February 23: Dick Turpin Identified

Dick TurpinDuring the 1730s no name was feared more in England than that of Dick Turpin. Turpin was a highwayman who’d ambush stagecoaches, robbing travelers while yelling his famous order to “Stand and deliver!” before escaping on his fierce steed Black Bess. His exploits have become the stuff of legend, with his story often becoming romanticized to the point where the routinely brutal and truly vile Turpin is regularly portrayed as a roguish hero. English authorities had trouble capturing Turpin, and for a period he went into hiding; but it was on this day in 1739 that Dick Turpin was identified and would soon be brought to justice for his crimes.

Turpin’s life of crime began simple enough as a common cattle rustler and horse thief. Soon he took up with a gang of scoundrels known as the Essex gang. The psychopathic Essex gang were the 18th century equivalent of the droogies from A Clockwork Orange. They preyed on country homes, and while they undoubtedly enjoyed robbing the country folk, their main passion seemed to be in sadistically torturing the people they robbed.

Thankfully, in 1735 most of the gang was captured, ending their four year reign of terror, but Turpin evaded his pursuers. It was at this point he decided to go solo, becoming a highwayman. But first, he took a pseudo-apprenticeship under a more established highwayman who he’d later kill while attempting to break him out of police custody. Some say it was an accidental killing, but with Turpin who can be sure? From there he embraced his role as a highwayman, robbing travelers and striking terror amongst those that journeyed along England’s roads. Eventually, a bounty of £200 (the equivalent of £27,000 today) was placed on his head.

Then, in 1737 Turpin disappeared. In June of 1737, a horse trader named John Palmer checked into an inn in Brough, East Riding of Yorkshire. In October of 1738, Palmer was arrested after killing a man’s rooster and then threatening to kill the man. The local authorities soon launched an investigation into Palmer’s background, suspecting that he had a criminal past. Soon, reports came in that he might not be a horse trader but a horse thief, which at the time was a capital offense. Soon, Palmer was transferred to the prison known as York Castle.

While jailed, Palmer wrote a letter to Pompr Rivernall, a man who lived in Hempstead and happened to be married to Dick Turpin’s sister, Dorothy. The letter arrived at the Hempstead post office and Rivernall refused to pay the charges as he claimed he “had no correspondent at York”. Soon after that, fate intervened when James Smith, who taught young Dick Turpin how to write noticed the letter and recognized the handwriting as that of his now infamous pupil. He quickly paid the postage and made his way to York Castle where on February 23, 1739 he informed the police that John Palmer and Dick Turpin were one and the same. Smith was awarded the £200 reward for his service.

Surprisingly, horse theft was the only charge that Turpin stood trial for. It was a speedy trial and unsurprisingly he was found guilty. On April 7, 1793, the 33-year old Turpin was hung, with the highwayman voluntarily jumping off the gallows dais. He hung in the town square for most of the afternoon before being buried the next morning. Soon after his body was stolen, only to be reclaimed by the citizens of York who reburied Turpin’s corpse, this time with quicklime. A gravestone in the graveyard of St George’s Church, Fishergate purports to mark Turpin’s final resting place, but there remains debate about whether the outlaw is actually buried there.

As Turpin was only ever formally charged with horse theft, let’s mark the 175th anniversary of his undoing with a Horse’s Neck. The Horse’s Neck got its start in the 1890s as simple ginger ale and ice with a lemon peel garnish. However, by the 1910s, the “Horse’s Neck with a Kick” (the kick typically being brandy) became popular, eventually surpassing the original non-alcoholic drink. This drink gets it’s name from the long lemon spiral that is used as a garnish. When properly placed in the drink, the lemon spiral should resemble a horse’s neck.

Horse’s Neck

  • 1 ounce Brandy
  • 3 ounces ginger ale
  • Dash of Bitters

Pour the brandy and ginger ale over ice in an Old Fashioned glass. Add a dash of bitters, stir and garnish with a long lemon zest spiral.

Tomorrow: Los Angeles is attacked by either the Japanese, aliens or a weather balloon.

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