Dick Turpin – 1738

By | November 12, 2016

“You have done wrong in shooting your landlord’s cock”


Dick Turpin clears the Hornsey toll gate on his way to York


Dick Turpin was baptized on 21 September 1705 at Hempstead, Essex. He worked as a butcher but his stock was stolen from local farmers, an offence punishable by death. After one theft he ran into the depths of the Essex countryside and supported himself by robbing the smugglers who operated along the coast of East Anglia.

He took up with a 20-strong gang, led by the blacksmith Samuel Gregory, which stole deer in the royal forest of Epping. On 11 January 1735 Turpin and five of the gang went to the house of Mr Saunders, a rich farmer at Charlton in Kent, at around 7pm. They burst in and discovered Saunders, with his wife and friends, playing at cards in the parlour. They told the company to stay still and they would come to no harm. They took a silver snuffbox and £100 of china. On 4 February they stole silver, china, money and threw a kettle of boiling water over Mr Lawrence, of Edgware, Middlesex, after getting drunk in a pub. One of the gang raped Mr Lawrence’s maid. He then took up with Matthew King, “the Gentleman Highwayman”. King was killed in a gun battle on 2 May 1737.

Two days later Turpin killed Thomas Morris, probably his first homicide. Morris was a servant of Henry Thomson, one of the keepers of Epping Forest and, during a routine walkabout of the forest Morris accidentally came across Turpin. Morris tried to arrest him but Turpin shot him. Turpin fled to Yorkshire with a £200 bounty on his head. Legend has it that Turpin rode the 240 km (150 mi) from London to York on his mare, Black Bess, in just 15 hours.

He assumed the name John Parmen and posed as a large-scale horse dealer. On 2 October 1738 he returned, drunk, to his lodgings and shot a gamecock belonging to John Robinson, his landlord. When a neighbour, Mr Hall, said, “You have done wrong in shooting your landlord’s cock,” Turpin threatened to shoot him as well.

He was taken to the dungeons of York’s Debtors’ Prison where, on 6 February 1739, he wrote to his brother-in-law asking for help. However, these were days before the penny post and his brother-in-law refused to pay the sixpence delivery charge. That sixpence cost Dick Turpin his life. The letter was returned to the post office, which was run by John Smith. Smith recognized the handwriting and travelled to York where he identified Parmen as Dick Turpin and earned himself a £200 reward.


Green Dragon Inn, Welton, Yorkshire, England


Monday 2 October 1738


On 22 March Turpin was tried and convicted at the Grand Jury House in York of two indictments of horse rustling. When news of Turpin’s arraignment leaked, crowds flocked to see him and it was said that his jailer made £100 selling booze to visitors. On 7 April 1739 Turpin rode through the streets of York in an open cart, bowing to the crowds. Turpin was executed at Knavesmire, York (now the racecourse).


Historians have often argued that Turpin never actually made the 15-hour, 240-km (150-mi) ride on Black Bess to York to establish an alibi and that the incident is pure fiction. Numerous inns along the Al claim that Turpin stopped there for food or a drink or to briefly stable his horse. The ride had been ascribed to the highwayman, John Nevison, known as Swift Nick or Swift Nicks. He was a highwayman in the time of King Charles II who, to establish an alibi, rode from Gad’s Hill (near Rochester, Kent) to York — some 300 km (190 mi) — in about 15 hours.

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