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Dick Turpin A Real Turpin but a Fictional Ride

Dick Turpin eludes capture by leaping over the turnpike on Black Bess. However, he did not make the epic ride to York from London in a day.

The story of the epic ride was clouded by a fictional tale that stated that it was the infamous Dick Turpin (1705 - 1739) who made this famous ride on his horse Black Bess. The principal cause of this confusion, as far as Turpin is concerned, lies in the 1834 novel Rookwood by William Harrison Ainsworth, in which the real highwayman 'Dick Turpin' is a

Ainsworth's description of an epic ride from Westminster to York, caught the popular imagination and turned the book into a best-seller.

Dick Turpin, who was also known as "John Palmer", did get to York, but not in a day of course, and was hanged there on 7th April 1739.

Richard Turpin was the son of John Turpin, a butcher of Hempstead in Essex, he was apprentice to a butcher in Whitechapel.

Turpin became a member of the Essex Gang, a bunch of smugglers; then he moved on to join another gang of villains, originally deer stealers; later he was a member of the Gregory Gang. He was a butcher turned thief, smuggler, murderer, house breaker and highwayman. He was very active in south London. Later he teamed up briefly with another highwayman, King.

Turpin was a murderous criminal with a taste for torture. No gentleman, this one!

Escaping arrest for horse stealing, he fled to York, where he was captured, tried and condemned to death. In subsequent retellings, particularly by Ainsworth, his flight in 1739 to York was conflated with the much earlier ride (1676) of Swiftnicks (or Swift Nick). The story of Swiftnicks was itself bound up with the story of Nevison. Turpin's criminal life was romanticised, even to the extent of giving his horse the name of "Black Bess".

Dick Turpin as depicted in Rookwood.
Dick Turpin jumping the Tollgate at Hornsey.
(The romantic view as depicted in Rookwood.)

Dick Turpin murdering Thomas Morris in Epping Forest.
Dick Turpin murdering Thomas Morris in Epping Forest.

Turpin's headstone
Turpin was tried and executed at York. His supposed grave is in the churchyard of the old St. George's Church in Fishergate, not connected with the nearby Roman Catholic Church of the same name.

Tadcaster Road, viewed from the Tyburn marker stone in Knavesmire.
[April 2016]

Tyburn marker stone
The Tyburn stone at Knavesmire, York..
[April 2016]

Tyburn marker stone
Knavesmire viewed from Tadcaster Road, York.
[April 2016]

Dick Turpin, Legends and Lies by Terry Deary
Reality Check
Dick Turpin, Legends and Lies
Terry Deary

"The Adventures of TV's Most Popular Rogues".
Turpin and Swiftnick
Richard Carpenter

Knavesmire, York, was the site of many public hangings from 1379 when the gallows were first erected.
Also known as the York Tyburn, after the Tyburn gallows in Middlesex, the most famous criminal executed at the York gallows was the ruthless and dangerous highwayman Dick Turpin.
The last public hanging at Knavesmire was in 1801, as it was decided that the gallows did not give visitors to York a good first impression of the city. The gallows were then moved to a location near York Castle. 
The Knavesmire was the site of York Golf course, and a large part of it is occupied by the York Racecourse.

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