Rife throughout the 18th century, smuggling was once one of the most prolific trades in Cornwall. Often involving the connivance of whole communities, it took place all along the isolated and oft dangerous face of the county’s coast.
“Something for nothing” has often been a saying attributed to the smugglers of Cornwall. Yet smuggling was more than just angst-filled rebellion. Rising taxes, lack of employment, corrupt authorities and poor policing made smuggling all but too tempting to resist for many. A far more lucrative venture than fishing, it made the most of the county’s all but inaccessible coastline (save for those who knew it!) and the cargo-loaded wrecks that often found themselves washed ashore.
Proving far cheaper to source goods from abroad and smuggle them into caves and coves rather than paying extortionate taxes at home, tea, brandy, gin, rum and tobacco were but some of the goods secretly pirated into the country.
It said that in 1765, a little beach just 2 miles west of Padstow was used by smugglers to land illicit contraband. Having been spotted near St Columb by the servants of a man called William Rawlings, a subsequent letter to the Earl of Dartmouth revealed that there had been 60 horses carrying loot of “three bags of tea on them of 56 or 58lbs weight” each.
Meanwhile, the names of several nearby coves give unmistakeable hints as to the area’s smuggling history. Pepper Cove near Treyarnon Bay was so named for the boatloads of spice that were landed there, and we can only imagine what neighbouring Wine Cove was named for!
A little more sinister, a group of offshore rocks near Padstow was named “Wills Rock”, after an unlucky revenue man proved himself to be too much of a nuisance. Tied to the rocks, Mr Wills was left to be drowned by the rising tide, but, fortunately for him, he did manage to escape and survive his ordeal.
If you go out on one of our favourite walks near our luxury cottages in Padstow, it’s likely you’ll be retracing the boot-falls of the pirates and smugglers that once ruled the area. Alas, all the goods are long gone.
In the words of the celebrious Cpt Sparrow – “why is the rum always gone?”