The legend of Dick Turpin – why pubs love to claim him for themselves
“Reputedly the oldest pub in Shropshire,” the glowing on-line publicity for the Swan Inn, a delightful watering hole in the picturesque parish of Aston Munslow, informs prospective customers.
“Serving good, traditional food, The Swan is a 14th century coaching inn once accommodating Dick Turpin.”
I have no doubt The Swan lavishes upon its patrons glorious food and top quality ales. But I question whether it accommodated Britain’s most famous highwayman.
It is one of many pubs in Shropshire and the West Midlands that have Dick Turpin among their lists of long-gone locals.
Dick also whetted his whistle at the Four Crosses, near Cannock, New Oscott Tavern, Birmingham, Ye Old Leathern Bottle, Wednesbury…
If pubs have whitewashed frontages and timbers, Dick drank at ‘em.
Add to the bulging catalogue, ancient inns throughout England that also lay claim to Turpin and you have an armed robber with a serious drinking problem.
When Dick went on a pub crawl, he certainly covered marathon distances. Perpetually pie-eyed, it’s a surprise he managed to clamber astride faithful steed Black Bess, let alone hold a flintlock pistol straight.
I can envisage the scene as the dashing, masked highwayman threatened coach passengers: “Have no fear ladies, the bounder’s hand is shaking like a leaf. He can hardly stand, let alone deliver, be gad.”
There is not a shred of hard evidence linking Turpin to any local boozer. And until I see an authenticated piece of graffiti on a urinal wall bearing the slogan “Dick Turpin wuz ‘ere, 1737”, I’ll treat all such boasts with extreme caution. Even extreme prejudice.
For example, folklore has it Turpin stopped off for a swift one at the New Oscott Inn – now a garden centre – on his way to Hull where he was arrested and hanged in 1739. It was his last flagon of frothing ale.
Nice tale, but fanciful.
Dick’s partner in crime, “Captain” Tom King, hailed from Stonnall, close to Sutton Coldfield, yet the pair built their criminal empire in the Epping Forest area.
Claims they spent nights together at Stonnall’s Welsh Harp have been rubbished. There’s one problem with reports a tunnel, begin enough for a highwayman and his horse, led from the inn to the safety of open ground. There isn’t one.
Historians are not even sure the “Tom King” who linked-up with Dick is the same man.
Legend will have you believe Turpin’s links to the Black Country, in particular, were thick and strong: he certainly couldn’t get enough of our beer.
The reality is his story has been distorted and glamourised beyond belief, many of his deeds pure pulp fiction. Long before Donald Trump bellowed “fake news”, there were tales of Turpin.