WENDY’S WEEK On The Trail of Dick Turpin
With the book safely delivered to the publisher I was hoping to relax and recharge my batteries, but with another forthcoming visit to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge my relaxation had to be put on hold.
As I have a day of appointments at the hospital – ophthalmology, audiology and rheumatology it ends up a three day event. We drive up the day before as my first appointment is usually 9am in the morning, and as I am usually too tired to take the journey back after my appointments, this time we decided that the next day to have a look around the ancient town of Thaxsted with thatched cottages and medieval history. It was already a thriving Saxon town long before the Norman’s decided to arrive in England it has many interesting features which centres around 4 historic buildings, a timber-framed guildhall, a restored18th windmill, a pair of almshouses, and a medieval church dating back to the 981AD, but more about the town’s history next week. It received a royal charter to hold a market in 1205 and the day we visited the market was very busy indeed with an excellent cheese and fish stall. Needless to say fish for on the menu that weekend. From the 13thcenturyThaxsted became the centre of the cutlery industry, and this was due in part because the local landowners charged cheap affordable rents.
Notably one of the most interesting buildings is number 3 Stoney Lane and facing the guildhall on a cobbled street that takes you sharply up towards the church called Dick Turpin’s cottage. It is reputed that the infamous highwayman once lived here, and it is claimed that it was probably purchased with the proceeds of his highway crimes that took place along the roads of East Anglia. There is no documented evidence to prove Dick lived here, but it is a good story and as always say there is usually a grain of truth in all folklore. So what do you know and why did the cottage became associated with Dick Turpin?
We know that Dick was the son of Richard and Maria Turpin and that he was baptised in Hempstead on September 21 1705, and he was executed in York on April 7 1739, but what happened in between is mainly speculation, although we do know that he was part of the infamous Gregory gang based in and around Epping Forest. The main activity of the Gregory gang as deer stealing and although it was not considered a serious crime those who lost deer certainly considered it to be serious as we read in an extract from The London Gazette of 1733: ‘that a great number of deer stealers, supposed to be at least twelve or fourteen do almost daily assemble together, and enter his Majesty’s said Chase at Enfield with fire-arms, and have killed and carried off great numbers of fallow deer…and that they threaten to murder the keepers.’ Evidence seems to suggest that Dick was initially an outlet for the game they poached receiving the deer in his capacity as a butcher, and we do know that Dick was a frequent visitor to Hempstead up to about 1733, and it is possible that from this point that deer stealing became too dangerous and he had come to the attention of the authorities, and this is where he may have change his occupation to cover his tracks. There is no doubt that as time progressed he became more involved in robbery and resorted to violence.
It is said that his father, Richard ‘put is son to school with one Smith a writing master.’ This John Smith, along with another we to be Dick downfall as they were called to give evidence at the trial at York, and the claims that Dick was a butcher from Thaxsted came from a statement on the reward notice. John Smith also claimed that Dick had married one of his maids, but again there is little evidence to prove this as no record has been discovered in any church registers.
We know that Dick’s older brother Thomas lived in Thaxsted and married there in 1726, and his children were baptised in the town. This could lead us to surmise that that Dick may have lived with this brother at some time and worked in the town. There is documented evidence that Dick was apprenticed to a butcher and ended up working in Buckhurst Hill near Epping, but prior to this he may well have lodged with his brother and worked at Thaxsted. If so, then most likely place would have been Duckett’s in Watling Street, which have been a butcher’s premises from before 1700. Who knows as Dick became wealthy he may have purchased the cottage for this brother. I went in search of some evidence that Dick did live in Thaxsted, but came away with more questions to ponder.