RUTHLESS highwayman Dick Turpin's reign of terror ended in York on April 7 1793 when he was hanged at Knavesmire.
Since his death, his notoriety has made him a legend. From biographies to TV shows, we may feel we know all about this rogue said to be buried at St George's graveyard in Fishergate.
But do we really?
Author Jonathan Oates has published a new book - Dick Turpin: Fact and Fiction (published by Pen and Sword Books Ltd).
Jonathan says: "It is a biography of the real 18th-century criminal called Richard Turpin, a vicious and ugly gang member, housebreaker, highwayman, killer and cattle thief and then the fictional romantic hero of the 19th century and beyond."

York Press: Author Jonathan OatesAuthor Jonathan Oates (Image: Supplied)
Today, Jonathan takes us behind the legend to separate fact from fiction. To discover the real Dick Turpin, read on:
1. He was born as Richard Turpin in 1705 and died under that name in 1739. He was first called Dick Turpin in the 1834 novel Rookwood, by Harrison Ainsworth. He has never been called anything else since; save on his gravestone at St George’s burial ground in York. In 1735 he was referred to as Turpin the Butcher because he had been a butcher before becoming a criminal.
2. Turpin never rode from London to York. This is an early 19th-century myth, which, as with his name, has stuck. The same story has been told about 17th-century highwaymen John Nevison and Richard Dudley. However, the ride of 200 miles on one horse in a day and night is physically impossible. The only ride to York that Turpin made was in 1738 and that was from Beverley and as a prisoner.
3. Turpin’s horse was not called Black Bess. It is not known what his horse/horses were called. Black Bess is another invention of Harrison Ainsworth. Before Ainsworth, some stories refer to his horse as being called Bess, but this has no foundation in fact.
4. Turpin never wore a scarf or a mask to conceal his features. On one occasion, when he was a member of a vicious gang of housebreakers, they disguised themselves by daubing their faces with black paint or mud. It is alleged that Turpin threatened to, or actually did, roast one Mrs Shelley over her fire to force her to tell where her money was.
5. Turpin was not an 18th-century Robin Hood. He is never known to have given anything to anyone, except a woman friend, unknown to history, to whom he gave his rings and shoes. He robbed people of all social classes.
6. Turpin never went to the Red Lion pub in York. This pub has a board stating that he patronised the establishment and then fled from the law when he was there. Regrettably he was never able to sample York’s many hostelries as a free man. His corpse did briefly linger in the Blue Boar pub, however. Currently there is a Turpin room there.

York Press: Dick Turpin escapes his pursuers after another daring robbery. (Picture courtesy of York Castle Museum)Dick Turpin escapes his pursuers after another daring robbery. (Picture courtesy of York Castle Museum) (Image: Supplied)
7. Turpin may have been married to a servant girl employed by the Smith family of Hempstead, though there’s no record of this in a parish register. However, he and Elizabeth did have a son, who was born in 1737 with the name of John, near Chingford and was baptised at St Leonard’s church, Waltham Abbey. It is not known if Turpin was present – with a reward of £200 on his head, probably not.
8. Turpin may well have shot dead his accomplice Matthew King in Whitechapel in 1737 during an attempt to escape the law. Or it may have been Richard Bayes, Turpin’s first biographer, and an Essex innkeeper. Naturally in his book he stated it was Turpin!
9. Turpin wasn’t a handsome fellow. Descriptions of him in 1735 and 1737 refer to him as being facially pox marked. Probably he had been afflicted by this killer disease, survived and was marked for life. 

York Press: Archive image of an actor from York Dungeon as Dick TurpinArchive image of an actor from York Dungeon as Dick Turpin (Image: Supplied)

10. The newspapers in 1735-1739 often referred to Turpin. Other robbers used his name. In early 1738 a prisoner in York Castle was thought by some to Turpin. He wasn’t.
11. Turpin was likened by some contemporaries to Sir Robert Walpole, a leading politician at the time – both as being notorious robbers!
12. Turpin was also a cattle thief. When he fled the environs of London in 1737 he settled in Brough and Welton near Hull. He took to taking trips to Lincolnshire to steal horses and probably sheep, and then to sell them, posing as a cattle dealer.
13. Turpin was arrested for shooting a cockerel in Brough High Street. 
14. Turpin called himself John Palmer in 1737-1739 and was only unmasked when he wrote to his brother in law for help when in prison. The handwriting on the letter was recognised by James Smith, who had taught Turpin to write.
15. Turpin stole a horse from a Lincolnshire vicar and gave it to his father in Hempstead for safe keeping. His father was arrested for its theft (eventually he was released).

York Press: Dick Turpin's gravestone at St George's graveyardDick Turpin's gravestone at St George's graveyard (Image: Newsquest)
16. Once his identity was known, Turpin became what we might call a ‘celebrity criminal’. People paid to spend time in his company and bought him presents. 
17. He was tried for horse theft, despite his identity being known. This was because there were several good witnesses close at hand who could provide a convincing case for the prosecution. As the trial was at York, witnesses to his previous crimes were either dead, transported or simply too far away.
18. He was hanged by a fellow highwayman. There was no professional executioner, so the county sheriff would offer the task to a fellow prisoner who would then be released. Thomas Hadfield performed this office to Turpin and John Stead, another thief.
19. After his burial, Turpin’s body was dug up on behalf of Dr Marmaduke Palms, a York surgeon, for medical research. However a crowd attacked the doctor’s men and reburied the body, only more deeply. It may or may not lie under the gravestone that bears his name.

York Press: Jonathan Oates' new book on Dick TurpinJonathan Oates' new book on Dick Turpin (Image: Supplied)
20. Books about highwaymen published in the later 18th century did not usually feature Turpin; it was only in the 19th century that he became the best known of them all.
21. In the 19th century there were fears that boys reading Turpin’s adventures would be led into crime and some were.
22. Sid James played Turpin in Carry on Dick in 1974; his last ever Carry on film. In this version the criminal was an elderly bachelor vicar. Turpin was about 33 years old on death.
23. In 1979-1982 on TV, Richard O’Sullivan played a proto-Marxist Turpin with entirely fictional allies (Swiftnick) and enemies (Sir John Glutton and Captain Spiker). These shows were aimed at children.
24. English Cinematic Pictures made a more recent and realistic series of films about Turpin. Definitely not for children.