Smug­gler East Coast facts

The Scarborough News - - NEWS -

Smug­gling was rife along the north east and east coast. Flam­bor­ough Head is dot­ted with caves that were as­so­ci­ated with smug­gling, and one of them — Rud­ston Church Garth — is re­put­edly con­nected by a tun­nel to the church men­tioned in its name. An­other cave is sim­ply called The Smug­glers’ Cave.


Ge­orge ‘Snooker’ Fagg dom­i­nated Scar­bor­ough smug­gling in the 1770s. His schooner, the Kent, was armed to the teeth, with 16 four pounder guns, and a dozen swivels. The York­shire smug­glers were by all ac­count a pop­u­lar lot — or to put it an­other way, the rev­enue men were as un­pop­u­lar lo­cally as they were else­where in the coun­try. One of the few ways that the cus­toms men could se­cure the co­op­er­a­tion of lo­cal peo­ple was with the aid of prize money from seizures — greas­ing a few palms lo­cally quickly loos­ened tongues.

The wide­spread use of in­for­mants led in­di­rectly to an orgy of bru­tal­ity in Scar­bor­ough, and to a trial that at­tracted as much at­ten­tion in York­shire as the trial of the Hawkhurst gang did in Kent.

It in­volved a Billy Mead from Bur­niston, a wool mer­chant called James Law, and a mur­der trial. Mead served two years for man­slaugh­ter and on his re­lease moved to Leeds and took up the trade as a conman .

To­day, The Three Mariners Inn (pic­tured) in the Old Town is a pri­vate house. It once had four en­trances, in­clud­ing a tun­nel that led away from the cel­lars.


At Whitby, subterfuge was the rule in dis­tri­bu­tion of the con­tra­band. The housewives of the town would go to mar­ket wear­ing loose-fit­ting gar­ments, and re­turn with but­tons burst­ing, hav­ing stuffed their clothes with con­tra­band goods. Nov­el­ist El­iz­a­beth Gaskell, who lived in Whitby for some time, com­mented on: “The clever way in which cer­tain [Whitby] women man­aged to bring in pro­hib­ited goods; how in fact when a woman did give her mind to smug­gling, she was more full of re­sources, and tricks, and im­pu­dence, and energy than any man.”

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