Writing Portfolio


A pub called Dick

Pub closures are national news, with dozens of them apparently closing each week. There was even a programme about the decline of the pub on Radio Four quite recently. Here in East Finchley, time was called on the Dick Turpin on Long Lane last year and it is currently awaiting demolition. I can’t really say too much about what it was like as a pub – I only went there once and I was the only customer in the place. But it’s always sad to see a pub go to the wall.

This particular one, which gets a mention in the excellent Green Men & White Swans: The Folklore of British Pub Names by Jacqueline Simpson, was named after the infamous eighteenth-century highwayman (c.1705-1739), who is one of those figures from English history about whom much of what we think we know is more legend than fact. For example, the story of his 200-mile ride from Kent to York to establish an alibi first appeared in a novel written almost a century after his death, and was originally attributed to another highwayman who died two decades before he was born.

Turpin’s supposed associations with East Finchley – which is presumably what led to the pub getting its name – are also a case in point.

In Turpin’s day, the area was known as Finchley Common and was a popular haunt of highwaymen eager to relieve travellers on the Great North Road of their possessions. Despite the fact that a large tree by the side of the road was known locally as ‘Turpin’s Oak’ (for many years, it stood on the corner of the High Road and Oak Lane), the man himself is not known to have committed any of his crimes in the vicinity of modern-day East Finchley. Before he moved up north, Epping Forest was more his kind of territory.

But local Turpin legends persist here in North London. Not far from East Finchley is a very old pub called the Spaniards Inn, which sits at the top of Hampstead Heath and claims to be the building in which he was born, although the pub’s website hedges its bets by stating that he was “apparently born here”. Sadly, this particular legend also has little basis in fact, as all historical evidence says that he was actually born in Hempstead in Essex. In a pub, admittedly. They got that bit right.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there would appear to be many pubs that claim a Turpin connection, and no doubt quite a few of those are somewhat tenuous. The last word here should go to the historian James Sharpe, who wrote a biography of Turpin a few years ago and stated that “if all their claims were true, the career of England’s most famous highwayman would have been passed in a combination of perpetual motion and a permanent alcoholic haze.”

No comments: