Stand and deliver

6th May 2005 at 01:00
Tabloid headline writers quake at the prospect of road rage or joyriding, but a century or so ago the attacks by highwaymen along the Great North Road were so frequent they sent travellers scrambling for the new railways.

Dick Turpin's celebrated ride from London to York on his horse Black Bess was the invention of Victorian novelist William Harrison Ainsworth, but the problem was real enough. The wealthy passengers on the stagecoaches that plied the turnpikes between London and Edinburgh presented particularly rich pickings for ruthless criminals.

The robbers themselves often met grisly ends. The ghost of highwayman Tom Hoggett is said to gallop along the Great North Road near Ripon, where he drowned in the River Swale trying to escape pursuing troops, while the real Dick Turpin was hanged for crimes he committed around the capital. Many of literature's famous characters - Moll Flanders, Nicholas Nickleby, Nigel Oliphaunt - shared the road with Ainsworth's Turpin.

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