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Britain's Villains: Dick Turpin

Updated on March 20, 2013

For every British hero such as Sir Francis Drake, Robin Hood, Richard the Lion heart and King Arthur. There is historical figure and character of folklore who are wicked and bad. Maybe there is a part of the British mentality which airbrushes over those who commit great deeds of evil, and later turns the characters of our history into a much more lovable incarnation. Britain has had its fair share of rouges and hero's throughout its history, and each one of them has had a lasting effect on the people of Great Britain.

The actions of a single man can outlive the duration of the mans own mortality. The British calender celebrates the effect of these colourful characters even now. November the 5th is a remembrance of Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators attempt to blow up the House's of Parliament. One of the most dangerous and legendary rouges of the British Isle is the highwayman Dick Turpin.

Highwayman in the woods
Highwayman in the woods

Early life of Dick Turpin

Dick Turpin was born in Essex in the early 1700's, he was the fifth of six children. Little is known of his childhood and adolescents, and what he did for employment before his turn to robbery is a subject of conjecture. The common consensus is that he followed his fathers trade of butchery, and it is likely that he may have had a shop on the outskirts of London.

His skills as a butcher may have lead him to join up with a band of fellow Essex based criminals. It was fairly common for those who lived near the forests of south east England to become involved in poaching the local deer. Turpin is believed to have become the landlord of a local pub, this cemented his relationship with the local Essex gangs, particularly the Gregory gang.

The descent to infamy

Turpin did not throw himself into highway robbery straight away, having gradually drifted into a life or criminality he found himself part of a gang which robbed houses and stole livestock. The gang were eventually brought to justice and a number of the gang met their fate at Tyburn gallows in London. By 1736 Turpin had performed his first act of highway robbery, and his reputation began to spread throughout the area between London and York. When the authorities put to much pressure on their criminal activities, the new band of highwaymen would take refuge in and around Epping Forest. For the best part of three years the gang grow rich and feared.

Has Dick Turpin been Romantisized by the modern world?

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Turpin was apprehended in the East Riding of Yorkshire, the local legend is that Turpin was hunting with the local gentry and he shot a cockerel. Having been confronted by the owner Turpin made threats to shoot whoever got in his way. Turpin was captured and put into Beverley jail, it is likely Turpin had grown bored of his false identity and maybe knew he was destined to be caught. Turpin was transferred to York, in York he was to be tried for his many crimes. There was some calls for him to be tried in London, but York was to be the place of Turpin's trial, execution and burial. Having been found guilty of his crimes Dick Turpin was executed by hanging in April 1739. From the accounts at the time Dick Turpin handled himself with dignity and calmness of manner.

The true life of Richard Turpin has now been distorted and romanticized by the poets and authors of subsequent generations. What the media and literature of today says of his life gives a false impression of a normal man, who stumbled onto a life of crime and murder. It is entirely possible that Turpin was not the leader of the Highwaymen, and that the press of the day hyped up his deeds. Turpin was a common criminal who has a legend which casts a greater shadow than the man ever had in life.


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    • CMHypno profile image

      CMHypno 6 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      I wonder why we want to romanticise certain types of criminals? Highwaymen are viewed in such a romantic light, but in reality they were nothing more than muggers on horses, and I've never known anyone swoon over a mugger?

    • Asp52 profile image

      Asp52 7 years ago from England

      It seems every culture has its hero's and villain's. The legend of Billy the Kid is a perfect example of that. Its ironic how some of history's villains get a better legend by the unsung heroes. Hi Bayoulady the Turpin story has to the best of my knowledge been left generally untouched by a big Hollywood blockbuster. On the established facts its an interesting enough story, and there is a lot of paranormal lore attached to it.

    • bayoulady profile image

      bayoulady 7 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

      fascinating! I'm not sure I have ever heard of him, though the name and facts seem vaguely familiar.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 7 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      There's a tendency to romanticize legendary criminals, like the old western outlaws, or the gangsters of the 1930s.