England - Periods - Georgian 1714-1830

Dick Turpin

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Born sometime in 1706 in Essex to a father who was a farmer/inn keeper, Turpin later moved to Whitechapel on the east side of London which at that point was on the fringe of the city. He served an apprentiship as a butcher and later opened his own butcher shop with the indication of his coming career manifesting itself in his acquisition of meat for the shop through the stealing of sheep and cattle. Identified as the thief of two oxen, Turpin fled back to Essex where he formed a gang which came to be known as the Essex Gang. He briefly tried his hand at smuggling but after failing at that, returned to Essex and he and his gang terrorized the countryside by invading farm houses and terrorizing the occupants into giving up their valuable items.

By 1735 he and his gang had gained notoriety for their vicious exploits and the King offered a 50 Pound reward for his capture. There were about 50 constables patrolling the highways around London and they managed to corner Turpin and some of his gang. Turpin escaped by bursting through a window but left 2 of his gang to be captured. He hid out trying to let things die down. He fell in with and joined Captain John King an infamous highwayman and began his career of holding up travellers. They hid out in a cave in Epping Forest and were able to do quite well in their banditry trade.

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Upon seeing a very fine horse owned by a Mr. Major, Turpin decided to take it and left Major with his old worn out mount. Major tracked the horse down to Whitechapel and during an exchange Turpin shot, by mistake, his friend John King and escaped to Yorkshire where he tried to life a quieter life but still resorted to animal thief on occasion. He was discovered by authorities and taken into custody where he was tried in 1739, in York and convicted to die by hanging.

When on the scaffold he made a show of his execution by bowing to the ladies in the crowd and then leapt off the stands to his death. The locals were so entranced by his seemingly gallant actions that they stole his body to prevent it from being used for medical training and legend has it, was buried in quick lime so as not to be discovered and rest in peace. He was later burined at St George's Church.

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Reference: Article by Greg Scott (Staff Historian), 2017

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