April 7, 1739

07/04/2019 all-day

Notorious highway Dick Turpin was hanged in York. These days we think of Turpin as a romantic figure, but in fact he was a violent and cruel individual. Born in September, 1705, in Finchley, then a village north of London, to a respectable family, his life of crime began with a bit of poaching, then smuggling, before graduating to house-breaking theft and highway robbery.

In 1737, with a price on his head, he adopted the alias of John Palmer. He set up home in Long Sutton, on the Norfolk-Lincolnshire border. For a while he led a double life; law-abiding horse trader by day, highwayman by night.

Legend has it he stayed for about nine months at what is now the Bull Hotel in Long Sutton’s marketplace. When suspicions about his activities grew, he headed north and carried on his nefarious business in Brough, near Hull.

Arrested after a drunken escapade involving firearms, he ended up in York prison. Still posing as John Palmer, from York he sent a letter to his brother, but it was instead opened by the village postmaster. He recognised Turpin’s handwriting (he had taught him to write). The game was up.

Turpin was tried and convicted, both of highway robbery and house-breaking. The penalty was death.
If nothing else, he knew how to make an exit. On April 7, he paid for a new suit of clothes, paid people to act as mourners and rode in an open cart from prison to what is now York racecourse.

On the scaffold he faced the hangman. The York Courant recorded: “With undaunted courage he looked about him, and after speaking a few words to the topsman, he threw himself off the ladder and expired in about five minutes.”