New Smuggling Trail Launched
The Isle of Wight has a rich smuggling history that goes back hundreds of years, and many Island families were involved in the import of illicit goods, mainly brought by boat from France. These were especially ‘tubs’ of brandy and fleeces of wool.
Niton, and the villages closest to the southernmost point of the Island, were perhaps the most notorious areas for this illegal trade, and a new Smugglers Trail has been devised by Niton and Whitwell Parish Council, following the pathways and hiding places favoured by smugglers in days of yore.
By 1830 most of Niton village was involved in the Free Trade of goods from the continent, either directly by running goods, or indirectly, by buying goods from the homeward bound ships or as financiers for the trips to France. Revenue cutters and gun brigs would patrol the Channel, and Niton was so strategic to the illicit trade that it had its own coastguard station and lookout building.
Until the death of Isabella de Fortibus in 1293, when ownership of the island passed to the king, the Island had been self-governed, and it is thought that part of the reason for the proliferation of smuggling was that Islanders despised being ruled from the mainland.
Whatever the reason, the trade was rife, and the new Smugglers Trail has many tales from those colourful times, with sites of interest connected to this activity. A cat and mouse style of chase between the smugglers and the revenue men, led to ingenious hiding places and a host of interesting stories.
The Buddle Inn was at the centre of this trade, and murals on the barn walls in this pub show the ways of storing and handling large barrels of liquor on board smuggling ships. Castlehaven beach was one of the coves where smuggled goods would be unloaded, under the noses of the customs men who would be at the lookout post at St Catherine’s lighthous.
Poet Sydney Dobell visited the area in 1860 and observed: “The whole population here are smugglers. Everyone has an ostensible occupation, but no one gets his money by it, or cares to work in it. Here are fishermen who never fish, but always have pockets full of money, and farmers whose farming consists of ploughing deep by night, and whose daily time is spent standing like herons on lookout posts.”
For intriguing stories and an interesting walk around the Niton area, download the map here or pick up a copy at The Buddle Inn or Joes Bar. Both pubs also have an A3 sized black and white map for children to colour in and take home.