7 April 1739 – Dick Turpin

You may know him better as a highwayman extraordinaire. But in actual fact Richard ‘Dick’ Turpin was hanged for stealing horses on this day in 1739.

Of course, there was way more to it than that and he was indeed a highwayman and a murderer.

However seeing as it was only coincidence that they caught up with him at all, how on earth were the bumbling authorities going to pin proper blame on one of the most infamous lawbreakers of that time?

Turns out they didn’t need to lift a finger. Turpin won himself a death penalty all on his tod.

Dandy highwayman?

Forget all thoughts of ‘Stand and deliver’, kisses for the ladies and funny one-liners for the men. That’s all a big myth. It appears that he was never so debonnaire. Instead, his dodgy career unromantically kicked off in Essex, where he teamed up with a set of mates. They’d hijack homes in remote areas and relieve the occupants of their valuables. Apparently one feisty widow failed to hand over her £700 to the motley crew, so he hanged her over the open hearth until she was toasted into submission.

A recent Dick e-fit at York Castle

A Dick e-fit at York Castle

No home county was safe, but the ‘Gregory Gang’ soon out-grew their turf for fear of being caught. There was a price on each of their heads now – a very nice earner of £50, which in those days was a small fortune, funded by the King’s coffers no less. So it came as no surprise when gang members were apprehended (often mid-pilfer) that they were sent to do the Tyburn jig.

Cock robbing

Spooked by the close shave, having escaped the law by a sliver and now living rough in Epping to avoid the law, old Turpin decided there was more to life. He did a runner up to Yorkshire, where he settled down under the pseudonym of John Palmer, his estranged wife’s maiden name. This veneer of respectability however was a sham. He was back on the robbing game before you could say “Dick”. But he was careful not to steal on his own doorstep. No, he scooted down to Lincolnshire for a stint of cattle or horse rustling, poaching, even highway robbery to fund his life of respectability.

But things changed after he returned without spoils following one such foray south. Turpin shot his own landlord’s cockerel, and was promptly hauled into custody. There they made enquiries into how he made a living and that’s when the Lincolnshire lawbreaking caught up with him.

Stamp undelivered

But this was ok. He could survive this if only he could blag his way out of it. So Turpin turned to his brother in London, sending him a letter asking him to come up with a character witness in London that would prove Turpin’s respectability.

But he hadn’t used a stamp, so when his brother refused to stump up the sixpence to have it delivered it was returned to sender and fatefully en route, it fell into the hands of someone who could identify him – Turpin’s former teacher who was aware of all the dodginess. As a result he was shipped up to York to identify Turpin and the game was up.

He was found guilty of stealing horses and the punishment was death by hanging.

Nice threads

His death was scheduled on this day in 1739 and in honour of his loss of life, he bought some new clothes and even bribed some people in the crowd to mourn his passing. But get this, his executioner was only Thomas Hadfield, one his old mates from ‘Gregory’s gang’ who’d been reprieved. But Hadfield didn’t get to use his skills on this day, as Turpin actually jumped off the scaffold, which was tantamount to suicide. The irony is that shortly after he was buried, Turpin was unearthed again and swiped by body snatchers.

If you fancy some live action Dick why not try the Dick Turpin – The TV Series starring Richard O’Sullivan…you know, him from that ‘Me and My Girl’.

Also on this day

7 April 1995 – Nicholas Ingram

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