Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Smugglers and the Isle of Wight.

Congratulations to Lily for winning the Amazon eVoucher giveaway.
Lily, your voucher will be with you shortly.
The tidal harbour at St Helens, Isle of Wight.

I’m currently on the Isle of Wight, which is a place rich with a history of smuggling. In the 18th century, to the north-east of the island, the tidal mud-flats of St Helens and Bembridge, made them the perfect hideout for smugglers. Many were fishermen, who supplemented their income by illegally importing high value goods, such as tea, tobacco, brandy, lace and silks – that were highly taxed by the British government to finance war with France.
Low tide, St Helens beach, with a Palmerston Fort in the distance.

The local knowledge of these fishermen meant they could safely navigate the treacherous shallow, in-shore waters at low tide, leaving the Excisemen in their deeper drafted vessels, stranded out in the Solent.
Palmerston Fort seen from St Helens beach.

The Island acted as a staging post for goods smuggled over from France, and then transported to the main land in the fishermen’s skiffs. Spirits such as brandy were often double or even triple strength, and made for a tidy profit once diluted. Barrels were often attached to ropes and dragged beneath the water, hidden from the vigilant eyes of the Excisemen patrolling the waters.
The treachorous, Bembridge Ledge, as seen from Culver Down.

It was a dangerous job, being an exciseman; you risked shipwreck, shooting or intoxication! One Exciseman who was captured by brandy smugglers was forced to drink as much brandy as he could before passing out, at which point he was tied to a horse and set free.
On the horison, a Palmerston Fort.

Two things saw the reduction in the smuggling trade: a reduction in tax duty, and the building of Martello Towers, or Palmerstone Forts, along the south coast. These were constructed to oppose any invading Revolutionary or Napoleonic forces but also acted as a convenient base for the national coast guard, established in 1824.
Taking part in the walk-to-the-fort, walking across the sea at ultra-low tide.

Some of these forts can still be seen off the Isle of Wight, and although built out at sea, at ultra-low tide, a path emerges that makes it possible to ‘Walk to the fort’ – something I have done on a couple of occasions and an almost biblical experience – being a little like the parting of the Red Sea.


  1. Are you really there? The sights are beautiful. I have a place I go to similar to the picture above (first pic) but the pathway is made up of boulders. I go there every week with my sisters.

    And by the way, thank you so much for the giveaway! You've made my day :)

  2. Lily, I am indeed here...although wishing the weather was a little sunnier, but then we cant have everything.
    My pleasure (the giveaway) - enjoy!
    Grace x

  3. Hi,

    Ha ha, lovely island steeped in history! I lived there for two years: not far from Brook Beach. Used to walk the dog there every day, and rarely saw a soul.

    Dropped by to say I've posted a review of "Dead Man's Debt on my blog. I'll post it on Amazon within the next couple of days. Great read!


  4. Francine, I dont know Brook Beach - I'll look out for it. Our haunt is around St Helens and even though it's peak season right now, there's hardly anyone around.
    So excited about the review, thank you so much for taking the time to read and review 'A Dead Man's Debt' and glad you enjoyed it!
    Grace x

  5. My interest in the Isle of Wight grows again! Thanks for the interesting history.


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