Dick Turpin's Tombstone – York, England - Atlas Obscura

Dick Turpin's Tombstone

The final resting place of England's most notorious bandit.  


The county of Essex has produced a great many legends, but perhaps none so notorious as cattle-worrying highwayman Richard “Dick” Turpin. For a time, his interred remains proved almost as elusive as the man himself. Today, a rather singular headstone in a deserted churchyard in York proclaims to be Turpin’s final resting place. 

Turpin was born in 1705. He apprenticed as a butcher, but turned to crime and fell in with a gang of cattle rustlers where his knowledge of butchery gave him a leg up in stealing livestock. Turpin’s crimes soon escalated, and he became known for his unorthodox methods of criminal persuasion. He allegedly emptied a kettle of boiling water over one victim, and threw another into a fireplace. For a time, Turpin joined forces with another highwayman, but killed his accomplice after a bungled robbery and fled town. He assumed the alias ‘John Palmer’ and made a meager living by stealing horses.

Eventually Turpin was identified and arrested, and in April 1739 he was executed by hanging on York’s Knavesmire, a wooden triangle gallows, also known as the “Three-Legged Mare,” at York’s Tyburn. But even in death, Turpin was plagued by theft when his body was dug up and sold for illegal dissection. Eventually it was recovered, and buried at the current site with the names John Palmer and Dick Turpin both displayed on his headstone.

His name might have been forgotten if not for Harrison Ainsworth’s 1834 novel, Rookwood, which included a story about Turpin and his famous horseback ride from London to York. Ainsworth even added his own twist; that Turpin’s horse, Black Bess, died upon their arrival in York. Though apocryphal, the tale cemented Turpin’s place in history as a legendary highwayman.

Know Before You Go

A 10 minute walk from the city center, the grave is located directly opposite of St. George's Church off Lead Mill Lane. Full public access.

One can visit the jail cell that Turpin was held in, prior to execution, at the York Castle Museum.

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