Skip to content

Have we been making a grave mistake about Dick Turpin’s final resting place?

Posted on 7 July 2017

A University of York historian has uncovered new research suggesting the notorious 18th Century highwayman Dick Turpin is unlikely to be buried in the marked grave as previously thought.


Contemporary accounts indicated that Turpin was buried in St George’s graveyard. Pic Credit: Alistair Keely

Dick Turpin was tried, convicted of horse theft and sent to the gallows in York in 1739. Contemporary accounts show he was buried in St George’s graveyard in York,  where a large headstone marks his final resting place.

But the prominent headstone and surrounding concrete square grave was put up after 1918, presumably to commemorate a person of historical significance and boost the tourist trade.

James Sharpe, Professor Emeritus of Early Modern History at the University of York and author of Dick Turpin: The Myth of the English Highwayman, said: “Contemporary accounts tell of how Turpin’s body was taken from the gallows and buried in St George’s graveyard.

Body-snatchers

“However, body-snatchers attempted to steal the body, so the coffin was filled with slaked lime to render it unusable to the body-snatchers and reburied.

“While researching my book I became increasingly sceptical that the grave visible today actually contains Dick Turpin’s remains. 

“It is unlikely that a convicted felon would be buried in a marked grave and all of the other gravestones in the small graveyard date from after Turpin’s death.”

“Wherever Dick Turpin is buried is a mystery, but it seems very unlikely that he’s under the current headstone.”

Turpin was born in 1705, the son of a butcher and inn keeper.  He moved into the butchery business before progressing from dealing in stolen game to being a member of a vicious gang of robbers.

The gang targeted isolated farmhouses across the Home Counties and terrorised and tortured the occupants into handing over cash and valuables.

Execution

Many of the gang were caught and hanged in 1735 but Turpin, who had a large bounty on his head, turned to highway robbery and eventually teamed up with another renowned highwayman Matthew King.

King was shot and killed in a fight with a posse of law - enforcers, and a little later, in May 1737, Turpin murdered a man who tried to arrest him at his hideout in Essex.

 He then went into hiding, and after living in Lincolnshire in the summer of 1738 turned up in Brough in East Yorkshire under the assumed name of John Palmer.

He was arrested for break of the peace, and while being held in Beverley suspicions of horse-theft grew against him, and he was transferred to York prison to await the trial that resulted in his execution.

Contact details

Alistair Keely
Head of Media Relations

Tel: +44 (0)1904 322153

Keep up to date

 Subscribe to news feeds

 Follow us on Twitter