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Dick Turpin's Famous Ride from London to York in 1735

Dick Turpin is probably the most legendary highwayman of all time, and his rapid flight from London to York is the most famous part of this legend. Mention the name of Turpin to most people, and they will tell you he was a daring and dashing rogue who famously rode this trip of two hundred miles on his faithful mare, Black Bess, in less than fifteen hours. In so doing, Turpin actually got to York before news of his misdemeanours in London. Tests on horses that specialise in endurance events have shown that this would not have been possible.

Various inns that still stand along the original route of the A1 (at the time called the Great North Road, the main road connecting the north of England to the south), such as the Roebuck Inn, Stevenage, claim that Turpin ate his lunch there that night, or stopped off there for a brief respite for his horse. If he had really stopped at every inn that makes such claims then he wouldn't have had time to ride anywhere.  (From Wikipedia.)  Yet the legend persists, as the following stories show. 

Dick Turpin and Osbaldestone - the New York Times, 15 January 1893

Foremost among English feats of horsemanship we have one which for generations has been represented in the circus ring.  Dick Turpin's famous ride from London York has taken its place among nursery legends;  nevertheless, it was actually performed, and stands as a record of its kind.  The highwayman, riding with the very best reason in the world - the safety of his neck - covered the distance of 200 miles in a little under twelve hours.  This performance stands alone as the longest and fastest journey ever made on the same horse.  Most of the long rides of which record exists have been made for wagers;  such records are therefore reliable.

Squire Osbaldestone's undertaking to ride 200 miles in ten hours, which he accomplished so successfully on the 5th of November, 1831, is one of the most remarkable feats of endurance in the saddle, and has the merit of freedom from cruelty.  The Squire rode his race on the Newmarket race course, changing his horse every fourth mile.  Four miles is a safe limit for such a purpose, as that splendid horseman knew.  Three-mile laps could have been covered in time relatively a little better, but a sound horse in fair training could do his four miles without distress in such time as to make that distance, with the consequent reduction in the number of changes, the most suitable for the purpose.  Mr. Osbaldestone used sixteen horses for his task, and rode standing in his stirrups like a jockey, while he kept his mount at best speed from start to finish of its four-mile heat, having quite a "set-to" with his pacemaker at the end of each.  The Squire was a hard man, and in good training, so suffered no bad effects from his exertions.

The New York Times, 18 September 1910

A reader writes, "A Western friend of mine tells me that cowboys have been known to ride as far as 300 miles on a single horse in twenty-four hours.  Now, it strikes me that that would be "some runnin'."  Even Dick Turpin didn't come up to this mark.  Have we any records to substantiate the claims of my Western friend?"

The Times is not in possession of any records to prove the greatest distance covered by a horseman on the same horse in twenty-four hours, but from time to time reports have come from the wide West telling of fabulous rides made by cowboys.  How much truth may be in them cannot be said.  One cowboy is said to have covered a distance of 200 miles on a pinto in twenty-four hours, but we have no proof that this is true, and the fact remains that it would seem to be rather beyond the endurance of even a "Black Bess" such as the notorious Turpin bestrode.

Turpin, we are told, rode his famous mare to York, 150 miles, in a single day, and it is a source of no little satisfaction to know that the notorious English criminal was properly hanged for his deeds.  He should have been hanged for the ride on "Black Bess," if for no other reason.  The ride is not mentioned in the Newgate [prison] records, and the story in its original form is attributed to Maginn, although it is graphically described in Ainsworth's "Rookwood."

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