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Turpin Hero

[ Roud 621 ; Master title: Turpin Hero ; Laws L10 ; Ballad Index LL10 ; Bodleian Roud 621 ; GlosTrad Roud 621 ; Wiltshire 230 , 779 , 1255 ; DT TURPINHE , TURPNLAW ; Mudcat 58481 ; trad.]

Richard Turpin (1705-1739) was a legendary English highwayman.

Shirley Collins learnt the ballad Turpin Hero at school. She sang it in 1959 on her first LP Sweet England. This track was also included in her anthology Within Sound.

Ewan MacColl sang Turpin Hero in 1960 on his and Peggy Seeger’s album Chorus From the Gallows. This track was also included in 1998 on the extended CD reissue of his and A.L. Lloyd’s album Bold Sportsmen All. The original album’s liner notes commented:

According to Chappell writing in Popular Music of the Olden Time this ballad was written in 1739. just before Turpin was executed. There are several broadside versions of it, the oldest of which is contained in a pamphlet entitled The Dunghill Cock, or Turpin’s Valiant Exploits.

The Halliard sang Ballad of Dick Turpin in a 1968 recording session as a demo for their Saga label. It was finally released in 2006 on their CD The Last Goodnight!. They noted:

Classic broadside lyric and also a very pupular song in the early British folk clubs. Dave [Moran] suspects that he heard the song from Ewan MacColl and also, he thinks, maybe Steve Benbow, though both of their versions would have been slower. Sometime after this halliard recording, the song appeared in Roy Palmer’s A Ballad History of England (1979).

Barry Skinner sang Turpin Hero on the 1971 Argo anthology The World of Folk.

Roy Harris sang Turpin Hero in 1972 on his LP The Bitter and the Sweet. A.L. Lloyd commented in the liner notes:

In choosing heroes, the folk are weird. Dick Turpin, an East End butcher’s boy, commenced his wild career by stealing cattle in West Ham and selling the beef, door to door. Pursued by the law, he took to housebreaking and highway robbery. Things became hot, he retired, got into a squabble over a gamecock, was arrested, unmasked, and hanged on 6 April 1739. Ignoble enough; even the celebrated ride to York was not his (it was performed by the bandit ‘Nicks’ Nevison in 1676), but somehow Turpin became a legendary hero. Several apocryphal adventures were strung into an epic ballad that did brisk business as a broadside. But over the years, it got whittled down till only the exploit with the lawyer remained. Sam Weller knew the song, so did Stephen Dedalus. Miraculously, it still remains green.

Jim Copper learned Dick Turpin from Fred ‘Nobby’, a farm labourer of Rottingdean, and added it to the Copper Family’s songbook. Bob Copper sang it on his 1977 Topic album Sweet Rose in June.

Arthur Knevett sang Dicky Turpin on his 1988 cassette Mostly Ballads. Vic Gammon commented in the album’s notes:

Percy Grainger got this song about another English ‘social Bandit’ (to use E.J. Hobshawm’s term) in Lincolnshire from the singing of David Belton. The Lawyer is but one of a number of encounters in earlier versions of the ballad.

Pete Morton sang Dick Turpin on his 1998 Harbourtown album Trespass. He noted:

Dick Turpin was a cruel and heartless man and people shouldn’t go around singing the praises of such a villain (unless you’re making a traditional album of course).

John Roberts & Tony Barrand sang Turpin Hero in 1998 on their CD of English folksongs collected by Percy Grainger, Heartoutbursts. They noted:

From Mr. David Belton, blacksmith, at Ulceby, July, 1906. Dick Turpin was perhaps the most famous of England’s highwaymen, thanks in good part to a 19th Century novel, Rookwood, which recounts the famous ride to York on his horse Black Bess. This reputedly provided him with an alibi good enough to satisfy a jury. There is a lesser-known but more accurate song which relates this same tale with its proper hero, Nevison, who was hanged in York in 1685, twenty years before Turpin was born: Grainger also phonographed a set of Bold Nevison from Joseph Taylor. Jack Ketch, mentioned in the last verse of the song, was public executioner during the reign of Charles II. He gained notoriety for his clumsy dispatching of Lord Russell in 1683 and of the Duke of Monmouth two years later, for whom Ketch needed five strokes with the axe and even then had to finish the beheading with a knife. His name became associated with executioners, including hangmen, for over two hundred years, and at times the condemned man would indeed pay the hangman, in hopes of a tidy job.

Eliza Carthy recorded Turpin Hero for her 2005 CD, Rough Music. She noted:

Turpin seems to be regarded as a hero not because he stole from the rich and gave to the poor, but simply because he stole from the rich, “robbed that judge as he sat in his coach”, and because he was portrayed as the classic dashing highwayman in a popular fiction some forty-odd years after his death. In fact he not only stole from the rich but from the poor too. By all accounts he was violent and inept, on one occasion accidentally shooting dead his partner instead of the officer holding him. He finally gave himself away while in quite profitable hiding in Yorkshire by shooting his landlord’s cockerel in the street in a fit of bad temper. Canadian versions of this song have the chorus as “Turpin I-ro”, which is probably fair.

He seems to be very concerned with his image in the end, playing the well-dressed gallant to the watching crowd as he is carted off to the gallows in York, paid mourners in tow, chatting himself with his executioner for half an hour before throwing himself off the ladder. I learned this from a recording of Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger.

Issy & David Emeney sang Turpin the Blade in 2007 on their WildGoose CD Legends & Lovers. They noted:

One of many versions of the story of Dick Turpin and the Lawyer, which may even be slightly true! Most versions place the incident on Hounslow Heath and not Salisbury Plain—we just liked the tune! Accounts of his eventual demise differ somewhat, but our favourite is the one that says Turpin was hanged in 1739, not for highway robbery, but for getting drunk and shooting his landlord’s gamecock. Bet he was kicking himself!

The Owl Service sang Turpin Hero on their CD A Garland of Song. This recording was also included in 2008 on the Leigh Folk Festival anthology Moonshine Murder Mountains & Mudflats.

Brian Peters sang Turpin Hero in 2010 on his CD Gritstone Serenade. This video shows him at the National Folk Festival, Canberra, 2016:

The Dollymopps sang Turpin Hero in 2011 on their CD of traditional songs from the Isle of Wight collected by W.H. Long, Long Songs.

Keith Kendrick and Sylvia Needham sang Turpin ’Ero in 2012 on their WildGoose CD Well Dressed. Kendrick noted:

Or—Ear ’ole as I usually call it! A great version of this song chronicling the life, antics and eventual demise of Richard (Dick) Turpin—the vicious old English thug and highwayman. Learned from the wonderful singing of another of my all-time heroes—the great, Roy Harris.

Pete Coe and Alice Jones sang Turpin Hero in 2014 on their CD of songs collected by Frank Kidson, The Search for Five Finger Frank.

Nick Hart sang Turpin Bold in 2017 on his CD Nick Hart Sings Eight English Folk Songs. He noted:

This was learned, in the main, from my very dear friends and sometime heroes Keith Kendrick and Sylvia Needham. I love their version of this (which can be heard on the album Well Dressed) and when i found a similar version collected by Vaughan Williams in Essex, I ended up using the Essex choruses but stuck Keith and Sylvia’s verses in amongst them.

Pilgrims’ Way sang Turpin Hero on their 2017 album Stand & Deliver.


Shirley Collins sings Turpin Hero

On Hounslow Heath as I rode o’er
I spied a lawyer riding before.
“Kind sir,” said I, “are you afraid,
Of Turpin, that mischievous blade?”

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
O rare Turpin hero,
O rare Turpin O

Said Turpin, “He’d ne’er find me o’er
I hid my money in my boot.”
The lawyer says, “There’s none can find,
I hid my gold in my cape behind.”

As they were riding past the mill
Turpin commands him to stand still;
Says he, “Your cloak I must cut off,
My mare she needs a saddle cloth.”

This caused the lawyer much to fret
To see how simply he’d been took,
But Turpin robbed him of his store
Because he knew he’d lie for more.

John Roberts and Tony Barrand sing Turpin Hero

As Dickie rode out all across yon moor,
He spied a lawyer riding out before
He rode up to him and he thus did say,
“Have you seen Dickie Turpin ride this way?”

Chorus (after each verse):
To my heigh-ho, Turpin hero,
I am the valiant Turpin-O.

“No, I’ve not seen him for many a day,
No more do I want to see him ride this way,
For if I did, I’d have no doubt,
He would turn my pockets inside out.”

“Oh aye, lad,” Dickie says, “Oh I’ve been cute,
I’ve hid my money in my old top boot,”
Then says the lawyer, “He shan’t have mine,
For I hid it in my greatcoat cape behind.”

So they rode along together till they came to a hill,
Where he bid the old lawyer to stand quite still,
He says, “Your greatcoat cape it must come off,
For my Black Bess wants a new saddle-cloth.

“So now I’ve robbed you of all your store,
You may go and work for more,
And the very next town that you ride in,
You can tell ’em you was robbed by Dick Turpin.”

But wasn’t Dickie caught so hard and fast,
For killing of an old gamecock at last,
He says, “Here’s fifty pound, before I die,
To give Jack Ketch for a lad like I.”

Eliza Carthy sings Turpin Hero

On Hounslow Heath as I rode out
I spied a lawyer riding about;
“Now sir,” I said, “Run all you can
From Turpin that mischievous man.”

Chorus (after each verse):
O rare Turpin hero,
O rare Turpin O

Says Turpin, “He’d ne’er find me out
I hid my money in my boot.”
Well then says he lawyer, “There’s none can find,
My gold, for it’s stitched in my coat behind.”

As they rode down by the Powder mill
Turpin demands him to be still;
“Now Sir, your coat I will cut off
For my mare she needs a new saddle cloth.”

As Turpin rode in search of prey
He spied a taxman on the way;
And boldly then he bid him stand,
“Your gold,” he said, “I do demand.”

Oh Turpin then without remorse,
He knocked him quite from off his horse;
And left him on the ground to sprawl
While he rode off with his gold and all.

As Turpin rode on Salisbury plain
He met Lord Judge with all his train;
And hero-like he did approach
And robbed that Judge as he sat in his coach.

Oh Turpin he at last was took
For the shooting of a dung-hill cock,
And carried straight into jail
Where his bad move he does bewail.

Well Turpin is condemned to die,
To hang upon yon gallows high;
Whose legacy is a strong rope,
For the shooting of a dung-hill cock.