The New Forest has witnessed many dramatic events throughout its existence of over nine centuries. Few however stir the imagination quite like the smuggling which occurred in the eighteenth centuries. At the time a labourer's wage was seven shillings (35p) a week so smuggling or "Free Trading" as it was called played an important part in peoples lives. High taxation combined with the general poverty of the working classes led to smuggling on a very large scale. The New Forest could not have been better placed for smuggling. It offered excellent cover with its boarders leading down to the South Coast, and just across the channel, the shores of France from which most of the contraband came. There were many places for landing cargo and multiple routes to the shelter of the Forest. Tea, brandy, silks, laces, spices, tobacco, pearls, and wines were smuggled into England mainly by buying a shipload of dutiable goods across the Channel and then shipping them to a lonely English beach. For obvious reasons the operation usually occurred at night. Within minutes the contraband could be transported into the depths of the Forest and hidden somewhere locally pending onward shipment to other areas. Even the odd aristocrat escaping the French Revolution was smuggled across the channel by Free Traders. In its heyday smuggling was big business, and much of the planning was done in a few well-known inns dotted around the Forest. Many of the older inns of the New Forest were used as informal meeting places for the smugglers who almost always included local residents. The Royal Oak at Fritham was a convenient place for smugglers to meet and plan their movements, as it was located adjacent to some of the most remote woodland areas in the Forest. The Queens Head, a seventeenth century inn at Burley, was used by the smugglers to make their plans for handling cargoes expected at Chewton Bunny. Chewton Bunny's miniature gorge with a stream that runs down from the forest to the sea at Highcliffe was a natural landing place used for goods destined for Salisbury, Fordingbridge, Burley, and Ringwood. The contraband was brought up along a track on horseback or in wagons over Chewton Common to the Cat and Fiddle Inn at Hinton. From here it was then moved on into the Forest. Cargoes were also landed at Milford, Milton and Lymington and then taken up the Boldre River into the Forest and hidden somewhere ready for shipment to other areas. The Beaulieu River was also used by the Free Traders and formed another route from the coast. Safe landings on this coast are few and far between, but there was one at Pitt's Deep, a winding creek that cuts through the mud flats. Here a jetty, Pitts Deep Hard (Nr Lymington) provided a berth for even quite large ships. The deepest part of the trench cut by the brook flowing into the sea at this point was used for sinking tubs when danger loomed and won the nickname Brandy Hole. Pylewell Home farm nearby was also used as a storage place by smugglers, and Tanner's Lane in the same area was a popular route inland being so close to the forest. There are many tales told over a glass of ale but one such tale was about a ship that was moored at Lymington . It was full of weeping passengers and a downcast crew who came ashore with the sad news that the captain had expired during the voyage. A doctor was called, and he duly certified the captain as deceased, and called the undertakers. Soon a sombre procession (including the local customs men) headed up the main street. To drown their sorrows, the mourners called at the Angel Inn, where the King's men were especially well treated. The cortège continued, in a slightly less dignified manner, but as soon as there was a clear road, the hearse sped off at a pace that was far from funereal, and the coffin and its contents of contraband were spirited away to a safer spot, no doubt to the benefit of undertakers, doctor and all of the mourners. There's good reason to believe that this ruse would have been successful even if the customs men had not had their brains fuddled by drink: the vicar was in league with the smugglers, and allowed the tower of St Thomas' church to be used for storage. The Angel (whose history stretches back to at least 1680) was long notorious for its association with smugglers and it is thought that a tunnel led from its cellars to those of the Nags Head, across the High Street.   Smuggling may not be the oldest profession in the world, but it has to be up there as one of them. The very word stretches back to Anglo Saxon times when the verb smugan meant to creep. We may think that in the present day smuggling has ceased but has it? The packs of cigarettes and bottles of whisky hidden in the holidaymaker's suitcase, is surely a modern day version of the smuggler. Old habits die-hard it would seem and people never change, and it has to be acknowledged, that here in Britain we have had a great deal of experience in the art of smuggling.
Cigarettes hidden in a book Contraband Coming Ashore Special Delivery The Angel Inn Lymington 1905

Smuggling in The New Forest

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