Richard Turpin may have followed his father’s trade as a butcher. By the early 1730s, he had joined a gang of deer thieves. Later, he became a poacher, burglar, horse thief and killer. He was executed on 7 April 1739, and became the subject of legend.
About Dick Turpin in brief
Richard Turpin was an English highwayman whose exploits were romanticised following his execution in York for horse theft. He is also known for a fictional 200-mile overnight ride from London to York on his horse Black Bess, a story that was made famous by the Victorian novelist William Harrison Ainsworth. Turpin may have followed his father’s trade as a butcher early in his life but, by the early 1730s, he had joined a gang of deer thieves. Later, he became a poacher, burglar, horse thief and killer. He was executed on 7 April 1739, and became the subject of legend after his execution, romanticised as dashing and heroic in English ballads and popular theatre of the 18th and 19th centuries and in film and television of the 20th century. He may have been involved in the thefts by summer 1734 but there is no evidence to suggest that he was directly involved in them. Although the identities of the perpetrators of the thefts are unknown, Turpin may have been a close associate of the gang, which may indicate that he had been known to them for some time. By October 1734 several in the gang had either been captured or had moved away from poaching, raiding the home of a chandler and grocer named Peter Woodford at Splitford, Woodford, in Essex. By 1733 Turpin almost certainly became involved with their activities, and he became the landlord of a public house, and most likely the landlord at Clay Hill, Clayford, and Crown and Crown at Clayford.
In 1737 he may have accidentally shot and killed a man who attempted his capture. Later that year, he moved to Yorkshire and assumed the alias of John Palmer. Testimony from his trial in 1739 suggests he had a rudimentary education and, although no records survive of the date of the union, that in about 1725 he married Elizabeth Millington. Following his apprenticeship they moved north to Buckhurst Hill, Essex, where Turpin opened a butcher’s shop. As a teenager, he was apprenticed to a butcher in the village of Whitechapel, while another proposes that he ran his own butcher’s shop in Thaxted. The Black Act was enacted to deal with such problems in the Royal Forest of Waltham, and in 1723 the government increased the reward to £50. Following a series of nasty incidents, including the threatened murder of a keeper and his family, in 1733 the governmentincreased the reward from £10 to £50. After the death of a member of the Essex gang in 1735, the government offered a £10 reward to anyone who helped identify the thieves, plus a pardon for those thieves who gave up their colleagues. The statement was lodged with Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle, who responded by offering a reward of £10 plus a £50 pardon. By the end of 1733, the gang may have left the area, and Turpin, almost certainly involved with the activities of the deer thieves, may leave the area.