TURPIN - he was a right bastard

The Dark and Dirty Deeds of Dick

Tuesday, December 8

The Resurrectionist:

The remains of more than twenty dead bodies were discovered in a shed in Tottenham-Court Road, supposed to have been deposited there by traders to the surgeons; of whom there is one, it is said, in the Borough, who makes an open profession of dealing in dead bodies, and is well known by the name of the resurrectionist.

March 1776

Monday, December 7

Pop goes...

... the weasel.

Not a mammal from the mustelidae family, but a tailor's flat-iron, common in Turpin's time. You knew it was hot enough when your spittle sizzled.

Friday, December 4

Morecambe & Wise do Dick Turpin

Wednesday, December 2

Let's hear it for Richard O'Sullivan

Dick Turpin and the Restless Dead:

"When notorious highwayman Dick Turpin stumbles across a deserted village following his latest highway robbery it seems the ideal place to hide out. But the village is not as empty as it first appears - and Turpin soon finds himself surrounded by hordes of rotting, hungry zombies!"

© Steve Tanner & Andrew Dodd
Available from SMALLZONE online comic shop

How to get Ahead...

... steal one: a practice known as cranioklepty.

One of my favourite blogs, Morbid Anatomy (http://morbidanatomy.blogspot.com/) relates that:

"With the rise of phrenology, the early 19th century saw a host of bizarre grave robberies, in which the graves of famous men were plundered for their owners’ skulls. Both scientific curiosities and morbid fetishes, the skulls became subject to extended legal battles between religious and secular authorities over who owns these remains, while phrenologists continued to study them for visible proof of genius. "

Among the famous heads to have enjoyed a longer stay on earth than their shoulders, we find Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Swedenborg, Goya, Cromwell, Petrarch, Ned Kelly and Sir Thomas Browne, who had famously written what a “tragical abomination” it is to be “gnawed out of one’s grave,” a century and a half before his own cranium was half-inched in 1840.

It has not been publicly noted before, but to this list we can now perhaps add Dick Turpin.

York City Archives include, in a 19thC vicar's diary, the intriguing entry:

"A London paper published in June 1861 relates the following statement -

The skull of Dick Turpin under a glass shade many years in possession of the 'Morley family of York' that was one of the lots put up to auction at the sale of 'genuine furniture' last Friday in Church Street Soho, the piece of bone sold for 4s - glass shade and all."

This could have been quite true, an accidental fraud or a deliberate hoax. And we may never know which.

Still, needless to say, I will be investigating this further and will keep you posted as to my findings.

Tuesday, December 1

Rising up in panic:

... not that Fragonard:

... dear old Jean-Honoré, creator of cutesy-twee prettiness that really does disturb my stomach. No - this is plain Honoré, his cousin, and made of much darker stuff.

And what was Palmes planning?

A little light anatomizing - this sort of thing:

The body of such an infamous criminal as Turpin must have been an object of some medical curiosity, and the seat of his courage and persistent recidivism sought in the gory mystery of his internal organs.

But whatever Mr. Palmes had in mind, it's unlikely that he would have done anything as ambitious as Honoré Fragonard.

Fragonard spent nine years in the 1760s preparing his écorchés: elaborate anatomical teaching models, made by flaying and injecting wax, dyes and stiffening agents into prepared dehydrated human and animal corpses.

The unsettling (and to me, rather beautiful) results, which can be seen in the Museé Fragonard, Maisons-Alfort, fall somewhere between sculpture and dissection. If he had taken his knife to Turpin and produced something like his Cavalier (horseman) below, I might almost have approved:

It's not the cough that carries you off...

It's Marmaduke Palmes of the city of York, surgeon; assisted by a labourer named Richard Hogg.

From the York City Archives:

"After the execution the corpse of Turpin was brought to the Blue Boar, in Castlegate, where it remained till the next morning & then interred in the church-yard of St. George - the grave was made remarkably deep & the people who acted as mourners took such measures as they thought would secure the body, yet about three o'clock in the following morning some persons were observed in the church-yard, who carried it off."


in a routous or disorderly manner.

As: 'he did riotously, unlawfully, routously and tumultously assembled with intent to break open the said gaol.'
(From documents relating to the 1792 Great Yarmouth riots).

Dutch Dick

bang bang - you're dead

a shooter, similar in principle but quite different in design to anything Dick would have shot.

much more the sort of thing a young Turpin would have hidden in his waistcoat

Thursday, November 26

A Visit to the Archives

Tomorrow I am hot-footing it to York City Archives, for a little last-minute Turpin research.

The Archives house some interesting documents I want to check out there while there is still time to add them to the Chronology I've created for inclusion at the end of the novel.

Here's what I'll be perusing:

- The Records of York Castle by Twyford and Griffiths

- York Courant execution etc 10.4.1739

- Richard Turpin, otherwise John Palmer - his naked body taken from a surgeon's house and carried through the streets - indictment 1739 E37/252

- Indictment for rescuing a person being conveyed to the House of Correction for retrieving the body of Richard Turpin 1739 E37/252-3

- Indictment of those who recovered his body from a surgeon's garden house and carried it naked through the streets 1739 E37/251-2

- recognizances to give evidence on above 4 May 1739 F 15

- 10 April 1739 Labourer surgeon for appearing re body E 81

- Note on burial and sale of skull, 1867 - James Raine Collection Acc 28: 13 & 47 YL/Ant

Monday, November 23

Baker's (Half) Dozen:

Bread and butter fashion - one slice upon the other ('Tom and his maid were lying bread and butter fashion'). To quarrel with one's bread and butter: to act contrary to one's interest. To know on which sideone's bread is buttered: to know one's interest, or what is best for one. It is no bread and butter of mine: I have no business with it; or rather, I won't intermeddle, because i shall get nothing by it.

Bread - Employment. Out of bread: out of employment. In bad bread: in a disagreeable scrape, or situation.

Bread basket - The stomach: a term used by boxers. I took him a blow in his bread basket: ie. I gave him a blow in the stomach.

Kissing crust - the part where the loaves have touched the oven.

Loaf - to be 'in bad loaf'; to be in a disagreeable situation, or in trouble.

Master of the Rolls - slang term for a baker.

Dick: a portrait

Dick's portrait was never painted in his lifetime, although his image has been imaginatively reconstructed many, many times since his death in 1739.

Though images like the one below were produced while he was still alive there is sadly no evidence that they were anything but imaginative exercises to satisfy a Turpin-hungry public.

The absense of a contemporary portrait is even more disappointing given the vogue of the times for drawing gaolbirds.

The official diary of General Williamson, Deputy Lieutenant of the Tower of London (1722-47) describes one such incident. The criminal Plunket in question was a pro-Pretender plotter, not the highwayman of the same name:

'I got Mr. James Mace a Lad not thirteen years of age to draw Mr. Plunket the Prisoner's picture, and behind him in Shade John Tuder his Warder, who was a very faithfull and carefull fellow.'

James Maclaine, the ladies' favourite rogue and partner to the other Plunkett, was depicted in his cell the night before his hanging, surrounded by female visitors. The image was sold on the London streets for thruppence.

And so in 'Dick - or, the Hempen Jig' I remedy the regretful absense by having Turpin's picture drawn in his last days, in York Castle:

"“I suppose people are bound to take an interest,” Hanway muses to Langton. “Even strangers. Look at that! – oh, he has caught him superbly!”
“It is a good likeness, Mr. Hanway?” the elder Miss Porter asks.
“Yes indeed… That really is excellent, you know; excellent!”
He bends down to address this last remark to a sturdy lad, sitting with his back to them in the middle of the room, a vast drawing board propped on his splayed knees. Apparently oblivious to Hanway’s compliment, the young man lurches forward with such intense purpose that he seems about to spring up out of the chair. Instead his arm moves rapidly over the paper pinned to his board for a few minutes, before he sits back again to appraise it. Only then does he turn to Hanway and say:
“I’m sorry, sir! Thank you.”
“You have a talent, there. Keepsake, is it?”
“Not for myself. I’m William Mace, sir: apprentice draughtsman. Mr. Griffiths the governor wishes to commemorate Richard Turpin’s stay in the castle, so he sent for me to draw the prisoner’s picture. It’s my hope he’ll permit me to return tomorrow…”
His eye falling back on his work, the lad tilts his board to a better angle with his left arm; he hunches forward again with the chalk, brows raised, eyes darting between the paper and its subject.
The drawing shows Dick in a chair of dark glossy wood, its carved arms terminating in lion heads. Beside him stands Jacks, awkward and solemn; one hand tucked inside his waistcoat, the other dangling at his hip, gripping his bunch of keys to indicate his office.
Though he faces forward, Turpin’s gaze has been caught askance, resentment and scorn glittering in his narrowed eyes and a vein bulging from his temple as he frowns. His shaved scalp is dark with stubble. With no wig or hat to soften his features the light falls harshly on his cheeks: dimpling into the pitted shadows of small-pox scars, darkening the lines that run from his nose to the down-turned corners of his compressed mouth. Though it is a chilly day he is coatless. The neck of his shirt is open, revealing his naked throat and the curls of hair at its base; the top buttons of his waistcoat are undone. His left arm rests on his thigh, his drooping fingers leading the eye to the heavy chains circling his waist and running down his stockinged legs, enclosing his ankles in iron cuffs. His right clutches the chair arm, his hand curling over the lion’s head, his rent sleeve falling open to reveal a thick powerful forearm.
“Don’t you think he has – the air of a gentleman,” the younger Miss Porter whispers breathlessly to her sister.
“Oh, yes!”

Introducing the Author (and her Subject)

Rebecca Riley, aka in postings here:
Rebecca Stephens, Archie Pullen

For any of you who've ever experienced curiosity regarding the appearance of me or Mr. Turpin, I refer you to our recently-taken mugshots.

My own was snapped by resident genius of this site, 'Renaissance' John Coombes; and will be appearing in April on the back of 'Dick, or the Hempen Jig' in all good bookshops.

Dick's was put together earlier in 2009 by North Yorkshire police, as publicity for York Castle's (excellent) refurbishment of its dungeons, Dick's prison cell included.

Richard Turpin, aka John Palmer

Sunday, November 8

Soon to hit a book shop near you...

Dick, or the Hempen Jig, by Rebecca Riley

Wednesday, August 9

True Research

I went back to Amsterdam, with a view to gaining more of an insight into the Life and Times of Mr Turpin, and got rather more verisimilitude than I bargained for. Half an hour after checking into the hotel No-good Theiving Robbers broke into the room and stole everything, passport, money, camera, phone, watch, tickets - the lot!

Now I know what it feels like to be held up on the Queen's Highway and fleeced. And to be perfectly honest if wish I didn't. I could have used my imagination chaps! Come on, give me the stuff back you right bastards.

Wednesday, June 21

The Bellman's Chant

'In no country,' wrote Sir T. Smith, a distinguished lawyer of the time, 'do malefactors go to execution more intrepidly than in England'; and assuredly, buoyed up by custom and the approval of their fellows, [they] made a brave show at the gallows. Nor was their bravery the result of a common callousness. They understood at once the humour and the delicacy of the situation....

As twelve o'clock approached--their last midnight upon earth--they would interrupt the most spirited discourse, they would check the tour of the mellowest bottle to listen to the solemn doggerel. 'All you that in the condemn'd hole do lie,' groaned the Bellman of St. Sepulchre's in his duskiest voice, and they who held revel in the condemned hole prayed silence of their friends for the familiar cadences:

All you that in the condemn'd hole do lie,
Prepare you, for to-morrow you shall die,
Watch all and pray, the hour is drawing near,
That you before th' Almighty must appear.
Examine well yourselves, in time repent
That you may not t' eternal flames be sent;
And when St. Pulchre's bell to-morrow tolls,
The Lord above have mercy on your souls.
Past twelve o'clock!

Delivered nightly to the prisoners of Newgate
From Charles Whibley, A Book of Scoundrels (1897)

Tuesday, June 20

The Dick Turpin Cottage

What was I saying about glamour?

I don't doubt it's a lovely place to stay, just somewhat oddly-named; for, call me an old fusspot, but the words 'Dick Turpin' and 'warm, friendly welcome', 'advice and assistance' and 'courtesy and service' sit ill together for me:

The charm of THE DICK TURPIN COTTAGE with its many features of architectural and historic interest has been carefully preserved. You will receive a warm welcome and enjoy a high standard of accommodation. THE DICK TURPIN COTTAGE is featured in "Special Places to Stay in Britain", Awarded the top English Tourist Board quality rating- "Five Stars", De-luxe 5 Keys, and "Gold Award". Our aims are to: -

Offer a warm, friendly welcome to guests.
Ensure a high standard of accommodation, courtesy, and service.
Respond promptly and properly to any complaints or criticism.
Offer our guests all advice and assistance they require.

Allurements and Fascinations

Richard Turpin was an angry, unsuccessful butcher who became a housebreaker, a fence, a robber, a murderer and a horsethief. Though he was successfully prosecuted in York, he could have been tried in Essex, Middlesex, Kent, Leicestershire or the Cities of London and Westminster.

There was no gentility about the man.

Nevertheless, even those who should know better gloss the highway robber with sophistication. James Clavell, a 17th-century highwayman pardonned and exiled to Ireland for writing the equivalent of a public-information pamphlet exposing the tricks of his trade, called it: 'An Art, as would forever make him a Gentleman.'

Dickens, criticised for the 'criminal heroes' of his Oliver Twist, rightly pointed out that they were nothing of the sort. He had taken pains to avoid the fashion for vesting 'such characters' in 'certain allurements and fascinations': moonlit canters, embroidery, lace, jack-boots, crimson coats and ruffles.

Yes, it was 300 years ago. People wore swirly cloaks, rode horses, danced and sighed, fainted and fluttered.

Thanks, William. This is A Midnight Modern Conversation (from 1733: when Dick would have been 28). Thank Heaven for Hogarth. Without him we'd see the 18th century as all neat, ordered, polite and brushed-off - a static Thomas Gainsborough world:

Very lovely. But as posed, artificial and political an image as the airbrushed covers of Vogue or Hello. You get closer to 18th-century Man walking through Leeds City Centre on a Saturday night.

People don't really become more polite, better dressed and more lovely as you go further back into the past. This is the myth of social entropy, a Grumpy Old Men-view of the universe passed off as truth. We have always mourned a great 'Golden Age' and correspondingly always derided the Youth of Today. It seems to be human nature.

Old Crime was once True Crime, Modern Crime, Crime-next-Door. Highway robbery was about as genteel and seductive as car-jacking or street-robbery are not.

And Turpin - he was a right bastard.

Sunday, June 18

Moral Duties

Writing a novel with a violent theme - more: writing a novel whose protagonist is an infamous criminal - you inevitably must consider the question of your intent.

Dick Turpin is a man who has been glamourised in quite literally every artistic form - verse, song, film, tv, art. Given that this veneer of heroism was applied even while Turpin was still alive, when there were dozens of householders and travellers to hand who could attest to his being quite otherwise, it is difficult to blame the 19th-century romancers who continued and amplified this work.

Charles Dickens was one of the first authors to consciously attempt to redress the balance. Not with regard to Turpin specifically, though in Barnaby Rudge he did include a very un-glamourous highwayman; but his aim as a novellist from the outset was to show crime and criminals in their social context and all their human ugliness - and I have very much wanted to follow his example in this matter.

It is a fine line to walk along: as soon as you begin to understand the social or psychological background to a crime, it becomes more difficult to describe it: it is detestable, but comprehensible. Some little part of it has entered into you, in your imagination, and so you feel a degree of pity even for the unpitiable and pitiless Mr. Turpin.

I have begun, in short, to feel sorry for him; and as my narrative draws ever-nearer its close, I even begin to dread having to kill him off. But I must be honest and true, which means not drawing back from showing him in his brutality. He is no hero.

As the Animals sang: "I'm just a soul whose intentions are good"... but, as Dr. Johnson would reply, that is not enough.

BOSWELL: [of Rousseau] "I don't deny, Sir, but that his novel may, perhaps, do harm; but I cannot think his intention was bad."
JOHNSON: "Sir, that will not do. We cannot prove any man's intention to be bad. You may shoot a man through the head, and say you intended to miss him; but the Judge will order you to be hanged. An alleged want of intention, when evil is committed, will not be allowed in a court of justice."

Boswell's Life of Johnson
Vol. 1 1709-1776

Friday, June 16

Amsterdam redux

Should Dick have walked back from the dockside in Amsterdam, beyond Dam Square, down Herengracht and across to Spuistraat he would have walked past these two buildings:

The houses in Amsterdam didn't have numbers, instead they were identified by the type of decoration at the top of the house.

Thursday, June 15


In one of his letters to his son, the Earl of Chesterfield (a Man of Manners if ever there was one) gives what must be the first ever description of a toilet book:

I knew a gentleman, who was so good a manager of his time, that he would not even lose that small portion of it, which the calls of nature obliged him to pass in the necessary-house; but gradually went through all the Latin poets, in those moments.
He bought, for example, a common edition of Horace, of which he tore off gradually a couple of pages, carried them with him to that necessary place, read them first, and then sent them down as a sacrifice to Cloacina: this was so much time fairly gained; and I recommend you to follow his example. It is better than only doing what you cannot help doing at those moments; and it will make any book, which you shall read in that manner, very present in your mind.
Books of science, and of a grave sort, must be read with continuity; but there are very many, and even very useful ones, which may be read with advantage by snatches, and unconnectedly; such are all the good Latin poets, except Virgil in his "AEneid": and such are most of the modern poets, in which you will find many pieces worth reading, that will not take up above seven or eight minutes.
Bayle's, Moreri's, and other dictionaries, are proper books to take and shut up for the little intervals of (otherwise) idle time, that everybody has in the course of the day, between either their studies or their pleasures. Good night.

London, December 18 1747

In that sleep

Give him to swift conveyors
to bear with them,
even to the twin brethren,
Sleep and Death.

Homer: Iliad