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Map by kind permission of Pat Banister & Heckington Village Trust

For many, many photos of Heckington past and present see the Books on Heckington page


 Turpin stole a horse from Charles Townsend  in July 1737, but instead of taking it

across the Humber to sell in Yorkshire, he took it with him on a surprise visit to his

family, his father, John Turpin, then being landlord of the Blue Bell inn at Hempstead in

Essex. When Turpin retumed to the north, for what ever reason he left the horse he had

stolen from Charles Townsend behind him. Everyone in Hempstead was fully aware of

the identity of Turpin senior's son, and the sudden arrival of a strange horse in his stable

was calculated to arouse suspicion. Interested parties in Essex conducted enquiries about

the horse, which was found to belong to Charles Townsend, and John Turpin accordingly

found himself on 12 September 1738 committed to gaol in Essex to await trial for horse

theft. He betrayed a gaol break planned by a group of his fellow prisoners in early

February 1739, a circumstance which probably aided the charges against him being

thown out at Chelmsford assizes on 5 March.

Turpin's retum to Lincolnshire after his visit home seems to have been the point at

which he dabbled in sheep theft, although the only evidence we have of these activities is

justice Delamere's letter, as reported by Richard Appleton. This suggests that Turpin was

actually arrested for the offence, but escaped. But he did so without a horse, which was

obviously going to impede his progress to Yorkshire. His solution was to steal three

horses at Heckington, about twenty miles from Long Sutton on the road north. The

horses, a mare. her foal and a gelding, belonged to Thomas Creasy, who discovered on

17 or 18 August that the three horses, which he had last seen on Heckington common a

day previously, were missing. Creasy hired men to ride in a forty mile radius around

Heckington to make enquiries if the horses had been seen, and also, employing a

technique that was being increasingly resorted to by those who had had goods stolen from

them, advertised the lost horses in the market towns of the area. These measures proved

fruitless. but, as Creasy was later to explain at Turpin's trial, he had a lucky break:

One John Baxter, a neighbour of mine told me, that he had been at

Pocklington fair in Yorkshire and laying all night at Brough, he

happened to hear ofa man that was taken up and sent to the House

of Correction at Beverley for shooting a game cock, who had such a

mare and foal as mine. Upon which information I came to Ferraby

[i.e. Ferriby] near Beverley and put up my horse at Richard

Grassby's who kept a publick house; and began to enquire of him

about the mare and foal. Who told me there was such like a mare and

foal in their neighbourhood which I thought by the description he

gave me, to be mine; so then I told him, I was come to enquire about

such a mare and foal.

Grassby showed Creasy the two horses, which he promptly claimed as his own. Richard

Grassby also told Creasy that Palmer had ridden on a black gelding with a star on its

forehead, similar to the one he had lost, when he had been committed to Beverley House

of Correction. He then went to Beverley, discovered that the gelding was still being

stabled at the Blue Bell, and again claimed it as his own. Creasv obtained ajustice's

order to recover his horse, and subsequently showed it to Carey Gill, the constable of


Although the mare and the foal were still at Welton, Turpin had already been able to

sell them on. The buyer was Captain George Dawson of Brigadier General Harrison's

Regiment. This unit was stationed at Bristol, but Dawson was on leave at Ferriby,

some two miles from Welton, when he saw a man walk ing a mare and a foal. .,,..+

According to the account he gave the court at Turpin's trial, he saw the two horses

when a man was walking them, who, on enquiry, said that they 'belonged to one

Palmer'. Turpin, in his identity of Palmer, 'was coming up the street ... who told me it

was his mare and foal, and that they were bred in Lincolnshire'. Dawson asked if

Palmer was will ing to sell the foal, to which Palmer replied that he would prefer to

sell the mare and the foal together. Dawson said he'had no occasion for the mare,

only for the foal'. and when Palmer responded that he wanted three guineas tbr the foal,

Dawson replied that this was too much, and offered two. The negotiations broke off,

but were resumed when the two men came across each other again a little later. Turpin

obviously had a good sales technique ('the prisoner being a little pressing about it', in

Dawson's words). for Dawson decided to take the mare with the foal for four guineas,

also throwing in 'a horse of no great value'. 'Being obliged to go to my regiment',

Dawson explained,'l left the place soon after', leaving the mare and the foal in the

custody of Richard Grassby. Dawson's statement was later to prove crucial at Turpin's


By the autumn of 1738 evidence was therefore building up against John Palmer,

prisoner in York Castle. with rumours of his shady goings on now becoming crystallised

by the specific accusation that he had stolen these horses from Thomas Creasy. Horse theft

was a capital offence, but it was unusual for a first offender to be executed for it.

John Palmer. despite his lack of contacts in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, and despite such

evidence as justice Delamere from Long Sutton might have been able to provide, might

well have been able to escape the noose in that lottery which the workings of the

eighteenth century criminal justice system constituted. Richard Turpin, the notorious

malefactor, would have stood little chance of escaping execution on this or any other

indictment for felony.

It is doubtful if cutting the costs of central government expenditure was Crowle's major

concern. Maybe some sort of local pride, a feeling that Turpin had been apprehended by

Yorkshire iustices and hence ought to be tried in Yorkshire. mav have motivated him.

l- More pertinent, perhaps, was the fact that Crowle felt confident that if the trial were held

in York, he would be able to ensure that one of the members for the prosecution, a

significant position given Turpin's importance, should be his younger brother Richard,

then an Attomey in the Inner Temple in London. Crowle could not have swung this

minor act of nepotism if the trial had taken place in Essex or London, and Richard was

not well established enough to ensure a place on a southrn prosecution team on the

strength of his own reputation. Newcastle evidently fretted over the matter, and on 2l

March sent a messenger up to York with a copy of the Essex coroner's inquest on

Morris's death, and details of various robberies committed by Turpin in the south, with a

view, as the York Courant of 27 March 1739 put it, 'of removing him to Chelmsford, if

he had not been capitally convicted here'. But by that date Newcastle's caution had been

rendered otiose.

The York winter assizes opened on 19 March '739, although the time needed to deal

with civil actions at the court meant that Turpin's trial did not take place until Thursday

22 March. Turpin was indicted on two counts: firstly. for stealing a mare worth three

pounds and a foal worth twenty shillings, and secondly for stealing a gelding worth three

pounds, all three animals being the property of Thomas Creasy' The indictments both

stated that the alleged offences had taken place at Welton on I March 1739' and

described the accused as'John Palmer alias Pawmer alias Richard Turpin ... late of

York,April 1739

Arnong those in the court was a York resident, Thomas Kyll, a self styled 'Professor

of Shorthand'. Kyll used his skills to good effect that Thursday, and took down full notes

of the proceedings against Turpin, which he published as a verbatim record of the trial

proceedings a few days after Turpin's execution. Our account of the trial depends heavily

on this publication.

Proceedings were directed by the Counsel for the King, a position filled by Thomas Place,

Recorder of York, whom we have already met taking care that Newcastle should be

informed of Turpin's presence in York Castle as quickly as possible, and by Richard

Crowle, who held this prestigious position through his locally powerful brother's

influence. The accused in English criminal trials of the period had no right to legal

representation, the theory being that the presiding judge looked after their interests as a

sort of umpire between the prosecution and the accused. The first witness to be called

against Turpin was Thomas Creasy, owner of the horses that Turpin stood charged for

stealing. Creasy gave straightforward evidence about finding that his horses had gone,

and told how he had found them through the help of his neighbour who picked up gossip

in Brough after visiting Pocklington fair, and through the help of Richard Grassby.

Creasy was able to give convincing evidence about the animals, claiming in particular

that he was able to positively identify the mare, as he had bred her himself, and kept her

for ten years. Turpin. asked at the end of Creasy's evidence if he had anything to ask the

witness, made a complain that he was to repeat several times in various forms that

Thursday: 'l cannot say anything, for I have not any witnesses come this day, as I have

expected, and therefore beg of your Lordship to put off my trial

till another day.' He also claimed, bizarrely (and, given the inaccuracy in the dating of his

alleged offences on his indictments, ironically). that he was in prison in York Castle on

l8 August I 738. a notion that the King's Counsel immediately crushed.

'The second witness was Captain Dawson, who gave evidence about buying the mare

and the foal, and he was followed by Richard Grassby. Grassby gave evidence about the

sale of the mare and foal, and also made a few points about Turpin's character: 'He had

no settled way of living, that I know of at all, though a dealer, yet he was a stranger, and

lived like a gentleman ... he was reckoned a stranger.' George Goodyear, one of Thomas

Creasy's neighbours, was called in and gave brief evidence about the mare and foal,

and then Grassby was called upon again to confirm that Turpin had appeared with the sus'

pect mare and foal in August.

The next two witnesses to be called were James Smith ('Mr James Smith' to the court,

indicating a certain status) and Mr Edward Saward, who came from Essex by order of

the justices of that county, were called to prove this Palmer to be Richard Turpin, the

noted highwayman'. Smith. asked initially if he recognised Turpin, replied,'Yes, I knew

him at Hempstead in Essex where he was bom, I knew him when he was a child', adding

that 'l knew his father and all his relations. and he married one of my father's maids'.

Smith gave more evidence in this vein, and also told the court of the discovery of the

letter from Turpin to his brother'in'law. Turpin, asked if he had any questions to ask

Smith, replied simply, I never knew him.' Edward Saward gave his evidence next. He

comes across as a rather fussy man, and his habit of making statements upon my soul'

evidently irritated the King's Counsel ('Friend, you have sworn once already, you need

not swear again'). But his evidence constituted a useful supplement to James Smith's.

Saward was also from Hempstead, had known Turpin for many years, and had bought a

great many good joints of meat of him' after he had set up as a butcher, ard was able to

identify him positively as Dick Turpin, the son ofJohn Turpin who keeps the Bell at

Hempstead'. Turpin, so Kyll tells us,denied he knew Edward Saward but seemed at last

to own [i.e. acknowledge] Smith'. James Smith was questioned further, and stated that

when he first identified Turpin in York Castle the highwayman'did confess to know

me and said unto me two or three times, "Let us bung our eyes in drink", ard I drank with

him. which is this Richard Turpin'. The evidence of these Essex witnesses had no

relevance to the charges of horse theft on which Turpin wgs standing trial, but they were

obviously useful in making much easier the court's task of holding'Turpin should

the charges of horse theft fail. lnecnalges

was then questioned. He claimed that he bought the mare and foal to Dick

who kept an inn near Heckington. He also repeated the story that he had

his name to Palmer, which he claimed was.his mother's maiden name (in fact, it

was Parminter: was 'Palmer' a streamlined version of this, or a northern mishearing of

Turpin's southern accent that he had decided to go along with?). He claimed that he had

adopted the alias 'having been long out of trade, and run myself in debt'. Sir William

Chapple gave his directions to the jury, and the jurymen'without leaving court brought in

their verdict "Guilty"'. The second charge, of stealing the gelding, engendered less

Iengthy proceedings. Creasy was called again, and gave a description of the horse and

told how he had found it at an inn in Beverley. Carey Gill, the constable of Welton, told

how he had arrested Turpin for shooting a cock, and how Turpin had ridden the gelding

when he. Gill. had escorted him from Welton to Beverley House of Correction' Finally,

Smith *as called on again to confirm that John Palmer was, in fact, Richard Turpin,

replying that'l have known him from his infancy these twentytwo years and he is the

very Richard Turpin which I have known at Hempstead, the son of John Turpin of that

town'. Turpin, asked if he had any more to say, simply replied, 'l bought this horse of

Whitehead.' The jury again retumed a verdict of guilty.

The judge then asked Turpin if he could give any reason why the sentence of death

should not be pronounced upon him. Turpin returned to a theme on which he had harped

throughout the trial, alleging that he had not been allowed sufficient time to prepare his

defence. He had begged that the trial shouid be put off until another day after Thomas

Creasy had given his initial evidence, and at a later point claimed that he had sent a

special messenger for witnesses, and when it transpired that these had not arrived,

Turpin claimed that he would have them tomorrow, adding, 'l am sure no man can say ill

of me in Yorkshire.' He then claimed that he had three witnesses in court, but these did

not appear when called, his claims being probably based on desperation. Told that he had

no witnesses, Turpin tried another tactic, claiming that 'l thought I should have been

removed to Essex for I did not expect td be tied in this country, therefore I could not

prepare witnesses to my character'. And now, asked by Chapple for reasons he could give

that he not be executed.