Butcher, thief, highwayman and forest dweller

September 10th 2018
By: Melanie Hollidge
Butcher, thief, highwayman and forest dweller

Who is the butcher, thief, highwayman and forest dweller of Chigwell, Loughton or Woodford? One of the most famous names associated with this area and Epping Forest is Dick Turpin.  

It is always good to know some of the history of where you live and if you are thinking of moving to Chigwell, Loughton or Woodford you might be able to inform family or friends about some of the local colour. 

One accepted version of his early days is that Richard Turpin moved to Buckhurst Hill (Bucket Hill) in 1725 with his wife Elizabeth to open a butcher shop.  There Turpin became involved with deer thieves in the forest known as the Essex Gang led by Samuel Gregory.  Possibly Turpin disposed of the deer meat as a butcher’s shop would have been a perfect cover.  

The story goes that after a number of the gang were caught; the remaining members along with Turpin took to robbing isolated farmhouses. In February 1735 the youngest of the Essex Gang, John Wheeler was arrested and revealed names.  Somehow Turpin escaped and turned to the highway robbery.

Along with Matthew (Tom) King and Stephen Potter, Turpin was responsible for a number of robberies along the roads around and in Epping Forest.  But in April 1737 King and Turpin stole one horse too many, the owner reported the theft to Richard Bayes, the landlord of the Green Man at Leytonstone.  Bayes tracked the animal to the Red Lion at Whitechapel and laid an ambush for Turpin and King.  King was killed but Turpin again evaded capture and went to ground in a cave. 

The location of Turpin’s cave is not exactly known and several sites have been put forward including Wellington Hill at High Road.  After his death, some people believed that the spirit of Turpin returned to his old hunting ground and numerous sightings of a ghost wearing a tricorn hat riding a horse have been reported in the forest.