Dick Turpin Grave Mystery Deepens

5th July, 2017

New research points the fact that Dick Turpin, the infamous 18th century highwayman, is unlikely to be buried in the marked grave in a York cemetery as previously thought.

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, where a large headstone marks his final resting place. Or does it?

Stuart Jarman, general manager at The York Dungeon, explains, “As part of the research for our new Dick Turpin show we consulted with renowned historian and Dick Turpin scholar Professor James Sharpe, at the University of York. At The Dungeons we are renowned for presenting fascinating aspects of history in a scary, fun and entertaining way, but we always strive for historical accuracy. There is a mystery surrounding what happened to Dick Turpin’s body, which we’d like to get to the bottom of.”

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

After being contacted by The York Dungeon Professor Sharpe dug a little deeper and says he has now uncovered new evidence that casts further doubt on the final resting place of Dick Turpin.

Says Professor Sharpe, “My investigation of new sources shows that there was no Dick Turpin headstone in St.George’s graveyard prior to 1918, meaning the current headstone is a recent addition. Wherever Dick Turpin is buried is a mystery, but it seems very unlikely that he’s under the current headstone.”

Stuart Jarman from The York Dungeon adds, “After nearly 300 years it is amazing to think there may be another twist to the Dick Turpin story, and one we hope to look deeper into in the future.”


Editor’s Notes

Dick Turpin

Richard Turpin was born in Hempstead, Essex in 1705. His father was a butcher but Dick turned to a life of crime and became a highwayman. Following his famous flee from London to Yorkshire, Turpin was residing at the Ferry Inn at Brough near Hull under the alias of John Palmer. He was arrested for shooting his neighbour’s cockerel, and imprisoned at Beverley in 1738 before being transferred to York. Unfortunately for Turpin, a letter he wrote to his brother-in-law was intercepted by his old teacher who recognised Dick’s handwriting and travelled to York Castle Prison to identify him.

Dick Turpin was tried and convicted of horse theft at the York Assizes. On Saturday April 7th 1739, he was taken from the jail to the gallows at the Knavesmire. By all accounts he planned a good send off, he bought a new frockcoat and shoes and paid five mourners to follow his cart to the gallows.

His official mourners looked after him well. Turpin’s body was laid out in the Blue Boar in Castlegate, where it attracted a crowd of curious onlookers. The next morning his body was buried in St George’s churchyard. But he didn’t stay in the ground for long. In the early hours body-snatchers were spotted at work and chased by an angry mob. They recovered Turpin’s body and reburied him filling the coffin with slaked lime to render it useless to the body-snatchers.


James Sharpe, Professor Emeritus of Early Modern History at the University of York

Professor James Sharpe has well established interests in the social and cultural history of early modern England, with wider interests in witchcraft, in the history of crime and law enforcement, and in early modern judicial systems. He is author to a number books and over thirty scholarly articles and essays, including publications in The Historical Journal, Past and Present, and Social History. In 2004 James Sharpe published Dick Turpin: The Myth of English Highwaymen.


New Dick Turpin show at The York Dungeon

Dick Turpin, the infamous 18th century highwayman, will return to York in an exciting new show at The York Dungeon, this July. Visitors will be encouraged to hold on tight to their belongings while they take a seat in the carriage and travel to Dick’s place of execution at the York Knavesmire. Featuring special effects, visitors will learn all about Dick Turpin’s crimes and how he met his fate.


The brand new Dick Turpin show at York Dungeon, opens on Tuesday 18th July, 12 Clifford Street, York YO1 9RD. For details visit https://www.thedungeons.com/york/en/explore-the-dungeon/dick-turpin.aspx


For media enquires contact David Leon at The Partners Group on 01904 610077 / david@partners-group.co.uk.

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