Dick Turpin (1705-1739)

Dick Turpin (1705-1739) is perhaps the most famous highwayman in English history after Robin Hood (fl. 12th-13th centuries). He is remembered today as a heavily romanticised noble, gallant figure, having allegedly rode his horse from London to York in one day upon his trusty horse, Black Bess, the real Dick Turpin, as you would expect, was a wholly different man. This post gives a brief overview of his life and the legend which grew around him.

Dick Turpin was born in East Ham, in Essex, and received quite a good education, learning how to read and write. It was this good education which, as we will see, proved to be his ultimate downfall. At a young age he was apprenticed to a…

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Jack Sheppard (1702-1724)

Source: Jack Sheppard (1702-1724)

Jack Sheppard (1702-1724) is one of my favourite thieves, second only, in my opinion, to Robin Hood. He was rather like an eighteenth-century Artful Dodger, a proper cheeky chappie who thumbed his nose at authority, escaping from gaol no less than four times. This post gives a brief overview of his life and legend.

Jack Sheppard was born in Stepney, London in 1702. His father died when he was young, and Sheppard was placed into the care of the Parish Workhouse, where he remained for some time before being apprenticed to a carpenter named Mr. Wood, of Wych Street near Drury Lane. Contemporary accounts such as The History of the Remarkable Life of John Sheppard (1724), the authorship of which has been credited to Daniel Defoe, tell us that Sheppard was in his early years a perfect apprentice.

Sheppard’s downfall into criminal ways, however, seems to be traced to the time…

Source: Jack Sheppard (1702-1724)

Penny Dreadfuls, Juvenile Crime, and Late-Victorian Moral Panic

dick-turpin-penny-dreadful-1866-1868

Black Bess or The Knight of the Road, featuring Dick Turpin, 1866-1868.

The 1840s ushered in an era of luridly illustrated gothic tales which were marketed to a working-class Victorian audience.  These stories, told in installments and printed on inexpensive pulp paper, were originally only eight pages long and sold for just a penny – giving rise to the term “penny bloods” or “penny dreadfuls.”  With titles such as Varney the Vampire and Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, these types of publications were wildly popular, especially with young male readers, and it was not long before the Victorian public began to make a connection between various juvenile crimes and misdemeanors and the consumption of this (allegedly) depraved material.

By the 1880s, concern over penny dreadfuls leading children into lives of crime and vice sparked what theLongman Companion to Victorian Fiction describes as a “middle-class moral panic.”  Many urged that the publication and consumption of penny dreadfuls be…

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