Oct 312012
 

Today marks the anniversary of a man who has gone down in history as ‘The Butcher’ – a name oddly enough bestowed on him by his elder brother the Prince of Wales, for political reasons. The two did not get on…

 

To give him his actual name, William Augustus was born on 15 April 1721 in London and was the third son of George II and Caroline of Ansbach. The title ‘Duke of Cumberland’ was bestowed on him as a five year old.

He became a soldier and achieved great popularity for his bravery in the (successful) Battle of Dettingen (1743), where he was wounded in the leg by a musket ball. He was immediately made a Lieutenant General and within two years was placed in command of the combined British, Hanoverian, Austrian and Dutch forces. His inexperience was demonstrated at the Battle of Fontenoy, where he was comprehensively beaten by France’s Marshal Maurice de Saxe on 11 May 1745.

 

 

The ‘martial boy’ had been depicted as a great military general in this 1744 engraving (shown courtesy of the British Museum).

Later in 1745 Cumberland was recalled to England to oppose the invasion of England led by ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ (Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender, grandson of the deposed king James II). His appointment was hugely popular, particularly with the army. Up until then the rebel army had been highly successful in making use of ‘the Highland Charge’. At the Battle of Prestonpans in September 1745 and the Battle of Falkirk in January 1746, the Highland Charge caused havoc against the English army.

It was with this background that Cumberland marched up to Edinburgh and headed towards Aberdeen and then Inverness. By now he had insisted on the army being trained to combat the Highland Charge. The first row of infantry were to hold their fire until the enemy were just twelve yards away. While the front rank re-loaded, the second rank fired their guns. By the time the third rank had fired their guns, the first rank were ready to fire again.

Some of the English infantry had the benefit of using the more modern firelocks instead of the older matchlocks which were slow to re-load. Some of their guns had bayonets with which to dispatch any Scots who got too close – no match on their own for the Scottish broadsword but effective when used in conjunction with this style of fighting.

When the forces met at Culloden Moor near Inverness on 16 April 1746, the Highland Charge failed to make its mark. Some one thousand Scots died. After the battle Cumberland was purportedly in his tent playing cards. When he was asked for orders he wrote “No quarter” on the back of the nine of diamonds – a card still known to this day as the ‘curse of Scotland’.

How Richard Hall noted the victory at Culloden.

The resulting hunting-down and indiscriminate killing of men women and children in the Scottish Highlands left deep scars in much of Scotland – although interestingly the good burghers of Glasgow were so pleased with him that they promptly awarded Cumberland an honorary degree. The Highland Scots reviled him, and re-named the Common Ragwort (a noxious weed which gives off an unpleasant odour when bruised) as ‘Stinking Billie’. It is however quite wrong to attribute the naming of the flower ‘Sweet William’ to Cumberland by the English (as many have suggested) since the plant ‘Dianthus barbatus’ had been known by that name for several centuries.

 ‘Sweet William’ popularly but erroneously thought to have been named after Prince William.

 

 

 

 

 

Common Ragwort or Stinking Billie

 

 

Cumberland returned to London a hero. He was awarded an additional £25,000 per annum i.e. over and above what he already received. His brother the Prince of Wales was alarmed at the popularity of his kid brother (and perhaps miffed because he himself had been denied a military role in the campaign) and he orchestrated the use of the epithet ‘Butcher’ whenever his brother was mentioned.

Cumberland went back to Flanders, still in charge of British forces, and he led them to comprehensive defeats at Laffeldt in 1747 (War of Austrian Succession) and at Hastenbeck in 1757 (during the Seven Years War). This last battle allowed the French to take over Hanover, and Cumberland was relieved of his role as commander-in-chief of the army.

He returned to England, his reputation tarnished, being met by his father George II with the words “Here is my son who has ruined me and disgraced himself”. It was a little hard, since the King had himself authorised his son to agree the surrender terms.

Cumberland resigned from all his military positions and largely retired from public life. He had time on his hands to indulge his favourite hobby, gambling: he gambled at bare kuckle boxing matches and he gambled at horse races. In 1750 his favourite boxer Jack Broughton was up against the unknown Jack Slack. The Duke placed ten thousand pounds on Broughton to win ( a truly vast sum for a single bout, at odds of ten-to-one ON i.e. staking ten thousand to win one grand) and then watched in horror as his champion was defeated and near-blinded by the young upstart Slack, after a mere quarter of an hour.

© Peter Jackson Collection

From time to time Cumberland meddled in domestic politics, apparently trying to get William Pitt restored to office. He was however in poor health – obese and never fully recovered from the wound to his leg, he suffered a stroke. His death on 31 October 1765 was sudden. He was 44 years old (the same age at death as two of his siblings). He is buried at Westminster Abbey and his name is especially remembered in the States where the Cumberland Gap as well as the Cumberland River, Mountains, and Plateau are named after him. 

Richard’s cut-out showing soldiers riding in single file.

P.S. My thanks for the helpful link to http://londonist.com/2012/06/cavendish-square-gets-statue-made-from-soap.php where you can see an equestrian statue of the Duke, made out of …. soap!

Oct 202012
 

From time to time I feature the delicate and beautiful cut-outs made by my ancestor Richard Hall, illustrating life around him in the 18th Century. A number of people commented about the cut-outs so I decided to publish them as a separate book, using CreateSpace. Over fifty illustrations are used and I have tried to put the cut-outs into the context of Richard’s life and times. If anyone is interested, the book is only a fiver (if you are in the UK) or eight bucks (if you are in the States) and I am optimistic that you will find that in either case Amazon will dispatch for little or no cost.

Come on guys – not bad for a Christmas stocking filler! Because CreateSpace are part of Amazon the book material is automatically available on Kindle (though I have to point out that the text and illustrations line up in a printed book far better than they can ever do in an e-book).

Interested?

If you are in the States the link is here

From Britain it is here

Other European countries can also find it via their respective Amazon sites.

Thanks!

 

Sep 032012
 

The Third of September 1736 saw a botched double hanging at Gallows Acre, St Michael’s Hill Bristol. Joshua Harding had been sentenced to death for housebreaking. Another man, John Vernon, had been caught stealing from a shop. Thanks to the ferocity of the laws protecting property, and the willingness of judges to impose the death penalty in cases where nowadays even a custodial sentence might be dispensed with, hangings were commonplace and were considered ‘public entertainment’.

Imagine the amazement of the Bristol populace when they realized that the two men cut down after hanging were in fact still alive, after they had been lain out in their coffins. Presumably they were cut down too soon (eight minutes was one estimate for the time they were hanged – half an hour was perhaps more usual). Or maybe the two men were both of slight build (the heavier the victim, the quicker the death).

As the newspaper of the day reported:

“But to the Surprize of every one, after hanging the usual Time, and being cut down, Vernham was perceived to have Life in him, when put into the Coffin; and some Lightermen and others, who promis’d to save his Body from the Surgeons, carried him away to a House; and a Surgeon being sent for, immediately open’d a Vein, at which he recovered his Senses, that he had the Use of Speech, sat up, rubb’d his knees, shook Hands with divers persons that he knew, and to all seeming Appearance, a perfect Recovery was expected. The Rumour of this, soon came to the Under-Sherif’s Ears, who, with Mr. Legg, and several Officers armed, went to know the Truth, and finding it certain, were about to remove him to a proper Place, in order to have him again under their Care for a second Execution,and finishing the Law; which we hear would have been done in a private Manner, without any Ceremony: But whether any secret Method was used to dispatch him, or not, he died about Eleven o’ Clock.

And to our second Surprize, Joshua Harding is also come to Life again, and is actually now in Bride-well, where great Numbers of People resort to see him, Particularly Surgeons, curious of Observations. He lies in his Coffin, covered with a Rug, has Pulsation, breathes freely, and has a regular Look with his Eyes; but he has not been heard to speak, only motions with his Hand where his Pain lies. ‘Twas thought he would be executed a second Time; but we are now told, he is to be provided for in some convenient House of Charity, with Restraint, he being to all Appearance defective in his Intellects. Two such Resurrections happening at one Instant in the World, was never heard of in the Memory of man.”

So the unfortunate Vernon died anyway, by fair means or foul, but the records show that Harding recovered, was generally known by the name of “Half-hanged Harding”… and was eventually transported to the colonies for fourteen years.

And to end this sad piece, one of Richard Hall’s own paper cut-outs, showing the nonchalance of the two riders having a gossip: to them the gallows were a common sight, not worthy of their attention:

 

Aug 312012
 

As a quick follow-up to my blog on illustrations cut from paper, showing life in the Georgian era, here are a few more of the cut-outs made by Richard:

First, one of two men visiting the dovecote to collect meat during the winter months (a reminder that fresh meat was hard to come by in the winter because many animals would be slaughtered and ” salted away” – leaving pigeon as the main source of fresh meat). Unfortunately the leading man’s  gun has folded back on itself and it looks more like a walking stick….I am reluctant to undo the crease in case it breaks off!

Secondly, one I have used before of the amazing rapier made by Richard. It is just over five inches long (it lost its extreme tip when I failed to exercise due care when moving it onto the scanner – oops!).

Then there is this amazingly intricate memorial cut out by Richard when his first wife died. It is hardly more than an inch wide, and must have taken hours of careful work. It shows the coffin under a temple roof, with Eleanor Hall’s age (forty six) and date of death (11th January 1780).

 

 

 

Slightly more routine, here is another coaching scene, one of cavalry, and one showing British military and naval might.

 

 

I rather like this one showing Richard up a ladder pruning one of his cherry trees:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To end with, Richard’s cut-out of rushes growing in the banks of the River Windrush at Bourton on the Water.

In all I have perhaps fifty or sixty cut-outs, and I have used  around twenty to illustrate aspects of Richard’s life in my book The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman. It looks as though paper cutting (which originally spread from  Germany to the United States, where it is known as ‘scherenschnitte’  i.e. scissor cut) was a family tradition – I have a number of rather larger cut-outs, obviously Victorian, in a note-book belonging to Richard’s grand-daughter Lucy Hall.

Aug 292012
 

Some of the more remarkable groups of papers surviving from my ancestor’s miscellany are the cut-out illustrations. There are dozens of them, and each must have taken a fair amount of time, concentration, a steady hand – and sharp scissors!

 The blades of the scissors would almost certainly have been made of steel, and in all probability have been around one and a half inches long (with two-inch handles). The ones shown are modern embroidery scissors, but of a traditional design. Richard would have kept two areas of paper uncut at opposite sides, so that he could hold on to these while he turned the paper around and cut out the detail. These holding ‘knibs’ would then have been the last two bits to be chopped off, leaving the cut-out as an incredibly delicate art-work.

I like the way Richard appears to catch movement by showing different images of the same object (in this case, deer in a forest setting). He used the same technique when showing a marching column of men, or a troop of cavalry on horseback.

 

The marchers.

 

Cavalry on the move

Richard often recorded familiar  ‘stories’ of travel by coach with (the pre-Turnpike Trust) bumpy roads, as with this scene with a coach and four:

Contrast this with a scene where the roads are less bumpy:

 

 

Any traveller would have been familiar with the risks from highway robbers:

 

 

but equally would know that when caught they would get their come-uppance (on the gallows).

 

 

 

Richard also cut out everyday scenes of country pursuits and farming activities:
               

The art of paper-cutting  was popular in Germany and Switzerland in the 18th Century and emigrants took the craft to the United States, where its popularity is such that it merits its own museum, and magazine. There is even a Guild of Paper Cutters. It has to be said however that the ‘art form’ was never really popular in England, and for that reason many paper cutters showed an interest in The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman when it was published, because it showed a style with which they were not familiar.

Me, well I am happy to enjoy them for what they are – fragile mementos of  family history.

Mar 052012
 

If Richard Hall liked writing about the weather, his brother-in-law William Snooke liked writing about his food – and in particular what he ate for Sunday Dinner (the main meal of the week). This was a repast shared with company most weeks, and it shows a delightful picture of life at the Manor House in Bourton nearly 250 years ago.

For instance, Sunday 6 August 1775 “Mr Kimber (junior) dined with us: beans and bacon, followed by Fillet of Veal (very fine) and then warmed Codlin Pie*. Richard Farmer and son in the kitchen.” In other words Mr Kimber ate with William and his wife, but his servant and the servant’s son ate with the household staff in the Kitchen.

The following week it was the turn of Mr and Mrs Raymond, accompanied by their two sons, to dine. This time it was on a Tongue (“not very good”) another Fillet of Veal and a rice pudding. The Sunday after that it was once more the Fillet of Veal but this time accompanied by “Pidgeon Pie; Mr Coles and Mrs Wood dined with us.”

On 27 August it was the turn of Mr Dawson to share a meal with William, this time on a loin of veal as well as “bacon (disapproved of beans); Apple Dumplings”. Two more visitors showed up the week after to dine upon “knuckle of veal and bacon, a leg of lamb (cold) and a fine leveret” (being a present from his guests) “finished off with cold apple pie”.

Occasionally there was a larger party dining and hence in September that year William records “Sir James Hetherington, Mr Vernon, and a farmer out of Lincolnshire dined. Mrs Mills and Miss Paxford also dined and drank tea with us. A fine cod, Greens (a present from brother Richard) Potatoes, a leg of mutton boiled after pigs fry; apple pie, puffs and a couple of ducks with sauces; then Aunts Pudding.”

A male gathering was recorded later in September when Mr Reynolds, Mr Boswell, Mr Beddams and Mr Palmer turned up – “the females all being engaged” and the men polished off salmon with Greens and Potatoes, followed up by “a calf’s head, a brace of partridges and then finished off with a plumb pudding (boiled)”

The two partridges cost a shilling (“paid to Mr Whitmore’s man”) but there is no record to show when he polished off the fifty crayfish, bought that week for two shillings off Thomas Reynolds. He also bought eight penn’orth of walnuts, paid four shillings for a cask of porter (beer) and paid for “one and a half dozen pidgeons at two shillings and sixpence per dozen” (that is, just under two pence a bird).

 

Richard recorded a pastoral scene with the birds pecking away alongside the pigeon loft. Unfortunately part of the cut-out figure has been folded back on itself – the advancing man is in fact pointing a gun but it looks more like he is holding a walking stick!

 

*Codlin Pie:

Put some small codlins into a clean pan with spring water, lay vine-leaves onthem, and cover them with a cloth wrapped round the cover of the pan to keep in the steam. As soon as they grow soft, peel them, and put them in the same water with the vine-leaves. Hang them a great height over the fire to green, and when of a fine colour, take them out of the water, and put them into a deep dish, with as much powder and loaf sugar as will sweeten them. Make the lid of rich puff paste, and bake it. When it comes from the oven, take off the lid, and cut it in little pieces like sippets, and stick them round the inside of the pie with the points upwards. Then add a liaison”

Extract from The London Art Of Cookery and Domestic Housekeepers’ Complete Assistant“, by John Farley. With thanks to http://chestofbooks.com/food/recipes/The-London-Art-Of-Cookery/Pies-Part-8.html

Jan 182012
 

“I give and bequeath unto my Sister in Law Ann Snooke Ten Guineas and to each of my nieces the daughters of my said Sister in Law a Mourning Ring of a guinea value.”

In his will Richard Hall bequeathed a mourning ring to each of his nieces. None of the five remain in the family but there is a very good chance that the rings looked like this one, shown courtesy of http://www.worthpoint.com/

Offered for sale on e-bay it is described as an ‘1818 gold and jet mounted mourning ring’.

Richard was simply following a tradition by making a present of a mourning ring to close family and friends. It was a sort of status symbol  – ‘see how many friends I have’ – so much so that the diarist Samuel Pepys left instructions for no fewer than 129 mourning rings to be handed to doleful recipients at his funeral in 1703. It was not unusual for the testator to specify the design and materials – typical Richard that all he specified was the cost!

To modern tastes the whole thing may seem macabre, because it has largely fallen out of fashion. We tend to associate the excessive reminders of mourning with Queen Victoria – the casts of hands and arms of dead children, the wearing of black jewellery made from jet, and so on. And yet it is fascinating to see how successive generations cope with the grief of mourning. The items of jewellery can be hugely symbolic, with their lovers knots, seed pearls signifying frozen tears, and so on. We may recoil at wearing rings decorated with skulls, or draw back from wrapping a picture of a coffin around our little fingers, but back in the eighteenth century nobody would think ‘There goes a Goth, how warped!’

For Richard Hall, one way of coping with his wife’s death was to sit down and spend hours cutting out this intricate picture of the coffin – it may well have been designed to fit into the back of his watch case, and served the same purpose as a ring with a locket of the deceased’s hair i.e. to keep a memento close to him at all times.

 

Everything about the mourning rings was symbolic – it is a sort of language where you need to learn to unlock the message. White enamel was used for the finely scrolled mourning rings commemorating the demise of an unmarried person – black enamel was used for someone who was married. Often the ring would have the name and age of the deceased engraved on the shank, along with the date of death.

Nowhere will you find a more succinct and enthusiastic explanation of mourning rings – indeed the whole Art of Mourning – than the eponymous Art of Mourning site at http://artofmourning.com/ It describes this ring from the early years of the 1800’s as having “a shank which…twists the centre glass panel into a diamond shape … the open shank design (here in a circular pattern has an open and wirework style.”

Another variety is shown on the same site, with the analysis:

“The 19th Century saw a dramatic change from the Georgian opulence in rings to the bolder, and more common, Victorian pieces.

“The mourning band above carries through the previous enamelling along the band. The piece below from 1838 is a continuation of this style, but in its own form. The evolution of this piece began in the mid 18th Century with scrollwork shanks and thinner memorial bands.”

                                                   

 “From the turn of the 19th Century style of this piece, the anachronistic nature of the above ring clashes with its design. A skull is painted upon the hair memento and the shank itself is rolled in the fashion of the mid 18th Century, but the style is essentially very early 19th Century.”
Art of Mourning has a picture of this superb example of a gold and enamel ring, dating  from 1818.

                   

 

         
The hair is hidden behind the urn, and can be seen from the rear view.The Regency period saw a marked shift in mourning rings. They became smaller and more wearable. A coil of hair beneath oval shaped glass is a common factor in jewellery of this time. Pearls also become  popular as a material, as well as jet and turquoise.
Personally I find the whole history of mourning fashions fascinating and as Art of Mourning has its own blog I can do no better than recommend it. You can find it at http://artofmourning.wordpress.com
To close: here is a beautiful example of a ring from the 1720s, a style prevalent when Richard was growing up, and shown on the blogsite mentioned above. Exquisite.
Dec 192011
 

It is a curious thing, fate. Most people comply with the adage of Master Shakespeare (‘some are born great; some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them’) but then occasionally you get a person who lives a squalid, mean little life, and yet who is immortalised and lionised as a hero while nothing could be further from the truth. An example of the latter person was Dick Turpin. That he lived is not in doubt. That he was ever the derring-do hero who lived a life of passion and swaggering nonchalance is unlikely. That he owned a horse called Black Bess, or rode it from London to York in a day is not only false but a straight lift from the exploits of a much earlier criminal. Why, Turpin was not even a highwayman for most of his life. He was a thief, a sadistic torturer, a murderer and a thoroughly unpleasant guy. So how come he is immortalised as some kind of folk hero?

One suspects that Turpin would be the most amazed of all at the transformation. He had been born in Essex in 1706 the son of a famer John Turpin, who at one time was proprietor of a public house called the Crown Inn. He was apprenticed as a butcher, in Whitechapel, but apparently “conducted himself in a loose and disorderly manner.”
When his apprenticeship finished he reputedly married a local girl called Miss Palmer. He subsequently opened a butcher’s shop in Essex, but gained a reputation  for dealing in beef and lamb stolen from local farms, and venison poached from the deer parks and forests of the neighbourhood.

Richard Hall’s version of a deer park.

He also tried his hand at smuggling, but failed miserably. He himself was not averse to a little cattle rustling, being caught in the act of stealing two oxen. He fled the scene and went into hiding and at some stage became a member of the notorious Essex Gang a.k.a. the Gregory Gang.

Their ‘speciality’ was raiding remote farmhouses, often late at night, terrorising the inhabitants before stealing their valuables. He was not averse to torturing his victims to help them remember where they kept their valuables – on one occasion holding his elderly female hostage over the open fire until she revealed the hiding place. On at least one occasion the gang raped a young servant. Hardly the stuff of legend…

According to the Newgate Chronicle ‘they fixed on a spot between the King’s-Oak and the Loughton Road, on Epping Forest, where they made a cave, which was large enough to receive them and their horses. This cave was inclosed within a sort of thicket of bushes and brambles, through which they could look and see passengers on the road, while themselves remained unobserved. From this station they used to issue, and robbed such a number of persons, that at length the very pedlars who travelled the road, carried fire-arms for their defence: and, while they were in this retreat, Turpin’s wife used to supply them with necessaries, and frequently remained in the cave during the night.’

The gang ventured further afield, becoming notorious throughout the Home Counties not least because of their ruthlessness and their willingness to resort to torture. Their offences were regularly reported in the Press and by 1735 the London Evening Post was reporting that the Crown had offered a reward of fifty pounds for the capture of the gang. Two of the gang were caught, but Turpin escaped through a window just as the constables arrived. For a while he lay low in the depths of Epping Forest. Here he met up with Tom King – a far more likely candidate for a person having a reputation as a swash-buckling ne’er-do-well.

The Newgate Calendar is a fascinating publication – albeit one not necessarily too worried about following strict truth. It was a sort of National Enquirer of its day. It started as a monthly bulletin of executions, kept by the Keeper at Newgate Prison, but the name was appropriated by others and became a byword for the sort of chapbook which delighted audiences in the Eighteenth Century, who could not get enough lurid prose listing the heinous exploits of rapists, thieves and murderers, particularly when they got their come-uppance. Who cared that the events described were not always accurate: they were thrilling tales of criminals, and by the middle 1770s it was described as being one of the three books most likely to be found in the average home (the other two being the Bible and Pilgrims Progress).
Meanwhile back in Epping Forest…The exploits of King and Turpin had led to the reward for their capture being increased by one hundred pounds – enough to tempt a gamekeeper in the forest called Thomas Morris to track Turpin down. Turpin was cornered, and shot Morris dead. The murder was reported to the Secretary of State and the Newgate Calendar takes up the story:
“It having been represented to the King, that Richard Turpin did, on Wednesday, the 4th of May last, barbarously murder Thomas Morris, servant to Henry Thompson, one of the keepers of Epping Forest, and commit other notorious felonies and robberies, near London, his Majesty is pleased to promise his most gracious pardon to any of his accomplices, and a reward of 200 pounds to any person or persons that shall discover him, so that he may be apprehended and convicted. Turpin was born at Thackstead, in Essex, is about thirty, by trade a butcher, about five feet nine inches high, very much marked with the small-pox, his cheek-bones broad, his face thinner towards the bottom; his visage short, pretty upright, and broad about the shoulders.”
Shortly after this, Turpin decided that he wanted to get rid of his own nag, and took a fancy to a fine horse belonging to a Mr Major. He stole the new horse at gunpoint (horse-stealing being a hanging offence, ranked as high as murder on the scale of felonies). Mr Major would not take the loss lying down: he had handbills printed and circulated around pubs in the London area; he described the horse and named Turpin as the perpetrator. In fact Turpin had stabled the horse at the Red Lion in Whitechapel, but it was Tom King who came to collect it and who was faced by two constables lying in wait. To follow the Newgate Calendar:
King … drew a pistol (and) attempted to fire it, but it flashed in the pan; he then endeavoured to draw out another pistol, but he could not, as it got entangled in his pocket. At this time Turpin was watching at a small distance and riding towards the spot, King cried out, “Shoot him, or we are taken;” on which Turpin fired, and shot his companion, who called out, “Dick, you have killed me;” which the other hearing, rode off at full speed.
King lived a week after this affair, and gave information that Turpin might be found at a house near Hackney-marsh; and, on inquiry, it was discovered that Turpin had been there on the night that he rode off, lamenting that he had killed King, who was his most faithful associate.”
Turpin fled North and settled near York under the identity of ‘John Palmer’. He continued to rustle cattle in neighbouring Lincolnshire and in 1738 became involved in an incident when he shot a rooster belonging to his landlord. When the landlord (named Mr Hall, but as far as I know no relation) remonstrated with Turpin, our hero replied that if he would give him long enough to reload his gun he would shoot him also. The constables were called, and people started asking questions about how Mr Palmer was able to finance his lifestyle. People had noticed that when he disappeared to Lincolnshire he invariably returned with a different horse and was flush with funds. The magistrates had him locked up on suspicion of horse stealing. And here the tale takes a curious turn. The Newgate Calendar reports:
After (Turpin) had been about four month in prison, he wrote the following letter to his brother in Essex:
“Dear Brother,
York, Feb. 6, 1739.
“I am sorry to acquaint you, that I am now under confinement in York Castle, for horse-stealing. If I could procure an evidence from London to give me a character, that would go a great way towards my being acquitted. I had not been long in this county before my being apprehended, so that it would pass off the readier. For Heaven’s sake dear brother, do not neglect me; you will know what I mean, when I say,
I am yours,
“JOHN PALMER.”
Apparently the brother declined to pay sixpence for the letter, since he knew nobody of the name Palmer in York, and the letter was returned unopened to the local Post Office in Essex. Here fate intervened: the letter was seen by a school-master by the name of Mr Smith. He had taught Turpin and amazingly claimed to reconize the handwriting, and he rushed off to tell the local magistrate. The letter was opened and the true identity of John Palmer was revealed. The Newgate Calendar continues:
“Hereupon the magistrates of Essex dispatched Mr. Smith to York, who immediately selected him from all the other prisoners in the castle. This Mr. Smith, and another gentle man, afterwards proved his identity on his trial.
On the rumour that the noted Turpin was a prisoner in York Castle, persons flocked from all parts of the country to take a view of him, and debates ran very high whether he was the real person or not. Among others who visited him, was a young fellow who pretended to know the famous Turpin, and having regarded him a considerable time with looks of great attention, he told the keeper he would bet him half a guinea that he was not Turpin; on which the prisoner, whispering the keeper, said, ‘Lay him the wager, and I’ll go your halves.’
When this notorious malefactor was brought to trial, he was convicted on two indictments, and received sentence of death.”
Only at this stage did Turpin begin to show the flamboyance and style for which he is now remembered. He reportedly bought himself a new fustian frock and a pair of pumps (so that he could look his best on the way to his execution) and paid ten shillings to each of five men to act as mourners. They accompanied him as he waved gaily to the crowds when he was placed in a cart and wheeled off to York racecourse on 7th April 1739. Or, as the Newgate Calendar put it:
“On the morning of his death he was put into a cart, and being followed by his mourners … he was drawn to the place of execution, in his way to which he bowed to the spectators with an air of the most astonishing indifference and intrepidity.When he came to the fatal tree, he ascended the ladder; when his right leg trembling, he stamped it down with an air of assumed courage, as if he was ashamed of discovering any signs of fear, Having conversed with the executioner about half an hour, he threw himself off the ladder, and expired in a few minutes.”
It wasn’t quite the end for Dick Turpin. He was buried six feet down but that first night body-snatchers exhumed the corpse and absconded with it. It was apparently found the next day in the garden of a local doctor, whereupon it was  coated with quick lime and re-interred.
And the fables? They started immediately after his death with the publication of a book entitled ‘Life of Richard Turpin’ but only really gained credence when Harrison Ainsworth published his novel ‘Rockwood’ in 1834. He was the one who introduced Black Bess, and who attributed to Turpin a ride to York which was actually made thirty years before Turpin’s birth, by one John (‘Swift Nick’) Nevison. The tale was told and re-told, becoming more and more embellished in the re-telling, and slowly a charmless, cruel and murderous young man who killed his own partner was turned into ‘dandy highwayman, folk hero of his day’. But whoever said that life was fair?
hangman
The papercuts are all made by my ancestor Richard Hall, mostly dating from the 1780s (lots more are to be found in The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman).