On the way to Scarborough I veered of the motorway to York to find the grave of Dick Turpin, the famous highway robber. I went directly to the church through thick traffic. I was lucky to find a space on a narrow street lined with parked cars. The road was soon blocked by an ambulance. I had a coffee in the car and watched on. The ambulance men disappeared into a house then appeared with a portly scruffy man on a stretcher. He looked like he had not washed himself for weeks. He was conscious and I caught his eyes as I walked passed. He gave the looked of a man admitting unhealthy living had caught up to him.
I could see Dick Turpinís grave in an enclosed across the road from the church. At the gate were four men drinking cans of beer and smoking. I was a little hesitant to pass them but they were friendly enough, nodded, and one asked if I was prepared to swap hats. Iím sure there was much microscopic life and a gallon of grease in his hat so I said no thanks dude.
There were others graves on the mown grass but Dick Turpinís was the only characterised by a broad headstone.
He was born in the Blue Bell in, Hempstead, Essex - one of six children. His dad was butcher and Dick may well have been the same but at about 30 years ago he joined a gang who stole deer and horses.
Though he is well known for highway robbery (and his 200 mile overnight ride from London to York on his horse Black Bessy) he didnít do it for long. Two gang members were arrested and Dick disappeared from public view for about two years. He reappeared again with two new gang members. Nobody knows for sure but its guessed Dick accidentally shot one of his gang members dead, was pursued for this and killed his pursuer.
He started living in Yorkshire under a new name but people were suspicious of his lavish lifestyle. A local magistrate made some investigations and guessed it was Dick Turpin.† He was soon thrown in York Castle. In March 1739 he was found guilty on two charges of horse theft and sentenced to death.
He was hung at Tyburn, employing five mourners to help put on a bit of a show for the crowd. Records say he threw himself off the ladder and took about five minutes to die. He was hung using the ďshort dropĒ method from a short rope which meant strangulation lasted about five minutes. His body was left hanging until late afternoon. He was cut down then put in a tavern in Castlegate. The next morning he was buried in the graveyard opposite Roman Catholic St George's Church.
Who knows if this legend is under the stone? Shortly after the burial his corpse was reportedly dug up by a labourer and taken to the home of a surgeon who carried out illegal dissections. An angry mob heard of this and descended on the house, reclaimed the body and re-buried Ė allegedly - in quicklime.
One of the men drinking cans of beer. He asked if we could swap hats. Note Dick Turpinís grave in background.