Saturday, 29 October 2011

Devil's Lane and Dick Turpin

I just found this story, in Walter Thornbury's Old and New London, about highwaymen haunting the Hornsey Road.  

"Hornsey Road, which in Camden's time was a "sloughy lane" to Whetstone, by way of Crouch End, seventy years ago [in 1802] had only three houses, and no side paths, and was impassable for carriages. 

It was formerly called Devil's, or Du Val's, Lane, and further back still Tollington Lane. There formerly stood on the east side of this road, near the junction with the Seven Sisters' Road, an old wooden moated house, called "The Devil's House," but really the site of old Tollington House. 

Tradition fixed this lonely place as the retreat of Duval, the famous French highwayman in the reign of Charles II. After he was hung in 1669, he lay in state at a low tavern in St. Giles's, and was buried in the middle aisle of St. Paul's, Covent Garden, by torchlight. 

The tradition is evidently erroneous, as the Devil's House in Devil's Lane is mentioned in a survey of Highbury taken in 1611 (James I.) Duval may, however, have affected the neighbourhood, as near a great northern road. 

The moat used to be crossed by a bridge, and the house in 1767 was a public-house, where Londoners went to fish, and enjoy hot loaves, and milk fresh from the cow. In 1737, after Turpin had shot one of his pursuers near a cave which he haunted in Epping Forest, he seems to have taken to stopping coaches and chaises at Holloway, and in the back lanes round Islington. 

A gentleman telling him audaciously he had reigned long, Dick replied gaily, "'Tis, no matter for that, I'm not afraid of being taken by you; so don't stand hesitating, but stump up the cole." Nevertheless, the gallows came at last to Dick."

Walter Thornbury wrote so much that he died of overwork and this popular history was his last  book. The Devil's House name is real enough, but much of the rest may be ornate conjecture.

This picture of Dick Turpin jumping the Horsney tollgate is pure bunkum for sure - it's from an 1849 novel.

(reading victoriana is very bad for my prose style - it gets all adjective-heavy)

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