Smuggler East Coast facts
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.”