He’s a dandy highwayman!
Richard (Dick) Turpin (1705 – 7th April 1739) has strong connections to the area I live in. Many people think of Dick Turpin and conjure up images of an absolute studmuffin on a huge horse rampaging through the countryside, mugging the rich and leaving hoards of swooning women in his wake. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, the reality is very different to the legend.
Don’t bother locking up your daughters after all
Dick Turpin was a cruel and ruthless fiend with a heavily pockmarked face (so give thy heaving bosoms a rest, ladies, he wasn’t much of a looker) who joined forces with the Essex Gang (also known as the Gregory Gang) in the early 1730s and thought nothing of torturing little old ladies to get their cash out of them. The list of crimes he committed ran from highway robbery to horse stealing to murder. There wasn’t much he hadn’t had a go at by the time he was dragged to the Tyburn in York for execution in April 1739. As York lacked a permanent hangman, a pardoned highway man by the name of Thomas Hadfield took the role instead; there really is no honour amongst thieves. An entry in The Gentleman’s Magazine dated 7th April 1739 said:
“Turpin behaved in an undaunted manner; as he mounted the ladder, feeling his right leg tremble, he spoke a few words to the topsman, then threw himself off, and expir’d in five minutes.”
Five minutes?! That’s a long time to be dangling around, kicking your heels (quite literally).
Dick’s grave – Fishergate
Turpin’s corpse was buried in St George’s Church graveyard, Fishergate, but his ghost refuses to sleep quietly. Turpin apparently had a whale of a time winding up the Most Haunted crew in December 2003 when he led them on a wild goose chase around Epping Forest until they had to be rescued by the forest ranger (shouldn’t laugh…).
Despite being hanged in York, Turpin seems happier lurking in and around Epping Forest and people have reported hearing disembodied hoof beats, believed to be Turpin’s horse, Black Bess, and complain of the strange sensation of being watched as they ride or walk through the area. Of course, if they are being watched it might not be Turpin at all – many people have met their end within the forest over the centuries and it is also a popular place for murderers to dispose of bodies, so chances are there will be more than one pair of eyes watching your every move if you linger too long.
Keeping it local, Turpin’s ghost is also said to thunder down Traps Hill, Loughton (Essex), perhaps revisiting the scene of one of his infamous raids which took place on 1st February 1735. He burst into the home of Widow Shelley’s house with the rest of the Gregory Gang and proceeded to torture £700 out of the old woman (apparently this is about £60,000 in today’s money, if Google serves me correctly). Being a stout old bird, Widow Shelley apparently refused to give up the location of her valuables until Turpin threatened to lay her across the fire. I guess that would be enough to make anyone change their mind.
Smokin’: Widow Shelley gets a roasting
Turpin also seems to have had a grudge against the clergy and in a little hamlet called Stubbings (Berkshire) he peppered the window shutters of the vicarage with lead shot. It would seem he wasn’t too pleased with the end results because his ghost still lingers in the area (perhaps in the hope he might get his hands on the vicar, too).
©Nicola Kirk and http://www.nicolakirk.wordpress.com 2010