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Smugglers in Pubs. Of course.

SMUGGLERS’ INN: View of the pub in Herne VilIage
SMUGGLERS’ INN: View of the pub in Herne VilIage

A new book has revealed the list of pubs in Kent that were once used us smugglers’ inns. The buildings were used as secret meeting places, recruitment centres, storage facilities and distribution depots.

The Smugglers Inn in Herne Bay as the name suggests, was one such pub frequented by smugglers. It joins a curved terrace of smugglers’ cottages and stands across the road from the 12th-century St Martin of Tours church, where many smugglers are buried.

The book tells the story of smugglers drinking at the pub ahead of a planned landing at Herne Bay in April 1821. They were challenged by Blockade men, one of whom died in the ensuing altercation. The Smuggler’s Inn stands on a corner commonly known as Smuggler’s Corner.

When workmen were laying water mains a little further up the road in 1907, they discovered a ‘honeycomb of arched cellars”. A passage led out to the side of the road, where there was a trapdoor and chains for towering barrels. Cellars were also discovered under the roadway. A store of old contraband spirit bottles were discovered at The Smuggler’s Inn itself in the 1960s. They had been hidden behind a cellar wall. This discovery led them to continue searching and they found a “crypt like recess” hiding casks of rum.

OUT NOW: The new book by Terry Townsend
OUT NOW: The new book by Terry Townsend

The book also features two pubs in the Whitstable area, including The Old Neptune and The Oyster Pearl Pub in Seasalter. The Old Neptune was built between the sea and a street called Island Wall, which was the centre of smuggling activities in the town. The building has been torn down and rebuilt many times, often using some of the original timbers.

Whitstable differed from most places in its smuggling trade, by smuggling in prisoners of war. Many French prisoners of war were brought over to England during the Napoleonic Wars of 1973 and 1814. Overcrowding meant that they lived in appalling conditions. Family members of the wealthier prisoners often paid contacts to help smuggle them out of the prison. They would end up in Whitstable from London by hoy or oyster boat, where they were given safe passage out of the country and back to France.

Outside of this period, smuggling in Whitstable was generally the same as the rest of the country, focusing on brandy, tobacco, lace and gin. The book also says the beach at Seasalter is an ideal spot for landing contraband with its mud, shingle, marshland and cover from the nearby Forest of Blean woods. Contraband brought here was taken to the nearby Blue Anchor, which is now called The Oyster Pearl Pub and Restaurant. From here, it was passed on to nearby farms, whose buildings had concealed compartments, windowless rooms and secret shafts. It was then moved inland to Blue house Farm, just outside of Lenham, where carts were loaded up and taken to the markets in London.

PRESENT: A view of the pub today
PRESENT: A view of the pub today

The smuggling enterprise operated under the organisation The Seasalter Company, founded by Dr Isaac Rutton, from Ashford, who leased Seasalter Parsonage Farm in 1740 and used it as his headquarters.

There are three Faversham pubs featured in the book. The Shipwrights Arms at Hollowshore was first licensed as a pub in 17311. It was well known for serving pirates and smugglers, but also sailors and local fishermen. Features that point to the pub’s smuggling connections include narrow doorways leading to low-beamed rooms, nooks and crannies, standing timbers and built-in settles. Another of Faversham’s smuggling pubs is The Anchor Inn at the end of Abbey Street.

The book estimates that this pub dates from 1695, around the time when the Cluniac monks discovered Faversham’s pure spring water could be combined with local malt barley to produce fine ale. John Caslock, the last Abbot of Faversham, was exporting beer through the town’s creek in 1525. Faversham Custom House was situated in Court Street and seized contraband was stored here and later auctioned off. Author Terry Tonwnsend said:

“There can hardly have been a day during the first 250 years of its existence when smuggling was not discussed or planned over a mug of Faversham ale under the roof of this ancient creek side Inn.”

The third Faversham pub with smuggling links is The Bear Inn located in the Market Place. It is estimated the pub dates back to as early as 1272. For centuries contraband was sold outside after it landed at Conyer Creek and Hollowshore. The book also covers areas of Thanet, Dover and Romney Marsh. Kent Smugglers’ Pubs by Terry Townsend is out now in hardback, priced £9.99.

Herne Bay Times, June 25th 2014