as soon as he passed his apprenticeship he married and moved back to Essex. Turpin may have learned how to butcher animals in London, but he did not want to become a Butcher, or not one of any respectability. Turpins run in with the authorities started almost immediately after he reached Essex, after stealing two Oxen from a Mr Giles at Plaistow he had to sell the hides, which could be recognised by Mr Giles or his servants, these servants found out where Turpin sold the hides at Waltham Abbey, after finding the two hides and recognising them they then rode to Turpins house to apprehend the man in question, Turpin saw them coming, jumped from a window and fled, a close call for the young man who would grow into one of the most notorious criminals in British History.


Seeing the error of his ways Turpin decided cattle thieving was not for him and became determined to become a smuggler, unfortunately the gang he joined were not smugglers, they, at first, were dear thieves, but they soon spread out into more heinous crimes. The Gang was known as the Gregory Gang, named after its leader it included men with the names of Rose, Wheeler, Fielder and now Turpin. Most historians have said it was Turpins idea to turn into nocturnal house breakers, the idea behind the crime was simple, find a house which looked like it held valuables, knock on the door and as soon as the door was opened the gang all rush in pushing the door wide open, tie up the occupants and take their valuables. It Sounds easy, and indeed it worked for the first couple of times, Mr Strype ran a Chandler shop in Watford, he was the first victim in 1734, they performed this attack with text book fashion, no one was hurt and the gang fled with the little money Mr Strype held in his house, most of his money was in his shop. The next target was an old woman in Loughton, Turpin was sure there must be eight hundred pounds in the house, with no chance of it being somewhere else the other gang members were convinced and burst into the ladies home, tying up her son and two servants they then asked her where the money was, she refused. And so they tortured her, taking the metal grate out of the fire it would still have been red hot, Turpin said he would sit her on the grate if she did not tell them where the money was, time was ticking, the men grew restless, it was all taking too long, the old woman refused, and so they sat her on the grate. They must have taken her clothes off her for she would have burst into flames otherwise (the top two killers of women in history have been Childbirth and catching fire accidentally). Her screams, the smell and the agony must have been horrific, it is surprising she did not die through the ordeal, yet live she did, only because she told them where her savings were. Half of what Turpin had thought was in the house, but still a good amount of money.


January 1735 and the Gang were back in business, "visiting" a man called Mr Sheldon in Croydon, seeing a light shining from the stables they went to investigate and found Mr Sheldon’s Coachman, the man resisted being tied up and Mr Sheldon came out to see what was happening, ambushed, Mr Sheldon was forced back into the house where he gave the gang several pieces of Jewellery, some silver plate and eleven guineas, oddly Turpin gave Mr Sheldon back two guineas, apologised for the crime and bid him goodnight! More than likely this was to appease public sentiment following the horrible acts performed whilst robbing the old lady of Loughton. On the 4th February the gang were at work once more, breaking into the house of Mr Lawrence of Edgewarebury near Stanmore, this time taking £26 in money, as well as silver plate and some other possessions, however it was now that the gang members turned against one another, Wheeler, who had been detailed to keep watch, was not told the right amount of money which had been pilfered, therefore he got a lower share of only three guineas, three days later a similar thing happened in their next robbery, Turpin, Fielder, Rose, Walker, Bush, Wheeler and Gregory met in the White Bear tavern on Drury Lane, all having a pint or two before setting off to rob the house of Mr Francis, a Marylebone Farmer, Gregory stood guard over Mrs Francis, her daughter and their maid, whilst Turpin and Bush stood guard over Mr Francis and two menservants, worse for the drink it is thought Gregory raped the maid infront of Mrs Francis and her daughter, yet again the gang members pocketing the valuables did not tell the truth about how much they had pocketed and the fractions emerged more evidently than they had before. As well as this the rape of the maid and the torture of the old lady meant that the public had lost any affection for them, either hating them for their heinous crimes or fearing them.


The King himself issued a warrant for the capture of the gang, £100 would be paid for anyone apprehending any member of the gang. Of course the gang members heard of this, and became wary of anyone who poked their nose into their business, but they became even more wary of each other. Whilst drinking in an Ale-house in Westminster the law finally caught up with the gang, Officers of the law burst into the public house and in the struggle that followed Fielder, Wheeler and Rose were taken prisoner, the rest, including Turpin, fled by jumping from a window down to his horse. Turpin had seen the last of the Gregory gang, those captured were hung for their crimes, whilst Dick Turpin thought he might find the grass a little greener in Cambridgeshire, on the journey there he thought he might delve into the ways of a highwayman, seeing his first victim approaching him he saw a well dressed man, well mounted on a fine horse, Turpin blocked his path and ordered him to "stand and deliver", the man laughed and said "What, dog eat dog? Come, come Brother Turpin, if you don’t know me, I know of you and should be glad of your company!" the man Turpin had been holding up was named King and had been working as a highwayman in Cambridgeshire but was now heading for London where he thought the grass may be a little greener too, this chance meeting brought together the two biggest thieves of the day, they swore loyalty to one another and became determined to get up to some mischief together, and get rich doing it.


Just a couple of hours later Turpin and King committed their first crime together, the first in a series of highway robberies which lasted three years. Both of them were well known figures, so much so that no safe-house could be guaranteed as no one wanted them, just knowing them might be enough for the gallows, let alone giving them bed and board. And so they decided to make their own shelter, choosing a place in a dense thicket between Loughton Road and Kings Oak Road in Epping Forest they built what was known as a cave, but really was more of an improvised shelter for both them and their horses, they lived mainly off the land, ever watching the roads from their vantage point, Mrs Turpin sometimes bringing food and drink to them, ever the dutiful wife. Sometimes pickings were bad and they forayed out to other hamlets and towns in the area, Bungay in Suffolk became the scene of their first falling out, they both witnessed two young women taking thirteen pounds of Corn, Turpin wished to rob them, King was against it, however Turpin did it anyway, quarrelling over this they still worked together on their way home from Bungay, when they robbed Mr Bradele in his carriage along with his two children.


Turpin and King were then joined by another man named Potter, the threesome were riding through Epping forest one day when Turpins horse began to tire, they overtook a man called Mr Major who had a fine mount, although being very close to civilisation, within ear shot of the Green Man inn, Turpin robbed Mr Major, or rather exchanged horses (and accoutrements) with him at gunpoint. Turpin, King and Potter rode on to London, Major went into the Green Man where he was informed by the landlord Mr Bayes that it had been Turpin himself who he had changed horses with! Major’s horse must have had some kind of distinguishing feature to it for a few days later Bayes heard that a horse matching the same description had been seen outside the Red Lion inn in Whitechapel, Major found the pub and saw that it was indeed his horse, he waited with some other men to see who would collect the horse, sure enough King’s brother came for it at about eleven o’clock, the men jumped him and took him into a nearby house, Kings brother at first claimed it was his own horse, then when Bayes said they should go to the police Kings brother confessed all, the men holding Kings brother knew the man had not committed any crime to them but that he was probably forced into helping his brother out, Kings brother said that a "lusty" (?) Man in a white duffel coat was waiting for the horse in Red Lion Street, sure enough Major, Bayes and a couple of other men saw the man and decided to attack him from behind, the man in the white duffel coat was King himself, Turpin was nearby and heard the commotion, running he pulled out two flintlock pistols and aimed the towards the men who held King, who in turn shouted "Dick, shoot him or we are taken, by god!" Turpin pulled the triggers, two balls flew through the nights air, both hitting the same man and killing him before he hit the ground, the man they hit was King.


Historians will always argue wether Turpin killed King intentionally, or wether it was accidental, if King had been taken prisoner then he knew things about Turpin which would see Turpin hung long before his time, he also knew where Turpins home was, and who Turpins wife was. Put that together with his treatment of the old lady of Loughton and he would not have thought twice about pulling the triggers on his pistols, perhaps it was for the better for King too, who would have been captured anyway, then tortured for the information about Turpin, and then hung for his crimes. Dick Turpin remained in Epping Forest for a short while, keeping low and using his cave less frequently than he used to, then one day whilst making his way from his own home to the cave he found it had been overturned by the authorities, it was then that Dick Turpin choose to leave the area, though not a wild over night chase from London to York as Rookwood would have us believe, his first stopping point was Long Sutton in Lincolnshire where he lived mainly off the land, or stole sheep or lambs to survive. He adopted the name John Palmer whilst moving northwards, entering Yorkshire he found the landscape as easy pickings for any hunter, both of animal and man. Perhaps wishing to settle down a little bit he acquired jobs as a huntsman, taking groups of shooting parties from the local gentry out into the wilds to hunt game birds and deer, however he still had the impetuous streak running though his soul which caused him to commit another crime, in October 1638 he was returning from one of the many shooting parties he had been part of when he saw his landlords cockerel in street, his gun already loaded he took aim and shot it dead, his neighbour, named Hall, saw him do it and told him he should not have done it, to which Turpin replied "If you’ll stay while I charge my piece (reload my gun) I’ll shoot you too" at this Hall ran like the wind and informed on Turpin to the landlord who went straight to the justice of the peace for the area, Justice Crowley issued a warrant for Turpins (Palmers) arrest. It was unlucky for Turpin that the local Justices were passing through nearby Beverley, and so he could be tried for his crime, the justices demanded he provide a surety for his good behaviour or they would have no other choice but to send him to prison, Turpin had no choice, he was an unpopular figure in the part of Yorkshire and no one would help him, and so to await his trial at a later date he was sent to the local House of Correction.


The residents of Brough and Welton, where Turpin had stayed whilst in Yorkshire said that they had seen Turpin many times ride towards Lincolnshire and return with more horses than he set out with, they thought he must surely be a highwayman or horse-thief, yet they had no proof, indeed they still thought he was John Palmer. The justices asked Palmer about his life, where had he come from, what was his occupation, he claimed he had always been a Butcher in Long Sutton, taking over his fathers trade, yet he had let his sister keep the family home when their father had died and so John had left to find a new place to live, he had said he had also left because he had got into some debt over a few sheep he had sold to someone which had turned out to be rotten with disease and so he had left Long Sutton because of that too. It was a risky, but very convincing lie, not convincing enough because the justices in York sent a messenger to the Justice in Long Sutton, Mr Delamore, to ask if he knew of the Palmer family of Butchers. Mr Delamore’s reply came as no shock to the Justices of York, he informed them that John Palmer had only lived in Long Sutton for about nine months and was a wanted man there for stealing sheep and horses. This on its own was enough to see Dick Turpin hung, or at least transported to the colonies, Mr Justice Crowley sent John Palmer to York Castle Prison on 16th October 1638, it was here about four months later that the true identity of John Palmer became known, not the small time Sheep and Horse thief, murderer of nothing more than a Cockerel, but he was Richard "Dick" Turpin, murderer of his own accomplice in crime and the infamous Highwayman!


Turpin was tried on the 22nd March 1739 for the crime of horse stealing in Long Sutton, for this crime he was condemned to be hung from the neck until he was dead (not for highway robbery it should be noted). For some reason the court then tried to prove he was Dick Turpin, two witnesses were brought forward, one man called James Smith said he had known Turpin from childhood and he had been born in Hempstead in Essex, wether true or not is debatable, the other witness was named Edward Seward who had also known him since childhood, in fact some historians say he was Turpins brother in law, this witness was more credible in that he knew Dick Turpins father was called John Turpin who owned The Bell public house in Hempstead. Dick Turpin was then convicted of killing his friend King, although already headed for the scaffold perhaps this way he would go with a clearer conscience, for his demeanor changed completely after his trial, he became light hearted and jovial, as though a great weight had been lifted from his head. As word reached the south that Dick Turpin was to be hung in York hundreds if not thousands flocked to the city to see him hung, he gave ten shillings for five men to be his mourners, following his cart as he passed through the city streets, stopping off at a public house for a drink, the last "one for the road", dressed in a fine white suite he spoke loudly and clearly to the crowds gathering to see him, he also left a gold ring and two pairs of shoes and clogs to a married woman that he knew in Brough, though he acknowledged that he still had a wife and child of his own in Essex. Alongside him on his cart was his coffin, bowing to the people around it was one of the most theatrical performances anyone has ever given whilst on the way to their own death, perhaps this was his plan after all, to die in such a way that people for centuries after still remember his name, after all how many remember his accomplices?


As was the fashion at the time Turpin had to climb a ladder up to the noose, he did so admirably, though as he stood at the bottom looking upwards his right leg began to shake, he stamped it hard on the ground a few times and the shaking stopped, as befitted his entire performance that day, he climbed the steps to the noose and put his head through, he then chatted to the hangman (a fellow Highwayman who was released by volunteering to be hangman for the day) for around half an hour before he stepped off the ladder and struggled for five minutes, thrashing and urinating, staining his white suit, yellow at the front and brown at the rear, he died after five minutes, the fact he was covered in his own faeces and urine is not remembered, his performance of the day gave rise to his renown, yet had he gone to his death a crying gibbering wreck like most did would we still know his name?  And would his ghost now supposedly haunt so many places?

CJ Linton.


Categories: Famous Ghosts

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