Dick Turpin

Although our tour focusses very much on the Jack the Ripper crimes, we do cross the paths of several other East End villains as we make our way around the walk’s route.

Today our guide John Bennett takes a look at one of those notorious villains, the highwayman Dick Turpin.

No look at local history (in any locality) would be complete without England’s most notorious highwayman putting in an appearance.

In fact, if he stopped at every inn north of London that claims to have had associations with him, particularly when it comes to his escape from the capital, he wouldn’t have had the time to rob anybody and getting to York would have been one giant pub-crawl.

Whitechapel High Street formed part of the road to Essex and East Anglia, which extended through Whitechapel Road, Mile End and beyond.

It would have proved profitable stalking grounds for highway robbers and it is believed that Turpin worked this patch as well as those further afield like the Hackney Marshes and Epping Forest. In fact the reason Whitechapel Road is so wide is deliberate, so that travellers would be some distance from the trees, and houses behind which such robbers could lurk. Turpin did at one time work in Whitechapel as a butcher’s apprentice, but was dismissed owing to the ‘brutality of his manners’ and after turning to crime, found rich pickings in the open land we now know as London Fields. However the Old Red Lion, which until recently once stood on the south side of the High Street, was the scene of this noted felon’s last great stand-off.

On 30th April 1737, Turpin and his accomplice Matthew King were drinking in the Red Lion (as it was then known) when they were ambushed by law officers. In the resulting scuffle, Turpin fatally shot King, but made good his escape.

Thence begins the legend of the great flight to on Black Bess, stories of buried treasure and the dubious claims of numerous country pubs in between. However, once in , Turpin took on the alias of John Palmer and for a year at least seemed to be free from the clutches of the law. Until he got into a fight, of course, got himself arrested, was recognised by the investigating magistrates and was eventually hanged on 7th April 1739, his luck finally having run out.

The Victorian version of the Old Red Lion stood for many years by the side of the Leman Street exit of Aldgate East Station, but was closed in the 1970’s and was finally demolished in 2004 to make way for new improvements to the station entrance where a colossal steel and glass residential block is currently being completed.