Smuggling methods

The local fishermen, who knew every inch of the coast as well by night as by day, were in demand by smuggling vessels from the Solent who would take a local hand on each ‘run’. As the ‘crop’ was landed, a gang of carriers (local villagers) picked up the tubs and carried them inland.



A tub or ‘half-anchor’ (pictured) weighed 56lb when full, so the carrier might bear 1 cwt for several miles. It contained four gallons of brandy which in the 1830s cost only four or five shillings a gallon in France but thirty-six shillings a gallon in England if the duty was paid. The tubs were hung round the boat, weighted with stones, and dropped in shallow water off the shore, leaving the boat to continue to its usual mooring with no evidence of its activity.

Later the grapnel and peep tub were used to find the ‘crop’ and pull it in (although the coastguard might also look for it in the same way).

A favoured way to get contraband up the cliffs was to haul the tubs up on ropes, and a local story tells how a group of smugglers were caught redhanded doing exactly this.

The local riding officer spent much of his time patrolling the coast on a white horse, and the yarn tells of a Brook man who enjoyed similar excursions on his black mount. Anxious to avoid being confused with the hated customs officer (and thus risking a bump on the head from his smuggling pals), the Brook man had developed an elaborate code. On reaching a hill, he would gallop up, and walk down. So when the smugglers were hauling tubs up the cliff face, they saw no danger at the approach of a man on a black horse that galloped uphill and walked down. Only when the riding officer was close enough to be recognized did the lookout realise his mistake — and by then it was too late. Most of the gang were at the top of the cliff, and got clean away; but the man loading tubs at the bottom spent a year in prison for this unfortunate error. The gentry allowed their woods and barns to be used and stables and cowsheds contained much valuable cargo for short or long periods.