Sunday 23 February 2014

A Twist of Fate for Dick Turpin

Sometimes, just as life is rolling along, the smallest quirk of fate can make all the difference and our tale today tells of one such quirk. It is the story of a notorious criminal, a trip to the post office and a hand-addressed letter, of all things!

Smith's statement against Turpin
Smith's statement against Turpin

In February 1739 James Smith was visiting the post office in Saffron Walden, expecting nothing remarkable to befall him as he went about his business. There was little remarkable about Smith other than the fact that, as boy, he had been a classmate of a certain Dick Turpin, and had taught the younger boy to read and write.

Whilst collecting his post, Smith noted a letter written by a prisoner at York Castle, whose name was supposedly John Palmer. Palmer's missive was addressed to the brother-in-law of Turpin, Pompr Rivernall, who lived in Hempstead. Upon seeing the letter, Rivernall refused to pay the delivery charge, claiming that he knew of nobody in York and had no desire to be associated with it.

However, Smith happened to chance a look to the letter and recognised the handwriting not as that of the unknown John Palmer but of his former fellow, the notorious Dick Turpin.

Smith took his suspicions to local magistrate Thomas Stubbing, who opened the letter and found it was indeed from the highwayman. Armed with this evidence of the so-called Palmer's true identity, he travelled to York Castle with Smith in tow. Here, on 23rd February 1739, the men identified the prisoner as none other than Dick Turpin, sealing his grisly fate and setting him on the path to execution.

Smith returned home to Saffron Walden as a rich man, having claimed a reward of £200, akin to almost £30,000 in today's money; whilst Turpin went to the gallows... all for the sake of an unwanted letter!


Sarah said...

Do you have the year wrong? Wikipedia says 1739.

Catherine Curzon said...

I have literally no idea what happened there; in my first draft I put 2014... merci!

Unknown said...

Wow! Always makes me wonder about the various letters I have sent all over the world when I read a tale like this!

Catherine Curzon said...

I do love a letter!