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DICK TURPIN IN LINTON

The famous highwayman came from Great Hempstead in Essex and probably carried out numerous robberies in this area. Many places claim a connection with Dick Turpin and we must obviously treat any story with a certain amount of caution. Nevertheless, he did rob people and he obviously had to operate somewhere, so why not in Linton!

Miss Enid Porter was a well respected Cambridgeshire historian and she related the following story in her book “ The Folklore of East Anglia.” The Linton Wedge Map of 1786 can be used to locate the places mentioned in her account.

Her tale runs as follows;

“ In the days when the notorious highwayman, Dick Turpin (1705 to 1739) was making his name feared in many parts of England, a tanner named Mallyon lived in an old house on the Green in the Cambridgeshire village of Linton. He used to send his tanned hides to be sold in Cambridge market and was in the habit of journeying there himself once a week, returning in the evening with a well- filled purse. As he always arrived home punctually at the same hour, his servant had orders to wait by the gates of his house, ready to open them immediately he saw his master approaching.

One dark winter’s evening , as Mallyon was approaching the outskirts of Linton on his way back from Cambridge, he was overtaken by a stranger on horseback, who entered into a conversation with him. He talked so much about Dick Turpin and his exploits that the tanner became convinced that he was the highwayman himself, attempting to divert suspicion by professing alarm at the very thought of his own deeds. If this was so, then he would be certain, Mallyon thought, to attack him as he went along the main road to Linton overshadowed by Cow Gallery Woods.”

We know that these woods were just outside Linton on the present A1307, on the site of Dalehead Foods.

The story continued;

“Mallyon prepared himself, therefore, by gathering his reins together as they neared the Woods. He continued chatting to his companion and tried to appear unconcerned. Once in the shadow of the trees, he dug his spurs into his horse and galloped on ahead, only to hear the highwayman increase his pace behind him. Mallyon knew that the main street of Linton would afford him no protection from attack, for it was dark and deserted at that time of night, so he quickly decided to approach his house by way of the Dovehouse Fields.”

This is the area between the By-Pass and the River Granta flowing past the Camping Close. At that time it was intersected by a number of ditches over which broad planks were laid so that cattle and horses could cross over them. Mallyon’s local knowledge of the terrain makes sense of the rest of Miss Porter’s account.

“His horse knew every inch of the way, so the tanner was able to gain ground on his pursuer, whose mount kept stumbling over the rough grass and floundering in the boggy places by the ditches, almost throwing the rider. Having arrived at last near the gates of his house, Mallyon shouted to his waiting servant to throw them open and to close them immediately after him. Hardly had he ridden through them and the servant slammed them to, when the highwayman rode against them, but they were strong enough to resist him and he was obliged to turn and ride away.”

The story is very interesting, yet Miss Porter provides no documentary evidence to support it. However, there is some local documentation which seems to support parts of the story. The 1786 Wedge Map of Linton confirms the existence of the places mentioned on the route Mallyon claimed he took.

We have ample documentation about the existence of a large tannery at the bottom of Green Lane. This operated from Tudor times until the early nineteenth century, and Linton Manorial Rentals record Thomas Maling (Mallyon) as the owner of this Green Lane tannery between 1706and 1725. The property is now known as the Old Manor House, but it was a tannery and never a manor house. In 1706, the Linton Manor Court allowed the tanner Thomas Maling “ to lay bark on the Green.” Until Linton’s Enclosure in 1840 the Linton Green ran from the tannery front garden as far as the track leading to the Old Malting.

Leather was a very valuable commodity at that time and one pound by weight fetched between 5 and 10 pence. The average weekly wage of a farm labourer was only 30 pence so you can understand the relative wealth of a tanner like Mallyon. In the eighteenth century the river was closer to the present day house and the front entrance was on the river side of the property. This would match much of the detail in the story. Mallyon’s income from sales of his hides would be a tempting prize for any brigand, let alone the famous Dick Turpin!

Dick Turpin was born in 1706 at Hempstead in Essex, the son of a farmer and landlord of the Crown Inn. After serving an apprenticeship as a butcher he took up a life of crime and joined the notorious Essex or Gregory gang. A group of up to twenty villains raided isolated farmhouses or robbed rich local businessmen. Thomas Mallyon would fit the latter category and the dates of his tannery ownership would also match the period when Turpin operated from his base in Epping Forest.