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Parsons, Scarecrows and Fear: Kent's Smuggling Heritage

by Richard Crowhurst

Five and twenty ponies
Trotting through the dark --
Brandy for the Parson,
Baccy for the Clerk

Chorus to A Smuggler's Song by Rudyard Kipling.

Smuggler's pub signKipling's famous poem encapsulates the romantic vision of the great age of British smuggling in the 18th century, conjuring up images of roguish chancers transporting small quantities of contraband under cover of darkness. Other authors such as Russell Thorndyke and Richard Barham contributed to the popular and romantic image of the 'jolly smuggler.' However, in England's southeastern corner, smuggling was a very different affair!

The close proximity to continental Europe, good roads to London, and a poor domestic economy at the end of 17th century created ideal conditions for organised smuggling to flourish. At its height, the illegal trade was controlled by ruthless gangs who did not hesitate to commit murder, violence, blackmail and bribery. So secure was their position that they transported goods in broad daylight in convoys of hundreds of heavily armed men. At a time when most people went no more than a few miles from home, they thought nothing of travelling from one side of Britain to another. This was organised crime on a massive scale. Government figures from 1782 estimated that a quarter of all the vessels engaged in smuggling nationwide were based in Kent and Sussex. Half the gin smuggled into England was landed here.

Kentish smuggling first grew from the illegal exportation of wool. The government imposed restrictions on the trade, and by 1700 up to 150,000 'packs' of wool a year were being shipped from the area days after shearing. From these beginnings the Huguenot families who controlled the trade grew into the first smuggling gangs. As import taxes on luxury items were imposed, gangs, large and small, adapted and by 1720 the emphasis was on bringing in tea, spirits, tobacco and other goods. The black economy pervaded all social levels and it has been claimed that Sir Robert Whalpole (Whig Prime Minister) amassed much of his fortune from the trade. Smugglers soon became involved in other enterprises, including the Jacobite rebellion, international espionage, military campaigns (Nelson employed smugglers from the town of Deal as pilots due to their experience) and highway robbery. Conflicts with the French throughout the late 1700s made smuggling harder, but despite the efforts of William Pitt and the Napoleon, 'classic' smuggling continued in the southeast until the 1830s.

Sea smugglers brought goods ashore (a process known as landing), before inland gangs took over to hide, distribute and sell the contraband. Hence many of the gangs operated in towns and villages miles from the sea. Kent's coastline encompasses muddy tidal creeks in the north, sandy coves and chalk cliffs to the east, and long shingle beaches and brooding marshes to the south. These differences in terrain led to the development of different techniques for landing and hiding good. Even so, the gangs could not have operated without significant financial backing; some shipments required an initial outlay of more than £10,000.

This article describes the main locations involved in the smuggling trade, split into two parts -- roughly representing the north and east, and the southern areas of the county. To make the most of the information, visitors should arm themselves with a map and plan their route in advance. The most suitable are the Ordnance Survey Landranger series, but any good road atlas will do. The order by which places are listed is entirely arbitrary and doesn't reflect any historical or geographical significance and events are not necessary listed in historical order. I'd advise anyone planning to explore the area to obtain a good book on the subject.

The North Kent Smuggling Trail

Ship Inn at Conyer CreekThis section starts in the town of Gravesend and follows the Thames estuary eastwards to the Isle of Thanet, before turning south along The Channel coast to Folkestone. It then returns west along the bottom of the North Downs, through Maidstone, to the village of Wrotham.

The oldest pub in Gravesend, The Three Dawes, was a known smuggler's haunt. Legend has it that three tunnels lead from the cellars to different escape routes around the town. Now sealed off, in their time they were a useful aid in avoiding both Revenue men and naval press gangs. And as if three doors weren't enough, seven different staircases were installed in the old Pilot's House behind the pub, in order to further confuse the authorities.

St Mary's Hoo lies at the centre of area used by the North Kent Gang. Nearby Shade's House is a bleak and desolate place, ideal for the smugglers' purposes, and the nearby inlet of Egypt Bay was a favoured landing spot, further isolated by the threat of malaria that hung over the marshes. A number of farm buildings at nearby Allhallows were also used for storage. On the Isle of Grain the Hogarth Inn was frequently used by smugglers, not only large groups like the North Kent Gang, but also smaller family concerns. One of these was the Roots family of Chatham. Brothers Edward and Richard Roots and several other men ran ten cargoes in a year using their ship The Mermaid. Most of their landings were on the Cliffe Marshes, but they also used Chalk Marshes (near Gravesend) and wharves in the Medway towns.

The name of the Isle of Sheppy means 'Island of Sheep,' so it is no surprise to learn the island was at the centre of the Owling trade. The post office at Warden Point north of Eastchurch was formerly the Smack Aground Inn, one of the bases of the North Kent Gang. The original name reflects the fact it was also said to have been the headquarters of a group of local wreckers who were led by the landlord's son.

Conyer CreekOn the A2 between Sittingbourne and Faversham lies the village of Teynham, which was home to a strong smuggling community. Most of their activities were carried out at Conyer to the north, where the small boatyard and the Ship Inn remain. Despite a modern housing development, a walk north along the creek easily shows how remote and suitable for smuggling the area would have been in the past.

Faversham was another notorious centre of the trade. It was said that Dutch vessels would often sail the long way around the Isle of Sheppy to avoid detection, before coming up Faversham Creek. Many of the fine Georgian houses around the town are actually façades applied to older buildings, illustrative of the wealth accumulated at the time. Goods landed locally and further east were openly sold below the timber-framed Guildhall in the centre of the town. Daniel Defoe visited in 1724 on his tour of England and reported that it was still an important centre of the Owling trade.

Further along the coast, Seasalter was home to a highly secretive group. The Seasalter Company, as it became known, was founded by Dr Isaac Rutton from Ashford. He, and his successors, leased Seasalter Parsonage Farm in the quiet fishing village in 1740. Contraband was landed near the Blue Anchor Inn and stored at local farms before being taken along the North Downs via Lenham, White Hill and Ospringe. The organisation of Seasalter Company was extremely complex to prevent detection. It was also successful. One associate, William Baldock, who held the lease at Parsonage Farm for a while, died with a fortune of well over £1 million. He was safeguarded by the fact that the local Riding Officer was also his nephew. The Seasalter Company was one of the few that managed to reach an 'accommodation' with the Coastguard service when they took over enforcement from the Coastal Blockade in 1831, and they continued to operate under the leadership of William Hyder. A mile to the west of the Blue Anchor the Old Coastguard Cottage is the former Coast Blockade Watch House, which overlooked the shore before the current sea defences were built.

The Old NeptuneThe restricted beaches on the north Kent coast tended to favour smaller gangs. From the beach at Whitstable there is an excellent view of the Isle of Sheppy, clearly seen from the Old Neptune, which stands right on the smuggling beach. The narrow street known as Island Walk that runs along the foreshore has witnessed many incidents in its time. The war with France between 1793 and 1815 presented another lucrative opportunity for the Whitstable and Swalecliffe Gangs, who began repatriating French prisoners-of-war. When a house in Castle Road was demolished in the 1940s, a cache of rusty manacles was uncovered, probably from a mass breakout during this period.

The Ship Inn at the eastern end of Herne Bay was another infamous smugglers' haunt. Here, in 1821, the North Kent Gang shot and killed Midshipman Sydenham Snow during a fight. The fight involved the smugglers and the men from the Coastal Blockade watch-house that stood where Albany Road meets the seafront. A few months earlier, in March, the sentinel of the house was tied up by a gang of smugglers.

Midshipman Snow's body was laid to rest in the churchyard of St Martin's Church at Herne few miles away. The ancient village crowds around the church, and the obviously named Smugglers Inn opposite has real connections to the North Kent Gang. In the early 1920s the cellar was extended downwards and a hidden cache of spirits was discovered. It was promptly seized by the government! Beside the inn, pay attention to the chimney on the corner of the Smugglers' cottages, where a small lookout window can be seen. The Windmill at Herne, like many across Kent, was used to send messages by the various gangs by altering the position of its sails; its location on the hill making it visible for miles around.

Around 1700 the local Riding Officer was based in Herne, as was a band of local wool smugglers led by one William Chamberlain. He earned enough money in ten years to progress from poverty to having a vote in Parliament. Although activity at this time was still relatively petty, by 1730 the wool trade had progressed to landing tea and spirits. It was profitable for many people. The third Riding Officer, William Eads, reported intimidation and threats from the smugglers, yet he too could afford a Parliamentary vote, something he could not have funded from his annual salary of £25.

The Herne smugglers used beaches between Hampton and Reculver. By the end of the 18th century a number of small gangs were operating from the coast around Herne, including those of the Mount family, who landed goods at Hampton, and Thomas Hancock, who operated further east. Hancock owned property in Forstal Road and Reculver Road before being forced to sell them off to raise funds to placate his gang, which he'd doublecrossed.

Smugglers' Cottages Herne Bay

Reculver, with its Roman fort, was also used as the setting for Richard Barham's poem The Smuggler's Leap. In reality the beach here was used by a number of different gangs. On one occasion the Hawkhurst Gang and a group from Wingham landed a huge cargo here. In the 1740s, when these large gangs were operating, the amount of violence associated with the trade increased drastically, and it wasn't uncommon for the smugglers to recapture goods confiscated by the preventive forces. Earlier, in 1714, a group of 130 men landed a cargo on the isolated coast between Reculver and Birchington, before splitting into two groups to carry it off. They were reported to the authorities by the Rev. Thomas Patten of Whitstable, who did so as he had been refused his usual tithe on goods landed along 'his' coast. On another occasion one John Munton of Sittingbourne and other members of the Hawkhurst Gang assembled at Chislet before a landing at Reculver. Later, in 1820, Reculver witnessed a revival with large, violent landings once again carried out by men from Wingham and Canterbury.

Near Acol on the Isle of Thanet is a deep chalk quarry. Known as The Smuggler's Leap, it is the inspiration for the poem of the same name in The Ingoldsby Legends. The story is based on a paragraph written by the Rev. Samuel Pegge in his History of Thanet. The legend says that a Riding Officer (or exciseman) named Anthony Gill lost his life pursuing a smuggler in thick fog. Both individuals and their horses are said to have ridden over the precipice. Pegge concluded, "The smuggler's horse only, it is said was found crushed beneath its rider. The spot has of course been haunted ever since."

Broadstairs and the surrounding villages of St Peters and Reading Street were also home to small local gangs; the most famous of which was led by Joss Snelling. Born in St Peters in 1741, he lived at Farm Cottage (then called Callis Court Cottage) in Lanthorne Road and frequently organised his activities in the Fig Tree Inn in Callis Court Road. There were many landing sites and hides on the Isle of Thanet, such as the caves at Elmwood Road. Joss's gang is best known for the Battle of Botany Bay in the spring of 1769, when they were surprised on the shore between Kingsgate and Foreness Point. Eighteen men were killed or captured, leaving Joss and four companions to flee up Kemp's Stairs. One of the Riding Officers was shot and taken to the bar of the Captain Digby Inn nearby. Two of the smugglers (one of whom was dead) were found hiding in Reading Street, but Joss escaped to have many more adventures. Unlike many other smugglers, he was still actively smuggling at the age of ninety! At one stage he was even introduced to Queen Victoria as 'the famous Broadstairs smuggler.'

It has been suggested that Joss Snelling took his name from Joss Bay where caves used to store contraband can still be seen, along with others at Kingsgate Bay (named to commemorate the landing of Charles II and his brother James). The Coastguard cottages at Kingsgate replaced an earlier Blockade Watch House.

Bleak House

Even the gentile resort of Broadstairs did not escape the smuggler's attention. Bleak House overlooks the harbour, and Charles Dickens could look down at smugglers working on the beach. Until recently the building housed a small smuggling museum in the basement, but it is now a private house. Many of the old houses that line Harbour Street have cellars and other hiding places used by the smugglers.

Pegwell Bay is where the Saxon mercenary Hengest landed in the 5th century at the invitation of King Vortigern. Today the event that led to Saxon rule of eastern England is commemorated by a replica longship standing beside the main road. In the 18th century Pegwell village was a fishing community, before the sea and the construction of the Hover-port destroyed much of the original coastline. However a tunnel (now blocked) led down from the Belle View Tavern to the shore. The Coastguard cottages were built in 1831 to control the situation after hundreds of landings were taken up through 'arch tunnel' from the beach for storage in the village store and smugglers' cottages. The entrance to various tunnels can still be seen cut into the chalk cliff.

In 1746 almost 12 tons of tea was being landed by a joint force of the Hawkhurst Gang and men from Wingham at Sandwich Bay. Something went wrong and the Wingham men left with their share of the cargo before the landing was complete. Incensed at their loss, the Hawkhurst men collected their swords and the ensuing battle left seven of the Wingham men wounded. The Hawkhurst men gained forty horses and most of the tea. In 1817, Blockade-men discovered a wood-lined pit on the beach, concealed by a thick layer of shingle to defeat the use of probes. Also worth a visit is the small town of Sandwich, including its Customs House alongside Quay Lane.

Smuggler's Pub SignDeal was ideally located at the southernmost point of Sandwich Bay. Offshore, the treacherous Goodwin Sands protected smuggling vessels from unwanted attention, with boats launched from the beach to deliver messages and supplies to the waiting vessels. As well as smuggling, the men of Deal gained such a reputation as 'hovellers,' or looters, that the East India Company escorted its vessels through the Straights of Dover to minimise losses.

Deal became a centre of smuggling again during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1781 a force of cavalry and infantry was sent to search the town for contraband. The townsmen were tipped off, and managed to send most of what they had hidden back to France for safekeeping. In January 1785, in an effort to curtain the town's lawless activities, William Pitt ordered the destruction of every boat drawn up on the beach for the winter. The locals believed they were watching a military exercise until it was too late. Today the galley-punt Undaunted is preserved by the pier in remembrance of the event. When exploring the town, remember that the seamen and smugglers lived mainly in the narrow alleyways around Middle Street. Further information on the towns past can be found in the Museum of Maritime and Local History.

South of Deal lies Eastwear Bay at Folkestone (then a small fishing village) was another popular landing site. One of the largest seizures ever made occurred near Folkestone in 1773, when lace and silks worth over £15,000 were captured.

Maidstone is now the county town of Kent -- a large district centre with many former villages forming its suburbs. One of these is Grafty Green where The King's Head was frequented by an infamous fellow known as Dover Bill. Local tradition tells that Bill and his fellow smugglers were surprised by the Revenue while drinking in the pub, and events escalated to a full-scale running battle. Eventually all of the gang except Bill were captured, leaving Bill as an outcast amongst his friends and neighbours. The captured members of the gang were hung at Penenden Heath, which witnessed the capital punishment of many smugglers, including two of the Ransley brothers (see below).

At West Peckham the ruins of Diamonds Cottage are all that remain of the home of Jack Diamond; member of the infamous Hawkhurst Gang and sometime highwayman. Diamond was one of the gang who attacked Poole Customs House in 1746. His ghost is said to appear occasionally on Friday the 13th, the day the cottage was destroyed by fire.

Today the village of Wrotham stands near a major motorway junction, but it has always been an important communications centre between the Weald, London and the North Downs. The Vigo Inn at the top of Wrotham hill, above the village and the motorway, housed a specially hidden bolt-hole where smugglers and their goods could be hidden. In the village itself, a stone in the wall next to The Bull Hotel commemorates the murder and retribution of Lieutenant Colonel Shadwell. Shadwell, the leader of a local smuggling gang, frequented the hotel until he was shot by an army deserter in 1799. Shadwell's associates quickly captured his murderer, and a companion, and beat them to death.

Another well known smuggler from Wrotham was Old Sobers. His prosperous family could readily muster horses and specialised in transporting cargo landed near Sandwich. They developed a system of communication typical of ingenuity of many gangs. The guards on the regular coach services between Dover and London would play different tunes on their trumpets as they passed through the village. These were then decoded by the gang. During the day cows were tethered in groups of three (at night more conventional lamps were used) as a signal for two hundred men from the villages of Wrotham, Ightham and Platt to collect their horses. Such a large force was able to stay out of most trouble; helped, no doubt, by the Excisemen of Sandwich, who were bribed to catch eels while cargo was landed nearby. Hiding places used by the Sobers family included Mereworth Woods and the sandpits and quarries near Borough Green, as well as the Iron Age earthworks at Oldbury Camp near Ightham.

The South Kent Smuggling Trail

Smuggler's Alley RyeStarting in the ancient port and infamous smuggling capital of Rye, this trail crosses Romney Marsh and follows the shingle coast, before turning back to the picturesque villages and market towns of the Kentish weald.

Although in Sussex, no history of Kent smuggling can ignore the ancient Cinque Port of Rye. Its location, narrow cobbled streets and closely built houses interconnected by attics and cellars, made it an ideal landing place for smuggled cargoes. At the height of their fame, the Hawkhurst Gang is said to have openly sat in the bar of the Mermaid Inn with their loaded pistols laid casually on the tables. Watchbell Street is mentioned in one of Russell Thorndike's Dr Syn stories, and much of the town retains remnants of its smuggling past, as well as other fascinating and picturesque buildings. On one occasion twenty men of the Hawkhurst Gang frightened the locals at The Red Lion by firing their pistols in the air. A young man named James Marshall, who took too much of an interest in the gang's activities, was abducted by the smugglers and never seen again.

The Flushing Inn in Market Street was another smuggler's haunt, and parts of the building date to before 1377, when much of Rye was destroyed by a French attack. The Bakery in Market Street contains a lift mechanism that allowed casks to be raised into the attic for hiding. Above the warehouses along the quayside of the old town, Traders Passage linked the lookout in Watchbell Street with the notorious London Trader Inn in Mermaid Street. Today it is hard to visualise how like an island Rye was in the 18th century, but the ferryman's house and boatyards add to the sense of history that pervades the town. An essential visitor attraction is the meticulous Rye Town Model in the Tourist Information Centre. Another small museum occupies Ypres Tower, a former prison that frequently housed captured smugglers.

The boat builders of Rye became experts at building smuggling vessels incorporating hidden compartments. One of the most famous was the Sally of Hastings. She was constructed as a 'boat within a boat' with a five-inch gap between her hulls for concealing contraband. A few miles to the west, at Rye Harbour, the black Coast Blockade Watch House (featuring a lookout window) and the later Victorian Coastguard cottages can be seen. The beaches at Rye Harbour and Camber were frequently used by landing crews. The Revenue vessel based at Rye was even attacked while lying in the harbour. Now a private house, the Camber Watch House can be seen at the eastern end of the village.

Travelling back eastwards across Romney Marsh, Lydd was notorious as a centre for smuggling. In the 1700s it still retained some direct contact with the sea. Today's Pilot Inn is something of a disappointment to the visitor seeking history, but it does occupy the site of the original public house. Pilots were picked up by vessels entering the Straits of Dover, and the boats that rowed them out into The Channel frequently returned with useful items from the ship's cargo. In 1688 a clothier called William Carter was attacked as he and his men rode through Lydd, just hours after a group of Owlers he'd arrested earlier had been bailed. Carter left Lydd the next morning for Rye, but was attacked by fifty armed men as he passed Camber. In the 1730s Lydd was home to a company of Dragoons who sold their seizures to a local Exciseman at the rate of two shillings for a half anker (approx. four gallons) of brandy.

Watchbell Street LookoutBrookland was the scene of a battle between the Revenue forces and the Aldington Gang in 1821. This left five men dead and twenty-five wounded. During the running battle across Walland Marsh, which involved up to 250 men, Cephas Quested, the founder of the Aldington Gang, was captured and subsequently hung, leaving George Ransley to take over. Those wounded in the battle were treated at Pear Tree House by Dr Ralph Hougham, who was well used to treating both sides in the conflict. He reported that he was often led blindfolded across the marsh to the aid of a wounded smuggler.

The Rev. Richard Harris Barham, rector of Snargate, is best known as Thomas Ingoldsby, Esq., eponymous author of the Ingoldsby Legends. Snargate Church was frequently used for storing contraband (Braham claimed he could find it on a dark night from the smell of tobacco), as was St George's Church at nearby Ivychurch. Next door to the church, The Bell was often frequented by free traders.

Unlike Rye, the town of Dymchurch has lost much of its former character. However, it provides the settings for the adventures of the fictional Dr Syn. The Ship Hotel, which is the centrepiece for many of the fictional clergyman's adventures, was a smuggler's haunt in real life and also played host to the local coroner's court, where inquests were held into the deaths of many smugglers. The pub has been extensively remodelled (and today's road passes at the rear of the building) but upstairs little has changed. Rumours of a tunnel leading from the pub to the Church of St Peter and St Paul across the road are unsubstantiated. Inside the church, a brass plaque commemorates the writer and actor Arthur Russell Thorndike (1885-1972), whose literary creations (including the terrifying Scarecrow of Romney Marsh and his companion Hellspite) proved so popular that he was forced to resurrect him after killing him off at the end of the first novel. Thorndike donated the image of Dr Syn to the church for fundraising purposes, and Dymchurch holds a bi-annual 'Day of Syn' festival on August Bank Holiday.

Many gravestones in the churchyard provided inspiration for Thorndike, and the names on many tombs will be familiar to fans of the Dr Syn books. The village war memorial is located on the spot formerly occupied by a set of gallows, and New Hall alongside the church houses a small cell where captured smugglers were held before they were tried in the house by the local bailiffs. In 1787 smugglers were captured here attempting to send live sheep to France. They were imprisoned in Dover, but soon escaped.

Dymchurch Wall, along the edge of the beach, afforded cover for smugglers engaged in landing activities, and the London City Inn confirms the final destination of the goods. Although built for the Napoleonic Wars, Martello Tower 24, which is open to the public, was used as a Coast Blockade Station during the 1820s. Further along the coast towards Hythe, Herring Hang was another popular landing site. The network of drainage ditches across the marsh frequently enabled smugglers, often with local help, to evade pursuers, particularly during the thick fogs that envelope the area. Near Dymchurch stands the ruined church of Hope All Saints. These ruins were used for clandestine meetings until a Preventative Officer hiding on top of the ruined walls overheard one such plan and seized a cargo as a result.

Ypres TowerToday Hythe, another of the Cinque Ports, is a pretty seaside town. The coaching inn, The Red Lion, crops up in some of Dr Syn's adventures, while a mill stream ran underneath another pub, The Bell. Casks of smuggled rum and brandy were floated in here through a tunnel in the cellar and hidden by being hung from a peg in the ceiling. The Royal Military Canal runs through the middle of Hythe and was built as part of Britain's defences against Napoleon, but the separation of Romney Marsh from the rest of Kent by the canal made the landing of cargo harder in subsequent years. The Smuggler's Retreat in the High Street suggests that activity was not completely curtailed.

Aldington was the main headquarters of the Ransley's gang, sometimes known as 'the Blues,' Today this is celebrated by the smuggler depicted on the sign of The Walnut Tree. Inside the pub is a tiny spyhole offering views over Romney Marsh, while the churchyard holds the graves of two of the Ransley brothers, who were executed at Penenden Heath near Maidstone. For a time George Ransley was employed as a carter at Court Lodge Farm. He also built himself a house in the village, The Bourne Tap. As the name suggests, this was used as an unlicenced beer-house or pub, but has since been extended into a comfortable private home. From Aldington Knoll the gang could look out over the wide expanse of Romney Marsh. Following a fight amongst the beach huts at Dover in July 1826, the gang were surprised in their beds in the village by Bow Street Runners and Blockade Officers at 3 o'clock in the morning.

Woodchurch was home to several members of the Ransley's gang in the early 1820s. In 1826 they fought with the Revenue here on the Village Green, while The Six Bells has, unsurprisingly, hidden cellars. The unusual name of the other pub in the village, the Bonny Cravat, is said to come from a smuggling vessel called the Bonne Cravate. This pub was often used as a courtroom, and several smugglers were sentenced to death here before being hung on a gallows outside.

In Hawkhurst, the Oak and Ivy inn was used as the headquarters of the most infamous and violent of all the smuggling groups, the Hawkhurst Gang, under the leadership of Arthur Gray. Here goods en route to London and Oxfordshire could be safely stored for a time. Gray established the gang with his brother William and built a house, complete with his own bonded storeroom, at Seacox Heath just to the west of the village. It was said that the village of Hawkhurst could raise five hundred men at short notice to undertake smuggling activity. One of the most famous episodes in the history of the gang occurred in 1746, when they raided the Custom House at Poole in Dorset (120 miles from Kent) to recover a seized load of tea with some west-country colleagues. The gang's profit on the venture was considerably reduced. Not only did a number of gang members die in the attack, but the government lowered the import duty on tea at the same time, reducing its value.

Sissinghurst is most famous for the gardens designed by Vita Sackville-West. Less well know is the village pub, The Bull, where a seemingly innocent cupboard in one of the rooms to the rear of the building conceals an escape hatch.

Romney Marsh

Another Wealden village is Goudhurst, another centre of operations for the Hawkhurst Gang. The Church was used as a hiding place for goods, and legend tells of a tunnel leading from the here to the Star and Eagle Inn. Goudhurst church is also famous as the site where, on April 28th 1747, local militiamen led by William Sturt erected barricades for their final stand against the tyranny of the Hawkhurst Gang. One of the leaders of the Gang, George Kingsmill, was shot during the 'battle' and is buried in the churchyard. He had previously boasted that he would burn the village to the ground as revenge for the villagers' resistance. His brother Thomas, who also led the Gang for a time, used the house called Spyways, a little further down the hill from the church, as his headquarters. After he was executed at Tyburn his body was brought to Goudhurst Gore. Meanwhile, another member of the Hawkhurst Gang, William Fairall, was hung in chains at the end of Gibbet Lane in Horsmonden where he lived.

Mermaid Inn

New Hall

Old Customs House, Rye

Court Lodge Farm and Church

Trader's Passage

Dymchurch Beach

Royal Military Canal

Ship Inn

Walnut Tree Inn


The maps listed below are available directly from the OS website (http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk) and cover the main areas described in this article. For exploring by car or on foot the 1:50,000 Landranger series is perfectly adequate. However, if you can afford it and you want more detail, including other tourist attractions, then consider the larger scale Explorer series.

Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger (pink) series (£6.49 each)
178 -- Thames Estuary, Rochester & Southend-on-Sea
179 -- Canterbury & East Kent, Dover & Margate
188 -- Maidstone & Royal Tunbridge Wells
189 -- Ashford & Romney Marsh, Rye & Folkestone

Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer (yellow) series (£7.49 each)
125 -- Romney Marsh, Rye & Winchelsea
136 -- The Weald & Tunbridge Wells
137 -- Ashford, Headcorn, Chilham & Wye
138 -- Dover, Folkestone & Hythe
147 -- Sevenoaks & Tonbridge
148 -- Maidstone & the Medway Towns
149 -- Sittingbourne & Faversham, Isle of Sheppy
150 -- Canterbury & the Isle of Thanet
163 -- Gravesend & Rochester


The following books are available from Amazon.com:

Doel, Fran & Geoff; Folklore of Kent, 2004, Tempus Publishing Ltd
Lely, Bridget; Smuggling in Kent
Platt, Richard; The Ordnance Survey Guide to Smuggler's Britain
Phillipson, David; Smuggling: A History 1700-1970, 1973, David & Charles
Quinn, Tom; Smuggler's Tales, 2001, David & Charles
Thondyke, Russell; Dr Syn: A smuggler tale of the Romney Marsh
Waugh, Mary; Smuggling in Kent and Sussex, 1700-1840

Related Articles:

On the Trail of Cornwall's "Free Traders," by Grant Eustace

More Information:

Historic Kent: Smuggling in Kent
A very extensive (26-part) discussion of Kent smuggling.

Smuggler's Britain: Gazetteer

Smuggling in Kent

Richard Crowhurst is a freelance writer and author based in Lincolshire, England. He writes on many subjects, including history and heritage topics. More details can be found on his websites, http://www.freelance-writer-and-author.co.uk and http://www.enagri.info.
Article and photos © 2006 Richard Crowhurst


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