Did Dick Turpin dwell in Croydon ?
In 2006 it was the 300th anniversary of the birth of England's best known highwayman, Dick Turpin.
If legend is to be believed, a chance encounter in a Broad Green pub led to Dick Turpin's life of criminal notoriety. It is said the highwayman met members of the infamous Gregory's Gang in the now demolished Half Moon Inn and joined the group in a crimewave before becoming a lone highwayman.
While many have rubbished the highwayman's alleged links with Croydon, the colourful claims continue to intrigue people.
It is believed Turpin had been living in a cottage in Thornton Heath belonging to his aunt and uncle in 1735 when he met members of Gregory's Gang at the Half Moon. According to Purley based local history enthusiast Yvonne Walker, by this time Turpin had already dabbled in smuggling and receiving stolen goods, selling contraband carcasses and sheep during a brief stint as a butcher.
However his antics with the band of thieves, also known as the Essex Gang, took a more sinister and ruthless turn. The speciality of Gregory's Gang was to break into houses and on occasion torture women for valuables.
Ms Walker said: "Some say he came here, others scoff. The gang's net reached far and wide and according to legend, reached Croydon. "It was said they plotted their crimes at the Three Tuns Inn, which once stood in the market area of present day Surrey Street. Another legend says that Dick Turpin used a small house in Thornton Heath which was later called Dick Turpin's Cottage. "This was believed to be near Colliers Water Farm, now the site of the clocktower.
The farm itself had secret passages and was a regular haunt of highwaymen operating in the area."
Turpin is said to have become a highwayman after leaving Gregory's Gang, joining up with notorious highway robber Tom King. The pair operated in Epping Forest before King was accidentally shot dead by Turpin.
He continued his life of crime alone, moving north. In 1739 the authorities caught up with him and he was executed.
The antics of Turpin have been romanticised over the years, with films and books portraying him as a gentleman thief. Ms Walker added: "Many of the legends associated with Dick Turpin were started by the Victorian novelist Harrison Ainsworth when he published his book Rookwood. "He painted a rosy glow of chivalry and romance around a man who was brutal and had no qualms about terrorising his helpless victims, be they young or old, male of female." Indeed, the legend of Dick Turpin has been so romanticised over the years that it is difficult to separate fact from fiction.
A spokesman for Croydon local studies library and archive service said: "There is no proof so no way to know for certain exactly what links he has got with Croydon. "Some of the information we hold says he stayed in a cottage in Thornton Heath and met the infamous Gregory's Gang at the Half Moon in Broad Green. But his story is so colourful that we don't know for sure."