Guide-Book: South-West England
THE NORTH COAST
Smuggling boats landed goods from the continent on the south coast of the peninsula in all seasons, but the north coast was used for continental traffic principally during the summer, when the Atlantic storms had abated.
The coastline on the north is less favourable for landings: there are fewer gently-sloping sandy beaches, and many of the suitable coves are too exposed to the wind, making approach more hazardous. The heavy surf for which the area is now famous was another problem, breaking up the floating 'rafts' of roped-together tubs. The main advantage of a north coast landing to the smuggler was that it was inconspicuous: revenue vessels kept an eagle eye on the south coast, but were less vigilant on the north.
Smuggling activity on the north coast focused on traffic with the West Indies, and with various off-shore depots, such as Ireland, the Scillies and Lundy Island. Ocean-going vessels heading for Bristol found it a simple matter to keep a clandestine rendezvous with small boats off the Devon coast.
At the extreme tip of Cornwall, Sennen was a centre of the free-trade. The inn was owned by a farmer who helped to finance local smuggling operations, with the help of the landlady, Ann George, and her husband. Dissatisfied with their lot, this unpleasant pair blackmailed the farmer, refusing to pay the rent on the premises. When they were evicted, they shopped their former employer, and he was sent to jail for his involvement. Needless to say, this treason made the two informers highly unpopular, and had some considerable bearing on a later trial in the town.
This sequel came in 1805 when the excise men impounded a large cargo — 1000 gallons each of brandy, rum and gin, and a quarter of a ton of tobacco. As they struggled to remove the cargo, a large and hostile crowd built up, and a running battle ensued. The owner of the cargo eventually appeared in court charged with inciting the mob to riot. The main witness for the prosecution was Ann George, but she was regarded as such a malicious gossip that the case was dismissed.
Another court case, at St Just, a short way north of Sennen amply illustrates a number of other interesting facets of the free-trade — in particular the financial arrangements made by smugglers in order to conceal the trail they left behind. Two smugglers from the town — Oats and Permewan — were very active around 1818. However, they took the precaution of employing a middle-man, who paid the merchants in France for the goods that they brought to Britain.
It appears that the middle-man, Pridham, got greedy, and kept the payments, instead of just his percentage. Furthermore, he threatened to report the smugglers to the authorities if they ended the arrangement. A meeting was arranged, at which Permewan proposed to terminate the contract. To prevent prosecution based on Pridham's evidence, Oats and Permewan hatched a cunning plan. Pridham had met Permewan in person just a couple of times, so Permewan sent his brother to impersonate him. While the meeting took place, Permewan himself made a point of establishing the perfect alibi, by meeting as many people in the town as possible. So when the blackmailer made his accusations, his evidence was ruled out of court. 
SW5250 12m W of Redruth. Trencrom Hill is at SW5136 on a minor road 2m SW of Lelant. The cottages are at the end of a track leading away from the NT carrpark. At St Erth , you can still see the bridge under which the Redruth man hid: it is by the churchyard at SW549351 (map 203).
St Ives Bay is the first inlet sheltered from the Atlantic storms, and it should come as no surprise to learn that north-coast smuggling started this close to Land's End. John Wesley noted of the town that 'well-night one and all bought and sold uncustomed goods'.
The collector of customs here was at one stage John Knill, who, it appears, dabbled in smuggling a little himself. While he was mayor (in 1767) he paid for the fitting out of a privateer, which was used as a smuggler. He also built a steeple nearby to serve as a landmark for his vessels, and left some curious provisions in his will to ensure that his memory lived on in the town.
One story links Knill to a boat loaded with china that ran aground at the Hayle side of Carrack Gladden. The crew escaped, and someone removed the ship's papers since they implicated Knill and a squire of Trevetho. Roger Wearne, the customs man of the time, helped himself to some of the cargo, but got no further with it than the ship's side. As he was climbing down, one of the locals noticed his bulging garments, and a few well-aimed blows ensured that the china was worthless. 
In St Andrews Street at St Ives once stood the Blue Bell Inn which was frequented by a Dutch smuggler called Hans Breton. It was said that he was in league with the devil, and that he paid duty on just one keg of brandy. This, however, never seemed to empty, and lasted 22 years.
Like most of their fellow countrymen, the people of St Ives enjoyed a story that showed the smuggler as hero and the preventives as at best fools. One episode which reinforces this impression took place in 1851. Despite the considerable — and largely successful — efforts that had been taken to stamp out the free-trade locally, a notorious local smuggler called James 'Old Worm' Williams landed smuggled Irish whiskey close to the St Ives breakwater, and hid the barrels in fishing boats and pig sties near the water. Later that night, three carts collected the haul, and carried it openly through the streets, heading east. However, the carts attracted the attention of a coastguard drinking in the George and Dragon in the market place, and when he investigated, he was knocked to the ground, bound and gagged. After some time, though, he managed to get free, and went for help. The officer he called on galloped off to the toll-house on Hayle causeway, but the toll-collector denied ever seeing any waggons. (In fact, the smugglers had got new horses at Skidden Hill, and had made for Hayle and Redruth). The Coastguard drew the conclusion that the smugglers had headed for Penzance, and made a fruitless trip there.
All that remained in evidence was Williams' smack, the St George , which was still in the bay. The only crew-man left on board was a Prussian cabin-boy who apparently knew just three words of English — 'I don't know'. According to tradition, though, he had been threatened with murder if he told more. Eventually the customs authorities, for want of greater crimes, detained the boat on the rather feeble charge that the ship's name was partially hidden where it was painted on the stern.
A passage relating the incident appeared in the West Briton, headed 'Smuggling', and Williams took the unprecedented step of replying. He claimed that he was in St Ives harbour to take on board baskets of fish, and suggested that the coastguard in the George and Dragon had been drunk and simply imagined the carts. The letter appeared on June 13th 1851, and the vessel was released on the 16th.
The customs men were, however, nothing if not persistent. They crept up some tubs nearby, and found with them rope and chain that matched samples from the St George. Nevertheless, the case was dismissed for lack of evidence.
The cabin boy, nicknamed 'Prussian Bob' settled in St Ives, and became known as 'Old Worm's Fool' on account of his fine performance.
A St Ives historian argues that the town was the last outpost of the trade: in the 1870s a local boat called Old Duchy smuggled rum from Holland. The trips ended when the excisemen put spies among the fishermen involved in the trade, resulting in heavy fines all round.
The area around St Ives and to the east has its fair share of smuggling tales: at Trencrom Hill, Lelant, one of two granite cottages once known as Newcastle was used as a 19th century kiddlewink — a beershop. Smugglers excavated a cave alongside for the concealment of contraband. The cottages still stand on the hill, but are private houses — there is no public access to them. The church at Lelant was also used for the storage of contraband spirits. 
According to a St Erth legend, a Redruth man was being pursued by the excisemen, when he decided at St Erth Bridge that his exhausted nag could no longer carry both himself and the tubs. He dismounted, and hid under the bridge, whipping the horse off at a gallop. When he heard the officer's horse pass overhead, the man emerged and walked back home — the horse arrived a good deal earlier 
3m SE of St Ives. The house with the tunnel lies close to Phillack at the end of a cul-de-sac on the N side of the inlet, at SW562382 (map 203). On the coast north of Hayle, the B3301 coast road to Portreath passes several landing points: Hell's Mouth some 5 m from Hayle, at SW605420 was a landing spot; and Ralph's Cupboard (named after a smuggler), a mile outside Portreath at SW644452 was used for storage.
Hayle was a popular landing place for smugglers, and in the garden of a house that was formerly the local youth hostel there is a remarkable tunnel that was allegedly used for smuggling. A sloping trench leads down from ground level to the arched tunnel entrance, where the hinges for a gate or door can still be seen. The tunnel is still open, and runs due north for hundreds of yards. It is possible to walk along it only in a stooping posture, though in the last two centuries, the average stature has risen considerably, so possibly 17th century smugglers could have walked upright.
Many smugglers' tunnels prove disappointing, or just non-existent, but this one seems authentic: it is the right shape; it runs towards the coast; it even has a drainage gulley along its length to keep the flat floor dry.
Among the local smuggling legends is a story of a smuggler who came to live in Hayle, despite the fact that he was a stranger to the area. He was comparatively wealthy, but seemed always to suffer from the cold — he had a very pale complexion, and shivered even in summer. When he stood in the sun, it's said, he cast no shadow. When the man died, it emerged that he had made his money by giving false evidence against a fellow, and claiming the reward. From that day on, the sun never shone on the perjurer. 
SW8572 (map 200). To reach the tunnel described below leave Porthcothan by the road on the N side, turning up the valley along footpaths, and keeping to the S side of the brook. Walk up the valley until a tributary joins the main brook at SW865715 , then follow the tributary for some 300 yards. The low entrance to the cave is halfway up the valley side on the right. Look carefully: it's well hidden in bracken and gorse in the summer.
To the east of the St Ives area, smuggling traditions are fragmented and occasional. This is perhaps to be expected, since most of the inland areas could be supplied with continental luxuries far more easily from the south coast than the north. Nevertheless, persistent stories link some of the north coast towns and villages with the free-trade.
In The Book of the West, the vicar of Morwenstowe describes a cave used for concealing contraband, a little way up the valley from Porthcothan Bay, just west of Padstow.
At Porth Cothan the cliffs fall away and form a lap of shore, into which flows a little stream....About a mile up the glen, is a tiny lateral combe. Rather more than halfway down the steep slope is a hole just large enough to admit a man entering in a stooping posture...
The cave is still in existence, but there is no trace of the extensive tunnel that the writer goes on to describe. Some of the details he wrote about over a century ago can still be seen though: there are notches near the mouth, into which smugglers lodged a beam of timber; they then heaped earth against the beam and covered the pile with furze to hide the entrance. The tunnel supposedly led to a farm half a mile away.
SW855737 (Map 200). Take the B3276 Newquay to Padstow road, and turn off towards the coast about 4 miles outside Padstow, following signs to Treyarnon Bay caravan site, where there is ample parking. Walk across the beach, and S along the cliff path for about 600 yards. Pepper Cove is the 3rd inlet.
Smugglers were essentially opportunists, and were prepared to run practically anything that would turn a profit. When pepper was taxed heavily, it became a popular item for the Cornwall smugglers, and tiny Pepper Cove a little way north of Porthcothan takes its name from the boatloads of spice that were landed there.
It's an archetypical smugglers' cove: the entrance from the sea is narrow, and fringed with jagged rocks; once inside, a smuggler's vessel would be totally hidden by the high cliffs, so that unloading could be a safe and leisurely activity. The beach is sandy and free of rocks, and the gradient is sufficiently gentle that even a large boat could have been beached quite easily.
Nearby is Wills Rock: smugglers left a revenue man on the rock to drown in the rising tide; amazingly, the officer lived to tell the tale.
Here an Irish smuggling vessel chased an excise ship into the harbour, then hung out flags and fired guns as a victory signal. The smugglers sailed on to unload at Newquay, where the customs authorities were known to be very obliging about watching the wall.
In 1765 a beach 2 miles west of Padstow was in use as a landing point, and William Rawlings wrote in that year to the earl of Dartmouth that his servants encountered 60 horses carrying a cargo from the beach some 3 miles from St Columb...'having each three bags of tea on them of 56 or 58lbs weight'
Another local story — perhaps apocryphal — tells how a farmer, spotted carrying a barrel of spirits by a distant exciseman, lifted a gatepost from its socket, dropped the tub into the hole, replaced the gatepost and greeted the man with a cheery wave.
Jamaica Inn is at SX184768 on the A30 at Bolventor, Bodmin Moor, 10 miles outside Bodmin. Despite the many changes the inn has undergone, the bleak spot still hints at the malice and ill-fortune so vividly portrayed in the book.
On the windswept wastes of Bodmin Moor Jamaica Inn is perhaps the best known of all smuggling haunts, thanks to Daphne Du Maurier's novel of the same name. It is surrounded by barren country and often hemmed in by chill winds and thick mists, and the approach is perhaps more spectacular than the building itself. The fame of the inn is not entirely fictional: it was probably supplied with contraband booze landed by Polperro and Boscastle boats.
Port Isaac is at SW9981 nine miles N of Wadebridge. Parking on the beach at low tide (fee); at other times, park above the village and walk down the steep streets to the harbour area. Village centre closed to traffic during the high season.
Will you hear of Cruel Copinger?
'Cruel' Copinger was the most notorious of Cornwall's many smugglers, and the Rev RS Hawker paints a vivid picture of Copinger's arrival in a furious storm. The population turned out in the hope of a wreck, and spied...
a strange vessel of foreign rig...in fierce struggle with the waves of Harty Race. She was deeply lade or waterlogged, and rolled heavily in the trough of the sea, nearing the shore as she felt the tide. Gradually the pale and dismayed faces of the crew became visible, and among them one man of Herculean height and mould, who stood near the wheel with a speaking-trumpet in his hands. The sails were blown to rags, and the rudder was apparently lashed for running ashore....the tall seaman, who was manifestly the skipper of the boat, had cast off his garments, and stood prepared upon the deck to encounter a battle with the surges for life and rescue. He plunged over the bulwarks, and arose to sight buffeting the seas. With stalwart arm and powerful chest he made his way through the surf, rode manfully from billow to billow until, with a bound, he stood at last upright upon the sand, a fine stately semblance of one of the old Vikings of the northern seas.
The story continues in this vein, with baroque, if exaggerated flourishes by the Reverend. Copinger grabbed the cloak from one of the old women on the beach (note the cruel streak), leapt onto a horse behind Miss Dinah Hamlyn, and rode off to her home, where he introduced himself to the girl's father as Copinger the Dane. The ship, meanwhile, sank from sight.Copinger threw himself on the family's charity, wooed the girl, and appeared grateful for all they did for him. The father, though, sickened and died, and Copinger took over as head of the household. He married Dinah, and immediately... 'his evil nature, so long smouldering, break (sic) out like a wild beast uncaged...'
Copinger, it emerges, was head of a large and terrifying gang, half smuggler, half pirate. After the wedding...'all kinds of wild uproar and reckless revelry appalled the neighbourhood day and night'.
Copinger indulged in many daring exploits — but the reverend Hawker mentions only a few specifically. One was to lure a revenue cutter into a channel near Gull Rock. Copinger piloted his ship, the Black Prince , safely ashore, but the revenue cutter went aground, and all perished. To deter the excisemen on another occasion, the crew cut the head off a gauger, and carried the body to sea.
Copinger terrorised the locality, capturing men who had offended him, and forcing them into working on his boat. This story finds confirmation in other sources: a 97 year old man told a Penzance woman , that he was witness to a murder perpetrated by an associate of Copinger's, and that to prevent him from telling anyone he was abducted. He was released only when some friends ransomed him two years later.
Copinger amassed such a fortune that when he bought a farm he paid with gold coin...'Dollars and ducats, doubloons and pistoles, guineas — the coinage of every foreign country with a seabord'. The astonished lawyer reluctantly agreed to the payment by weight.
Copinger even controlled land transport, forbidding anyone to move on 'Copinger's tracks' at night. The paths converged at a headland called Steeple Brink, hundreds of feet below which was Copinger's Cave, where secret revelry went on...'that would be utterly inconceivable to the educated mind of the nineteenth century.'
Copinger extorted money from his mother-in-law by tying his beautiful wife to the bedstead, and threatening to whip her with a sea-cat unless the old woman paid up. He also whipped the vicar, and tormented a half-witted tailor, threatening to sell him to the devil. His union with Dinah produced a son, who, though deaf and dumb was as mischievous and cruel as his father, and who joyfully murdered a playmate when aged six.
Copinger's luck ran out, and he disappeared as he had arrived, in a violent storm. Standing atop Gull Rock, he waved his sword to the approaching craft and was eventually met by a boat in Harty Race 'with two hands at every oar; for the tide runs with double violence through Harty Race' The boat picked him up at Gull Creek, and the crew struggled through the waves to the pirate vessel. A crew-man who flagged was cut down with a cutlass. The tale ends...
Thunder, lightning and hail ensued. Trees were rent up by the roots around the pirate's abode. Poor Dinah watched, and held in her shuddering arms her idiot boy, and, strange to say, a meteoric stone, called in that country a storm-bolt, fell through the roof into the room, at the very feet of Cruel Copinger's vacant chair.
Port Isaac features prominently in the legend of Cruel Copinger. The advantages of the spot to the free-trading community are still obvious today: the long sandy beach is protected by high, rocky promontories on either side, and the valley stretching away inland must have provided easy access for the large numbers of men and horses needed to transport contraband in to the hinterland. Especially unusual is the life-boat house and fishermen's shelter, a triangular building that protects a cobbled courtyard from the lashing Atlantic rain.
At the shelter you can buy excellent lobsters, a reminder that Port Isaac was for a long time one of only two substantial fishing villages along this stretch of the north coast — Bude was the other. The Bloody Bones Bar at a local pub is a shrine to smugglers.
Cruel Copinger's biographer was the Reverend Hawker, vicar of this tiny hamlet. He wrote many tales of smuggling folk in the area, and one characteristic tale concerns 'The Gauger's Pocket' or the Witan-Stone (rock of wisdom) at Tidnacombe Cross. It is on the edge of the moor, near the sea '...grown over with moss and lichen, with a moveable slice of rock to conceal its mouth...a dry and secret crevice, about an arm's length deep. Smuggler Tristram Pentire, who tells the tale to the vicar adds...
'There, sir have I dropped a little bag of gold, many and many a time, when our people wanted to have the shore quiet and to keep the exciseman out of the way of trouble; and there he would go if so be he was a reasonable officer, and the byeword used to be, when t'was all right, one of us would go and meet him, and then say, 'Sir, your pocket is unbuttoned;' and he would smile and answer, 'Ay! ay! but never mind, my man, my money's safe enough;' and thereby we knew that he was a just man, and satisfied, and that the boats could take the roller in peace...'
Tristram Pentire seems to have kept the location of the Witan Stone a secret, because today, even knowledgeable locals at Morwenstow know nothing of the concealed hiding hole.
East of Hartland point, Bideford Bay provided a safe haven from the pounding westerlies. On the west of the bay the village of Clovelly, clinging to the cliff-face, had a notorious reputation as a smuggling haunt, and certainly many smuggler's luggers set out from the well-protected harbour there. A local legend about cannibals keeping tubs of salted human flesh in caves along the coast may well have been spread by smugglers to keep inquisitive visitors away from their hiding places. However, see this website, which calls the story into question. Today, locals will point out the smugglers' cave to the curious — it's a good walk east along the shore from the harbour.
Lundy Island was at the centre of a massive tobbacco smuggling scheme that defrauded fortunes from the exchequer in the mid 18th-century. The mastermind of the fraud was a Bideford man called Thomas Benson. He had inherited considerable wealth from his father, including a fleet of ships plying regularly to the American colonies, and returning with tobacco. Benson's fortune flourished from the trade, and in due course he became Sheriff of Devon, and later MP for Barnstaple. His business activities were not up to the standard expected of present-day public figures (though Benson was probably far from a black sheep by 18th-century standards). Benson conceived an elegant scheme to defraud the customs, involving both Lundy Island, which he rented from Lord Gower, and the steady flow of convicts who streamed through Bideford on route for the New World.
The defrauded customs men of Appledore, Bideford and Barnstaple were perplexed. 'We are at a very great loss how to act in this case...' they wrote in September 1751 '...as we cannot find that this island is within the limits of any port'. The problem persisted. The following year the board of customs feared that '...the island will become a magazine for smuglers (sic)'.
However, Benson's days were numbered. He had scuttled one of his ships to claim the insurance, and the government net was closing tighter on his customs frauds. In 1754 he fled to Portugal.
The Barnstaple custom house staff must have considered their lot unlucky in the extreme. They were on the losing side whatever happened: when smugglers were popular, the customs men were villains. But even when the local populace were at odds with the smugglers, the customs men were accused of being too slack in the execution of their duties. In 1746 the Barnstaple people believed that corn was being illegally exported (the corn laws made this illegal when the price of grain rose above a certain level). Of course, they looked to the customs men to prevent export and in April a mob took to the streets of the town.
The exporter, Major General Campbell, had a licence to ship the corn, but the 'mobb' suspected this to be a forgery. The customs men themselves were in mortal danger, since they had to ensure the grain was loaded legitimately. The mob burst into a granary in the town, and carried away 600 bushels of wheat. They 'patrol'd the streets beating old frying pans, canisters and blowing horns, threatening all who should offer to oppose them.' They even broke the window of a previous owner of the granary.
The mob were, however, possibly justified in their suspicions. Forged documents were commonplace, and there was a centuries-old tradition of fraud at the port. In one particularly memorable medieval example, smugglers were loading contraband leather from the Barnstaple quay, in full view of a corrupt official. A visiting merchant drew the man's attention to the illicit activity with the words 'here it is, blind knave', but the official simply laughed.
The customs men also had to deal with wrecks, and this was another source of friction. When a ship called Beulah was wrecked near Barnstaple in 1764 the locals swarmed around, and one of them, the wife of Richard Budd, assaulted the tide surveyor with a ladle. The poor man was apparently unaware that she was wife of the tenant of the local manor, and therefore entitled to salvage — she had lace and a candlestick in her apron. Also washed up was a small cask of rum which was doled out to the men who had helped with the salvage 'they being exceedingly wet and cold'. Mrs Budd evidently also partook — she got so drunk that she fell from her horse.
9m N of Barnstaple (map 180). Access to Brandy
is through the National Trust estate of Langleigh Valley. Drive to Langleigh
Lane on the W side of Ilfracombe and park before the 'Unsuitable for Motors'
Place names in the Ilfracombe area bear witness to the town's connections with the smuggling trade. On the east side of the town there's an inlet called Brandy Cove, and to the west, Samson's Bay is named after a famous local smuggler. The bay could be the model on which 2nd-rate adventure-story writers base their 'Smugglers Cove'. A gentle sandy beach makes landing easy, and there are several deep caves which really were used for the storage of contraband. The beaches are visible only from the sea, and the entrances are covered at high tide. The cliffs above the beach are now overgrown with brambles, but a gulley which cuts through the hill-side is deep enough to conceal even a thousand ponies carrying contraband inland. Was it coincidence that the coastguard station was sited so nearby?
Nearby Lee Bay, some 3 miles to the west of Ilfracombe, was the base of a former member of Cruel Copinger's gang. Visitors can follow a walk that traces buildings and coastline associated with local smugglers. Click here to visit the Smugglers' Path web page.
Lynmouth and Lynton
East of Ilfracombe the north coast of Exmoor is wind-swept and desolate, and there are few proper landing places. Those that there are invariably played host to the free-traders: The 14th Century Rising Sun Inn at Lynmouth has a long-established reputation as a smuggler's pub, and on the way to Martinhoe the Lynmouth road passes close to a spot known as 'Smuggler's leap'. Here, it's said, a revenue man and the smuggler he was chasing tumbled over the cliff together, locked in a desperate struggle. The smuggler had a small lead over his pursuer, but the King's horse was evidently of better stock than the smuggler's old nag, and capture seemed inevitable. In a last ditch attempt to escape, the smuggler reined the horse round, but the beast lost his footing — and as the smuggler plunged over the cliff, he grabbed his traditional adversary, and they plummeted together to the rocks below.
 The Winsor Magazine
 Coxe, 1984
 Graham, Frank, 1967, quoting Bottrell, W, Traditions and Hearthside stories of W Cornwall.
 Miss MA Courtney