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Highwayman Revisited

November 29, 1987

Stan Delaplane's mention of Dick Turpin in his Nov. 15 column sparked a reminiscence. As a child, a favorite ballad in our family told of the exploits of the famous highwayman and of his horse: "No toll gate could stop her or ever distress, For she flew o'er them lightly, my bonny Black Bess." But when I got to York the city tour bus driver maintained that Dick Turpin was no Robin Hood. "He stole from everyone and kept it all. And he never had a horse named Black Bess!" he said scornfully. Well, there went another childhood illusion.

A week later, in the Public Records Office just off Fleet Street in London I came across a yellowing document in a glass case. It was a police report of a stolen mare and foal. The thief named was one Richard Turpin, and the value placed on the mare was as much as a man's wages for a year in those days. So she may not have been named Black Bess, but Dick Turpin had a very good horse. Now, if I could just find that bus driver I would give him an argument.

LESLIE STEWART

Santa Monica

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