Exhibition Items : Dick Turpin: quadrille

Exhibition Items

<p style='text-align: justify;'>A glamorous illustration of the highwayman Dick Turpin, crossing Hounslow heath by moonlight with his horse Black Bess, waiting to attack passing carriages. This cover illustration for piano music perfectly captures the romantic image of Dick Turpin in the later 19th century, handsome and inclined to dress expensively. His costume was characteristic: a three-cornered hat, white cravat, a coat trimmed with gold lace, and high black boots. The quadrille's five parts each describes a character in the story: Dick Turpin, Lieutenant Beckwith, Claude Duval, Tom King and Black Bess.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Why were highwaymen in particular envisaged as attractive and glamorous? In order to become a 'celebrity criminal' it was essential to show oneself as athletic, daring and resourceful and it was not only highwaymen who occasionally acquired such a reputation. The burglar Charles Peace (also known as John Ward, 1832-1879) made a series of ingenious and daring escape attempts from prison, for example, sawing a hole in the ceiling of his cell and climbing up and out across the prison roof, breaking into the prison governor's house and stealing a change of clothes. He was a notorious and energetic criminal; for months police received reports of burglaries every Thursday and Saturday morning of burglaries at Blackheath, Lee or Lewisham. Even the <i>Times</i> newspaper couldn’t refrain from pointing out that the court at Peace's trial was packed with spectators because Peace was 'such an accomplished burglar' who had managed to carry out hundreds of burglaries without being caught. Even when he was finally captured it was only after a terrible struggle.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>In fiction, Harrison Ainsworth’s novel Jack Sheppard (1939) described the classic heroic rogue: Sheppard is a thief who commits vicious murders but is portrayed in the novel as a handsome and endlessly resourceful man who remains cool in any crisis. Courvoisier, the murderer of Lord John Russell claimed that he admired the character of Sheppard so much that he had been inspired by Ainsworth's heroic story to murder his master.</p>

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