DICK TURPIN (1705-1739)
 
Richard “Dick” Turpin, a highwayman, was born in Hempstead at the Blue Bell Inn (pictured here), where his father was the innkeeper and also a butcher. Richard was baptised in Hempstead in September 1705.
 
Turpin followed his father in the butchery trade and opened a shop in Buckhurst Hill, Essex.
 
By 1734 Turpin fell in with the Gregory Gang. This gang carried out a series of thefts, assaults and burglaries in and about London. In 1735, some of them were caught and a man named John Wheeler betrayed his associates. His descriptions of the rest of the gang were circulated in the press. In the London Gazette, Turpin was described as “Richard Turpin, a butcher by trade . . . a tall fresh-coloured man very much marked with small pox, about 26 years of age, about five feet nine inches . . . wears a blue-grey coat and natural wig”.
 
Turpin escaped capture although most of the gang were caught and executed. It was at this time that Turpin turned to highway robbery, for which he is best known.
 
After a big reward was offered for his capture, Turpin journeyed to Yorkshire where he lived under the alias John Palmer and continued his criminal activities.  As John Palmer, he was arrested and put in gaol whilst investigations were carried out. Unfortunately for him, he wrote to his brother-in-law, a man named Rivenall, who lived in Hempstead. Rivenall refused to pay the delivery charge, so the letter was returned to the Post Office in Saffron Walden. By chance, the handwriting was recognised by Turpin’s old school master, who subsequently travelled to York and identified Palmer as Richard Turpin.
 
Turpin was charged with horse-stealing, a capital offence. He was found guilty and hanged at York on 7th April 1739.
 
The popular legend that he rode his horse, Black Bess, from London to York is untrue and can be attributed to the novelist, William Harrison Ainsworth, who wrote the book “Rookwood” in 1834. In this, Turpin was portrayed as a hero, when in reality he was a vicious criminal.

Return to list of People