The smugglers and pirates may have gone but their legend still lives on throughout 1066 Country
From the eleventh to the eighteenth century, cross-Channel smuggling was a busy activity, providing a living for hundreds of people around the 1066 Country coast. It began in earnest shortly after the Norman conquest of England in 1066, when William the Conqueror brought over thousands of his men from France. They brought with them a taste for French wine and other continental products, and these tastes soon spread among the English population.
The ancient port towns of Rye, Winchelsea and Hastings in 1066 Country would have been piratical places in the 17th and 18th centuries, with smuggling, rampant. The Inns and taverns would be full of smuggling gangs and pirates all armed to the teeth and ready to kill if challenged by the customs officials.
The prosperity of these port towns depended more on smuggling than any other trade. Rye in the 18th century was dubbed the ‘smuggling capital of England’ it’s smugglers were treated with leniency and charges were often dropped, mainly due to the towns corrupt officials who were often paid off and benefited by the service the smugglers provided.
The leaders of the infamous Hawkhurst gang, used to meet openly at Rye’s, Mermaid Inn, carousing and smoking their pipes, with loaded pistols on the table before them. Their notorious reputation meant that nobody would interfere with them.
Another lucrative sideline for 1066 Country’s mariners was privateering in wartime against French and Spanish ships, this is where the King or Queen authorised attacks and capture of enemy merchant ships and split the booty.
In peacetime privateering turned to piracy. The pirates of 1066 Country attacked both foreign and other English ships, there are even reports that they attacked the port of Southampton! Piracy was difficult for the Crown to stop as the ‘pirates’ provided much of the navy in time of war.
So when you visit one of 1066 Country’s ancient inn’s remember this is where smugglers planned and pirates plotted.
To learn more about 1066 Country’s smugglers head to Hastings and visit St. Clements Caves the home of Smugglers Adventure.
Here you will get the chance to inspect swords, uniforms, guns and many other historical artifacts including the only known smuggler’s account book in existence. Interactive displays offer hands-on experiences; from finding where smugglers hid their booty to racing across the Channel and beating the Revenue Men.
But be on your guard! As you travel through the caves you’ll encounter a cast of shady characters going about their illegal business and witness their grisly punishment at the hands of the Preventive Services
Rudyard Kipling‘s wrote his Smugglers’ Song about the antics of 1066 Country’s smugglers
If you wake at midnight, and hear a horse’s feet,
Don’t go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street,
Them that asks no questions isn’t told a lie,
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!
Trotting through the dark
Brandy for the Parson, Baccy for the Clerk,
Laces for a lady, letters for a spy,
And watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!
If you would like to smuggle yourself away to 1066 Country get in touch, pirates need not apply!