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Tales of Turpin
Folklore or Fact?

Though Berkshire was indeed renowned for its dangerous thoroughfares, Dick Turpin is unlikely to have been one of the county’s unwanted visitors. Tradition says Dick was born in Hempstead (Essex) and his home county remained his usual haunt for the rest of his life. He did, however, make occasional forays into East London, with regular visits to Yorkshire and Lincoln. Turpin was hanged in York for horse-stealing on 7th April 1739, but his story did not become popular until the nineteenth century when Edward Viles produced his penny dreadfuls of the “Knight of the Road” in 254 weekly parts. Ever since, Dick’s name has been attributed to most highway exploits, whether real or imaginary.

Turpin’s associations with Berkshire are, naturally, difficult to prove one way or the other. It is likely that at least some of the stories are based upon real highwaymen who once worked this area, even if it was not Dick himself. The Hind's Head in Bracknell certainly had an unsavoury reputation, and would have been the ideal watering hole for such ruffians. It once stood with the old Manor House, alone, isolated in the middle of Bagshot Heath. Signs of secret passages near the Old Manor Hotel were, in fact, uncovered, during roadworks some years ago, when a large hole opened up beneath the ground but, of course, their use is still unknown. If Dick Turpin used them, he would not have been going to the Bracknell Parish Church. Holy Trinity, Bracknell was not built until 1851, though it is possible that the ancient Easthampstead Church was meant. Turpin’s supposed connections with Stubbings Vicarage are also erroneous, for this wasn’t built until 1850-54 either. I have only been able to discover one story about “Turpin’s Lodge” on Cookham Dean Common, and it has nothing to do with highwaymen. The monks of Bisham Abbey were said to have stabled their horses here ready for easy escape in times of trouble.

The Sonning story, however, has a truthful ring to it, for the authority of Berkshire officials would indeed have stopped at the county boundary and Dick would have been quite safe in Oxfordshire. There is no reason why Dick’s aunt shouldn’t have lived in Berkshire, and this would certainly explain why he visited the county and why his memory remains so strong here. The tale is backed up by several old diaries kept by a prominent local family in the eighteenth century, but the famous French highwayman, Claude Duval, also had a house in the village, so there have been some mix-up. “Turpins” was once three cottages. Dick’s aunt lived in the most easterly of them which, within living memory, boasted a loose-box below its floors. Sadly, this was blocked up sometime before the last war, its two half-doors being removed to the drawing room of the cottage above. Some say that “Turpins” was itself the Dog Inn that Dick frequented, and was run by his aunt. However, this seems to have come about because one of the other cottages incorporated into the house later became one of the many village inns. Furthermore, near the real Dog Inn, a horse’s skull was once dug up and claimed as that of Black Bess herself!

Next: Places associated with the Legend
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    © Nash Ford Publishing 2001. All Rights Reserved.