Richard O'Sullivan starred as Dick Turpin in this long-running TV drama.

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THE REAL DICK TURPIN

The legend

Like many infamous villains before and since, Dick Turpin has been romanticised as a rascally fellow, a robber bold and hero of the underclasses by those wishing to portray him in painting, print or on the screen. He has been made famous by poems and ballads, most famously in a Victorian novel by William Harrison Ainsworth, and the Edwardian “The Ballad of Dick Turpin” by Alfred Noyes (who also penned “The Highwayman”). In this, Alfred made great play of the famous (and impossible) ride from London to York on horse named Black Bess. So Dick Turpin was now a dashing and romantic figure (very much like Claude Duval, the French noble turned highwayman in England as portrayed in William Powell Frith’s famous painting shown above) who cleverly outwitted the authorities and lived by his skill and courage.

The first account of Dick Turpin was produced shortly after his execution in 1739 by Richard Bayes who published “The Genuine History of the Life of Richard Turpin.” Bayes had been directly involved in one episode in the life of Turpin when innkeeper of the Green Man in Leytonstone (deatailed below) but his “history” contains a mixture of facts, fiction and conjecture possibly designed to produce a more colourful and therefore profitable narrative. Indeed the account of the events in which Bayes had played a part differed from other evidence and the confession of Turpin himself. The Victorian novelist William Harrison Ainsworth probably did the most to create the story most people know in 1834. Various other stories appeared in Victorian “penny-dreadfuls” always portraying Turpin and his fellow highwaymen as heroes. In 1845 Turpin’s exploits were being played out on the stage and in 1846 he was added to the waxworks on view at Madame Tussauds.

The American film industry took the hero Dick Turpin to their hearts but confused him with Robin Hood somewhere along the way and a new narrative appeared, that of a good man forced into crime by injustice perpetrated by evil overlords. Columbia Pictures released “Dick Turpin’s Ride” in 1951 (known as “The Lady and the Bandit” in America). Exclusive Films released “Dick Turpin the Highwayman” in 1956 and then Walt Disney got in on the act in 1964 with “The Legend of Young Dick Turpin”. In 1974, the ultimate British screen accolade was bestowed when Sid James played Turpin in the film “Carry On Dick”. On television, the ITV drama series “Dick Turpin”, starring Richard O’Sullivan, ran for 31 episodes between 1979 and 1982. Again, it followed the theme of Dick as a good man returning from foreign military service for his country, only to find an unscrupulous local Lord has cheated his family of their land and wealth leaving him with no choice but to rob from the rich to feed his family.

Although the legends often contained a grain of truth, the real Dick Turpin was a career criminal of the nastier sort who associated with fellow criminals who were equally, if not more cruel and villainous. They preyed on the elderly and vulnerable using violence and torture and would kill to avoid capture. The price on their heads reflected genuine horror and revulsion from the communities they preyed upon. In modern terms, Dick Turpin received stolen goods, took part in violent burglaries and muggings, killed a man who tried to detain him and in later life funded his life style by selling the cars he’d stolen.  Here is the true story of Dick Turpin.

Birth and early years

Richard Turpin was born at the Blue Bell Inn in Hempstead, and baptised on 21st September 1705. His father was a butcher and innkeeper and his early life is unclear but he may have followed his father’s trades as an apprentice in London and Thaxted. He married Elizabeth Millington in about 1725 and his first steps to a life of crime started the same year when the couple opened a butchers shop in Buckhurst Hill on the edge of Epping Forest. His trade led to an approach by a local gang of deer poachers who needed his skills to dispose of their kill. This was his introduction to the Essex Gang, also known as the Gregory Gang, who he then joined as they continued a crime spree across the district and into London. The Essex Gang included Samuel, Jeremiah and Jasper Gregory, Joseph Rose, John Jones, Thomas Rowden, John Wheeler and Mary Brazier (who disposed of their booty).

Professional villain

By 1733, whilst continuing his involvement in the activities of the gang, Turpin left butchery and took up the second profession known to him, that of innkeeper, most likely at the Rose and Crown at Clay Hill. A year later, the Essex Gang lost a number of its members as they were captured or fled. Those left turned from poaching to burglary and from the autumn of 1734 into the winter of 1735 they carried out a series of violent crimes which made them household names. These began with a raid on the home of Peter Split, a chandler in Woodford. Two nights later, again in Woodford, they raided the home of Richard Woolridge, an arms supplier to the Tower of London. In December four of the gang (not including Turpin) raided the Chingford  home of John Gladwin and John Shockley and later that month Turpin joined the gang to rob a Barking farmer, Ambrose Skinner, of £300. On the 21st December the gang (again without Turpin) raided the home of Forest Keeper William Mason.

In early 1735, the Gregory Gang were probably feeling the heat in Epping Forest and moved their crime spree first to the Charlton home of a Mr Saunders and then to Croydon to raid the home of a Mr Sheldon. These were followed by a vicious attack on the home of the Reverend Dyke in which his servant was “cut about the face in a barbarous manner.” Then on the 1st February the gang returned to the Epping Forest District and carried out a particularly violent “home invasion” of a widow in Traps Hill, Loughton which was widely reported and led eventually to the Duke of Newcastle placing a bounty of £50 for information on Turpin’s whereabouts (worth around £10,000 in today’s money). One of the reports of the Loughton robbery read:

“On Saturday night last, about seven o'clock, five rogues entered the house of the Widow Shelley at Loughton in Essex, having pistols, and threatened to murder the old lady, if she would not tell them where her money lay, which, she obstinately refusing for some time, they threatened to lay her across the fire, if she did not instantly tell them, which she would not do. But her son being in the room, and threatened to be murdered, cried out, he would tell them, if they would not murder his mother, and did, whereupon they went upstairs, and took near £100, a silver tankard, and other plate, and all manner of household goods. They afterwards went into the cellar and drank several bottles of ale and wine, and broiled some meat and ate the relicts of a fillet of veal. While they were doing this, two of their gang went to Mr Turkles, a farmer's, who rents one end of the widow's house, and robbed him of above £20 and then they all went off, taking two of the farmer's horses, to carry off their luggage, the horses were found on Sunday the following morning in Old Street.”

At this time the Gregory Gang were living in London with Turpin staying in Whitechapel and then Millbank. On the 4th February he met up with gang members at an inn where they planned a raid on an Edgware farmer named Joseph Lawrence. In yet another brutal attack they kidnapped a shepherd boy, bound and raped a maidservant and attacked the farmer by beating, scalding and forcing him to sit bare-buttocked on a fire. Their haul was just £30. Three days later the same gang members were joined by William Saunders and Humphrey Walker to carry out another brutal raid on a farm in Marylebone for just £90.

Beginning of the end for the Gregory Gang

The Gregory Gang’s luck finally ran out on the 11th February when William Saunders, John Wheeler and John Fielder stopped at an inn in Edgware. Accounts vary but either their horses or their likenesses were recognised from the Lawrence raid a week before, when they had stopped at the same inn, and the constable was called and they were jailed. John Wheeler, the youngest at around 15, was the first to confess and he gave information and descriptions of the whole of the remaining Gregory Gang. These were widely circulated and in the London Gazette, Dick Turpin’s description read: “Richard Turpin, a butcher by trade, is a tall fresh coloured man, very much marked with the small pox, about 26 years of age, about five feet nine inches high, lived some time ago in Whitechapel and did lately lodge somewhere about Millbank, Westminster, wears a blue grey coat and a natural wig”.

Unaware of the capture and confession, on 15th February 1735, Turpin, together with gang members Samuel Gregory and Herbert Haines, carried out another house raid in Chingford at the home of Mrs St John. The next day Turpin parted company with Gregory and Haines and headed for Hempstead to visit his family. On 17th February, Gregory and Haines were recognised at an alehouse in Debden and escaped and went to join Turpin who, along with Thomas Rowden, then travelled to Gravesend and back to Woodford. With descriptions of the gang circulated, Joseph Rose, Mary Brazier and Humphrey Walker (who had taken part in the farmer Lawrence raid) were captured in Westminster and joined William Saunders, John Wheeler and John Fielder in prison. Fielder, Rose, Saunders and Walker were tried at the Middlesex General Session between 26 February and 1 March 1735. Walker had died in Newgate Prison whilst the others were hanged at Tyburn Gallows on 10th March, their bodies being hung in gibbets on Edgware Road.

With descriptions out and the authorities hunting for them, the remaining Gregory Gang initially disappeared into Epping Forest to lie low, although they surfaced on the 8th and 30th March to commit further robberies. In late March Jasper Gregory was captured and executed and the authorities caught up with his two brothers on the 9th April. They were arrested in Rake, West Sussex where Samuel lost the tip of his nose in a sword fight and Jeremy was shot in the leg and died in Winchester Jail. Samuel was tried in May and executed on the 4th June, his body being hung in chains alongside the other members of the gang on the Edgware Road. John Wheeler, whose confession and information led to the demise of the gang, was freed and died in Hackney in January 1738 – cause unknown.

A new career - Highwayman

It was at this point that the butcher, turned innkeeper, turned poacher, turned robber became a highwayman. It is likely that Turpin started his new career in early April but he was first positively identified as an Epping Forest highwayman when he carried out highway robbery with Thomas Rowden, on the 10th July. The two then robbed a man from Southwark and a further £100 bounty was put on their heads. Their highway robberies continued as did their varied locations. In August they robbed five coach passengers on Barnes Common and then another coach between Putney and Kingston Hill, and then six guineas from a Mr Godfrey on Hounslow Heath. Continuing to evade capture they moved around to Hertfordshire, then London and then Winchester. In late December 1735 they went their separate ways. About that time, another of the Gregory Gang, John Jones was captured. Rowden stayed at large until July 1736 when he was caught passing counterfeit coins using the name Daniel Crispe. Both he and Jones were sentenced to transportation to the Thirteen Colonies (The Americas).

Turpin managed to stay out of the limelight during 1736 and probably assumed an alias as had Thomas Rowden. In February 1737 he travelled to Puckeridge to meet his wife, an arrangement he made by letter which fell into the hands of the authorities. Although Turpin’s wife, her maid and a man named Robert Nott were detained in Hertford Jail (all charged with "violent suspicion of being dangerous rogues and robbing upon the highway”) they were subsequently freed whilst Turpin himself had escaped to Cambridge.

Turpin was next reported to be working in the company of two other highwaymen, Matthew King (often mistakenly named Tom King) and Stephen Potter during March and April 1737. This relationship came to an end when either King or Turpin stole a horse belonging to Joseph Major from Waltham Forest who enlisted the landlord of the Green Man Leytonstone, Richard Bayes, to track the horse. It was found at the Red Lion in Whitechapel and the two lay in wait with the local constable for the robbers to return. Matthew King’s brother John arrived first and upon being captured told the constable where the others were waiting nearby. Accounts as to what happened next vary but in the melee, King was shot and died a week later on the 19th May. Turpin escaped whilst Potter was later caught but released at his trial for lack of evidence. Bayes claimed that Turpin had fired the fatal shot at him, but missed and hit his fellow highwayman instead. Later evidence seemed to point to Bayes himself having fired the fatal shot. In his later pamphlet “The Genuine History of the Life of Richard Turpin” Bayes wrote:

“King immediately drew a pistol, which he clapped to Mr Bayes breast, but luckily it flashed in the pan, upon which King struggled to get out his other, it had twisted round his pocket and he could not. Turpin, who was waiting not far off on horseback, hearing the skirmish came up, when King cried out, Dick, shoot him or we are taken, by God, at which instance Turpin fired his pistol and it missed Mr Bayes and shot King in two places, who cried out, Dick, you have killed me, which Turpin hearing, he rode away as hard as he could. King fell at the shot, though he lived a week after and gave Turpin the character of a coward”.

A £200 Royal Bounty on Turpin’s head

To evade capture, Dick Turpin had a hiding place deep within the forest known as “Turpin’s Cave” reputed to be at Loughton Camp. Turpin’s final act within Epping Forest was the fatal shooting of Thomas Morris, the servant of one of the Forest Keepers, who had spotted Dick at High Beech (between the Robin Hood and Kings Oak pubs). A report in the Gentleman’s Magazine of June 1737 said:

“It having been represented to the King that Richard Turpin did on Wednesday the 4th May last, barbarously murder Thomas Morris, Servant to Henry Tomson, one of the Keepers of Epping Forest, and commit other notorious felonies and robberies near London, his Majesty is pleased to promise his most gracious pardon to any of his accomplices, and a reward of £200 to any person or persons that shall discover him, so as he may be apprehended and convicted”.

There were reports that Turpin carried out further robberies on the 6th and 7th May and also on 7th May Elizabeth King, Matthew King’s wife, called at the Red Lion in Whitechapel and tried to reclaim her husband’s horses, possibly on behalf of Turpin. She was arrested but then released. Unable to remain around his usual haunts in London and Epping Forest, Dick Turpin removed himself to the north of the country under a new alias of John Palmer.

Turpin becomes Palmer

John Palmer assumed the guise of a gentleman horse trader travelling between Lincolnshire and the East Riding of Yorkshire and lived in an Inn at Brough, 12 miles west of Hull. However on the 2nd of October 1738, he had an argument in the street after shooting a man’s game cock and then threatening to do the same to a Mr John Robinson who had rebuked him for the act. This incident was reported and three East Riding Justices travelled to Brough and, having carried out an investigation, demanded a bail payment called a surety from Turpin, which he refused to pay. The alternative was jail and he was committed to the Beverley House of Correction. Further investigation followed as it was suspected that John Palmer’s lifestyle might be funded by crime. Upon being questioned, Turpin said that he was a butcher from Long Sutton in Lincolnshire and that he had left as he could not pay his debts. However when enquires were made at Long Sutton, the local Justice of the Peace revealed that John Palmer was known to them as a suspected sheep rustler and horse thief and that he had escaped from the local constable and should be kept locked up. Due to the seriousness unfolding, Turpin was handcuffed and moved to the jail at York Castle.

Still believed to be John Palmer, Turpin was being investigated as a suspected horse thief when his crimes finally caught up with him. A gentleman named Thomas Creasy had tracked down three horses Turpin had stolen from him and, on the evidence presented, Turpin was accused of horse theft, a capital crime punishable by death. It was whilst he was in jail awaiting trial that Turpin’s true identity was revealed by a letter he sent to his sister Dorothy, addressed to his brother-in-law. Seeing the postmark was York, and not knowing anyone there (or recognising the handwriting and not wanting anything to do with him), Turpin’s brother-in-law refused to pay a fee to obtain the letter so it was passed to the postmaster in Saffron Walden whose name was James Smith. Smith knew the Turpin family and had taught Dick as a child. He recognised the handwriting on the letter and took it to the local magistrate Thomas Stubbing who paid the fee, opened the letter and discovered the whereabouts of Turpin and the alias he was using. James Smith travelled to York and personally identified Turpin to the authorities. For this he was paid the £200 bounty offered following the killing of Thomas Morris.

The trial

There was argument over whether Turpin should be tried as John Palmer Alias Richard Turpin at York Assizes, on a charge of horse theft, or in London for the murder of Thomas Morris. Turpin himself wanted a trial in Essex but in the end it was York where on 22nd March 1739 his trial began for the theft of the horses belonging to Thomas Creasy (a guilty verdict for either murder or horse theft meant the death penalty). The judge was Sir William Chapple. James Smith appeared in court and testified to his knowledge of Richard Turpin and to affirm John Palmer was Turpin. Turpin confessed his real identity but stuck to his defence that he had changed his name to avoid unpaid debts in Long Sutton. He denied being a horse thief and said he had bought the horses from an innkeeper. He complained that he had been unable to produce witnesses to his character because he had been told his trial was to be held in Essex where his witnesses lived. He asked for the trial to be put off “till another day”. This held no sway with the judge and when the prosecution was concluded the jury gave a guilty verdict immediately. Sir William asked Turpin if he could offer any reason why he should not be sentenced to death; Turpin said: "It is very hard upon me, my Lord, because I was not prepar'd for my Defence." The judge replied: "Why was you not? You knew the Time of the Assizes as well as any Person here." Again Turpin complained that he had been told the trial would be in Essex to which Sir William replied "Whoever told you so were highly to blame; and as your country have found you guilty of a crime worthy of death, it is my office to pronounce sentence against you". The sentence was death by hanging.

The execution

Dick Turpin was hanged on April 7th 1739, aged 34. He purchased new clothes for the occasion, paid for official mourners and bowed to the crowds from his handcart as he was transported to the gallows at Knavesmire in York. As there was no official hangman, a system was in place whereby convicted felons could gain pardon by acting as executioner. Thereby it was ironic that the person who hanged the famous highwayman, was himself a highwayman named Thomas Hadfield. The method of hanging at the time was the short drop which meant a slow death by strangulation. To speed up the process, Dick threw himself from the scaffold as soon as the noose was around his neck. As was the practice, he was left hanging until the afternoon, to ensue he was dead. His body was buried in the graveyard of St George’s Church, Fishergate. As was common at the time, his body was stolen by grave robbers the following Tuesday, but a mob caught the body-snatchers and he was found and reburied in quicklime to render the remains unusable by the scientists and medical students who paid grave robbers to procure fresh subjects for their studies and experiments.

A stone stands today at the supposed spot in York where John Palmer, alias Richard Turpin is buried.

Report of confession Turpin made to the hangman (referred to as the “Topsman”) in a conversation he had for half an hour on the gallows before he threw himself off. This report was written by Thomas Kyll who had also recorded the transcript of the trial.  It starts with an account of the execution itself:

The morning before Turpin’s execution, he gave £3 10 shillings amongst five men, who were to follow the cart as mourners, with hat bands and gloves, and gave hatbands and gloves to several persons more. He also left a gold ring and two pairs of shoes and clogs to a married woman at Brough, that he was acquainted with, though he at the same time acknowledged he had a wife and child of his own.

He was carried in a cart to the place of execution, on Saturday April 7th, 1739, with John Stead, condemned also for horse stealing; he behaved himself  with amazing assurance, and bowed to the spectators as he passed. It was remarkable that as he mounted the ladder, his right leg trembled, on which he stamped it down with an air, and with undaunted courage looked round about him; and after speaking near half an hour to the Topsman, threw himself off the ladder, and expired in about five minutes.

His corpse was brought back from the gallows about three in the afternoon, and lodged at the Blue Boar in Castlegate, till ten the next morning, when it was buried in a neat coffin in St George’s church-yard, without Fishergate Postern, with this inscription, J. P. 1739 R. T. aged 28 (he confessed to the hangman that he was 33 years of age). The grave was dug very deep, and the persons whom he appointed as mourners, as above mentioned, took all possible care to secure his body; notwithstanding which, on Tuesday morning about three o’clock, some persons were discovered to be moving off the body, which they had taken up; and the mob having got scent where it was carried to, and suspecting it was to be anatomized, went to a garden in which it was deposited, and brought away the body through the streets of the city, in a sort of triumph, almost naked, being only laid on a board, covered with some straw, and carried on four men’s shoulders, and buried it in the same grave, having first filled the coffin with slacked lime.

Turpin’s confession to the hangman

That he was bred a butcher, and served five years of his time very faithfully in Whitechapel; but falling into idle company he began to take unlawful measures to support his extravagance, and went some times on the highway on foot, and met with several small booties; his not being detected therein, gave him encouragement to steal horses and pursue his new trade in Epping Forest on horseback; which he continued about six years.

Having been out one whole day, without meeting any booty, and being much tired, he laid himself down in the thicket, and turned his horse loose, having first taken off the saddle; when he waked, he went to search after his horse, and meeting with Mr Thompson’s servant, he enquired if he had seen his horse? To which Thompson’s man answered, that he knew nothing of Turpin’s horse, but that he had found Turpin; and accordingly presented his blunderbuss at Turpin, who instantly jumping behind a broad oak, avoided the shot, and immediately fires a carbine at Thompson’s servant, and shot him dead on the spot; one slug went through his breast, another through his right thigh and a third through his groin. This done, he withdrew to a Yew tree hard by, where once he concealed himself so closely, that though the noise of Thompson’s man’s blunderbuss and his own carbine had drawn together a great number of people about the body, yet he continued undiscovered two whole days and one night in the tree; when the company was all dispersed, he got out of the forest, and took a black horse out of a close near the road, and there being people working in the field at a distance, he threw some money amongst them, and made off; but afterwards the same evening stole a chestnut mare, and turning his black horse loose, made his way for London.

Some time after he returned to the forest again, and attempted to rob Captain Thompson and his lady in an open chaise, but the Captain firing a carbine at him, which missed, Turpin fires a pistol after the Captain, which went through the chaise between him and the lady, without any further damage than tearing the left sleeve of his coat; the Captain driving hard, and just being in sight of a town, Turpin thought it not proper to pursue him any further.

Next he stopped a country gentlemen, who clapping spurs to his horse, Turpin followed him, firing a pistol after him, which lodged two balls in his horses buttocks, the gentleman was obliged to surrender. He robbed him of fifty shillings, and asking him if that was all, and the gentlemen saying he had no more, Turpin stripped him and found two guineas more in his pocket-book, out of which he returned him five shillings, but at the same time told the gentlemen it was more than he deserved, because of his intention to have cheated him.

After this, he stopped a farmer in Epping Forest, who had been to London to sell hay, and took from him fifty shillings, and hearing of several coaches coming that way, laid in wait for them, but they being informed of the frequent robberies in those parts, took another road.

Another time meeting a gentleman and a lady on horseback, in a lane near the forest, he stopped them and presented a pistol, at which the lady fell into a swoon, he took from the gentleman seven guineas and some silver and from the lady a watch, a diamond ring, one guinea and fifteen shillings in silver.

He likewise owned that he was a confederate with one King, who was executed in London some time since; and that, once being very near taken, he fired a pistol among the crowd, and by mistake shot the said King into the thigh, who was coming to rescue him”.

He also confesed the facts of which he was convicted; but said, many things had been laid to his charge, of which he was innocent. Though tis very probable he was guilty of several robberies not here mentioned, yet this was the whole confession that the Topman could get from him.

 

The Ballad Of Dick Turpin - Poem by Alfred Noyes

 

The daylight moon looked quietly down

Through the gathering dusk on London town

 

A smock-frocked yokel hobbled along

By Newgate, humming a country song.

 

Chewing a straw, he stood to stare

At the proclamation posted there:

 

“Three hundred guineas on Turpin’s head,

Trap him alive or shoot him dead;

And a hundred more for his mate, Tom King.”

 

He crouched like a tiger about to spring.

Then he looked up, and he looked down;

And chuckling low, like a country clown,

 

Dick Turpin painfully hobbled away

In quest of his inn – “The Load of Hay”...

 

Alone in her stall, his mare, Black Bess,

Lifted her head in mute distress;

For five strange men had entered the yard

And looked at her long, and looked at her hard.

 

They went out, muttering under their breath;

And then – the dusk grew still as death.

 

But the velvet ears of the listening mare

Lifted and twitched. They were there – still there;

 

Hidden and waiting; for whom? And why?

The clock struck four, a set drew nigh.

 

It was King! Dick Turpin’s mate.

The black mare whinnied. Too late! Too late!

 

They rose like shadows out of the ground

And grappled him there, without a sound.

 

“Throttle him – quietly – choke him dead!

Or we lose this hawk for a jay, they said.”

 

They wrestled and heaved, five men to one;

And a yokel entered the yard, alone;

 

A smock-frocked yokel, hobbling slow;

But a fight is physic as all men know.

 

His age dropped off, he stood upright.

He leapt like a tiger into the fight.

 

Hand to hand, they fought in the dark;

For none could fire at a twisting mark.

 

Where he that shot at a foe might send

His pistol ball through the skull of a friend.

 

But “Shoot Dick, Shoot” gasped out Tom King

“Shoot! Or damn it we both shall swing!

Shoot and chance it!” Dick leapt back.

 

He drew. He fired. At the pistols crack

The wrestlers whirled. They scattered apart

And the bullet drilled through Tom Kings heart...

 

Dick Turpin dropped his smoking gun.

They had trapped him five men to one.

 

A gun in the hand of the crouching five.

They could take Dick Turpin now alive;

 

Take him and bind him and tell their tale

As a pot house boast, when they drank their ale.

 

He whistled, soft as a bird might call

And a head rope snapped in his birds dark stall.

 

He whistled, soft as a nightingale

He heard the swish of her swinging tail.

 

There was no way out that the five could see

To heaven or hell, but the Tyburn tree;

 

No door but death; and yet once more

He whistled, as though at a sweethearts door.

 

The five men laughed at him, trapped alive;

And – the door crashed open behind the five!

 

Out of the stable, a wave of thunder,

Swept Black Bess, and the five went under.

 

He leapt to the saddle, a hoof turned stone,

Flashed blue fire, and their prize was gone.....

 

**

 

He rode for one impossible thing; that in the

morning light

The towers of York might waken him-

from London and last night.

 

He rode to prove himself another,

and leave himself behind.

And the hunted self was like a cloud;

but the hunter like the wind.

 

Neck and neck they rode together;

that, in the day’s first gleam,

each might prove that the other self

was but a mocking dream.

 

And the little sleeping villages, and the

breathless country side

Woke to the drum of the ghostly hooves,

but missed that ghostly ride.

 

The did not see, they did not hear as the ghostly

hooves drew nigh,

The dark magnificent thief in the night

that rode so subtly by.

 

They woke, they rushed to the way-side door,

They saw what the midnight showed,-

A mare that came like a crested wave,

Along the Great North Road.

 

A flying spark in the formless dark,

a flash from the hoof-spurned stone,

And the lifted face of a man –

that took the starlight and was gone.

 

The heard the sound of a pounding chase

three hundred yards away

There were fourteen men in a stream of sweat

and a plaster of Midland clay.

 

The starlight struck their pistol-butts as they

passed in the clattering crowd

But the hunting wraith was away like the wind

at the heels of the hunted cloud.

 

He rode by the walls of Nottingham,

and over him as he went

Like ghosts across the Great North Road,

the boughs of Sherwood bent.

 

By Bawtry, all the chase but one has dropped

a league behind,

Yet, one rider haunted him, invisibly, as the wind.

 

And northward, like a blacker night, he saw the moors up-loom

And Don and Derwent sang to him, like memory in the gloom.

 

And northward, northward as he rode, and sweeter than a prayer

The voices of those hidden streams,

the Trent, the Ouse and the Aire;

 

Streams that could never slake his thirst.

He heard them as he flowed

But one dumb shadow haunted him along the

Great North Road.

 

Till now, at dawn, the towers of York rose on

the reddening sky.

And Bess went down between his knees,

like a breaking wave to die.

 

He lay beside her in the ditch, he kissed her lovely head,

And a shadow passed him like the wind and left him with his dead.

 

He saw, but not that one as wakes, the city that he sought,

He had escaped from London town, but not from his own thought.

 

He strode up to the Mickle-gate, with none to say him nay.

And there he met his Other Self in the stranger light of day.

 

He strode up to the dreadful thing that in the gateway stood

And it stretched out a ghostly hand that the dawn had stained with blood.

 

It stood as in the gates of hell, with none to hear or see,

“Welcome,” it said, “Thou’st ridden well, and outstript all but me”.

 

Alfred Noyes was born in Wolverhampton on the 16th of September 1880. When he was 18 Alfred attended Exeter College in Oxford although he failed to earn a degree. He published his first collection of poetry, The Loom of Years, in 1902.

Map & Directions

Dick Turpin

Type:Blue Plaque

Turpin's Cave, Loughton Camp (supposedly), Loughton, EPPING, Essex, CM16 5HW

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  7. Gunpowder Park in Waltham Abbey, a dynamic park regenerated from a former munitions…

    2.43 miles away
  8. Visit the largest remaining species-rich water meadow in Essex with its famous display of…

    2.63 miles away
  9. Visit the largest remaining species-rich water meadow in Essex with its famous display of…

    2.63 miles away
  10. Discover the Forest and its Royal Tudor connections

    2.78 miles away
  11. Discover the Forest and its Royal Tudor connections.

    2.78 miles away
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