A senior forest keeper is on a mission to dispel romantic myths surrounding highwayman Dick Turpin. 

Richard ‘Dick’ Turpin – born 1705 – grew up in an environment tainted by crime, but it was not until the butcher’s apprentice opened a shop with his wife in Buckhurst Hill in 1725 that he went on to commit his most heinous crimes.

The English criminal best known as a horse thief, became the stuff of literary legend in notable works after his execution in 1739.

But, according to Epping Forest keeper Tristan Vetta, reports of crimes committed against his victims, particularly those living within Epping Forest, paint a very different picture.

Mr Vetta explored the myths and legends of the butcher-turned murderers’ life for an educational walk he held on January 4.

He said: "Turpin was often romanticised as a ‘Robin Hood’ figure, but he has a very dangerous, ruthless, violent criminal who robbed and tortured his victims when they were at home.

"He never did this for the betterment of other people, only ever for personal gain. For him a life of crime paid better than being a butcher."

Through his trade as a butcher, it is believed he started to help a group of deer thieves, known as the Gregory Gang, dispose of meat and game, and thus began his life as a serial offender.

By mid 1735, there was a price on his head worth £9,000 in today’s money for information on two "home invasions" in Woodford and the violent robbery of Widow Shelley at her home in Traps Hill, Loughton.

This was detailed in a report by Read’s Weekly Journal (January 8, 1735).

"Five rogues entered the house of the Widow Shelley at Loughton in Essex, having pistols and threatened to murder the old lady, if she would not tell them where her money lay, which she obstinately refusing for some time,

"They threatened to lay her across the fire, if she did not instantly tell them, which she would not do.

"But her son being in the room, and threatened to be murdered, cried out, he would tell them, if they would not murder his mother, and did, whereupon they went upstairs, and took near £100, a silver tankard, and other plate, and all manner of household goods."

The attack caused widespread public revulsion and the eventual demise of the gang, except Turpin who had turned to highway robbery with gentleman highwayman, Matthew King.

Together, the pair rendered Epping Forest a no-go area after dark, and the reward for their whereabouts would be worth £100,000 in today’s money.

Mr Vetta said: "He knew the forest very well.

"The high ground provided good viewing for him to pick out his victims’ travelling along the North Great Road to Cambridge."

Following the fatal shooting of King in May 1737, Turpin escaped to his hideout, an iron-age fort known as ‘Turpin’s Cave’, which according to a 19th century map, was located at Loughton Camp.

Between the Robin Hood pub and the King’s Oak pub in High Beach, Turpin shot dead Thomas Morris, the servant of a forest keeper, after he spotted the outlaw and attempted to capture him.

Turpin escaped to York under the alias John Palmer but was arrested for reputedly threatening to shoot a villager in Brough, near Hull.

He was identified as Turpin after a letter addressed to his brother-in-law fell into the hands of Saffron Walden postmaster, James Smith.

Dressed in his finest clothes, Turpin bowed and waved to the crowds as he was led to the gibbet and hanged, aged just 34, on April 7, 1739.