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On This Day… A Famous Horse Thief Meets His Maker

Written by: George Chittenden : 15 Jul 2019

It was on this day, 7th April, back in 1739 when the English highwayman Richard "Dick" Turpin was executed. Dick Turpin is a great example of someone who history has remembered inaccurately. After his death Turpin’s life was romanticised by playwrights and novelists, who portrayed him as a dashing and heroic character in English ballads and theatre during the 18th and 19th centuries, and on television and film during the 20th century.

Over time he was turned into a Robin Hood type figure. As an example, Dick Turpin is known for making a two-hundred-mile overnight ride from London to York on his horse Black Bess, but this story is a work of fiction created by the Victorian novelist William Harrison Ainsworth. In reality Dick Turpin was a poacher, burglar, horse thief and murderer. In 1735 several members of his gang were caught, but Turpin escaped.

A short while later he murdered a man who attempted to capture him. He then moved to Yorkshire, but suspicion fell on him, and how he funded his lifestyle. He was arrested, and whilst in prison he wrote a letter to his brother-in-law from his prison cell. The letter was his undoing, as it was seized by the authorities who used it to reveal his actual identity. Dick Turpin was found guilty of two charges of horse theft on March 22nd and was executed on April 7th, 1739.

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