200 years ago this black market economy played a major role in England’s social history, as it was the common peoples’ response to high levels of taxation on ordinary, everyday goods (first put in place by the King during the many years of Civil War), which left many people in acute poverty.
“In September 1783 gangs of 200 or 300 men arrived at Cuckmere Haven twice within a week, and defiantly carried off their goods, despite opposition and the fact that the sea was extremely rough on the earlier occasion. A contemporary newspaper reported that it was quite common to see a dozen smuggling vessels lying off the coast in broad daylight at this time”.
Smuggling at Cuckmere
By the early 19th century smuggling was big business, and was controlled by large gangs operating on land and sea between England and France. Many spots along the Kent and Sussex coast were popular landing points, in particular Cuckmere Haven, Crowlink and Birling Gap. Combating these gangs fell to Customs officers, backed by the Royal Navy and local units of soldiers. At the end of the Napoleonic Wars the ‘Coast Blockade Service’ was formed along the Kent and Sussex coast, and in 1822 the national Coastguard Service was born.
“Men from every hamlet and village behind the coast took part in whatever opportunities were available. For centuries they pillaged wrecks or smuggled, though often on a relatively small scale. Only the shingle beaches in the larger bays attracted the major gangs to the area.. After 1817, when the Coast Blockade made things much more difficult, all the smaller gaps were pressed into use, particularly Birling Gap and Crow Link among the Seven Sisters.. Of all the landing places Cuckmere Haven remains the most evocative.” -
"Of all the landing places Cuckmere Haven remains the most evocative.”