Hastings Senior Men’s Forum

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On December 9 we had an illustrated talk from Richard Platt on Smuggling.

Mr Platt suggested we should all love the smuggler because he only stole from the taxman and not from the working-class people living around him.

It all started several centuries ago with men who were called Owletts and they smuggled out wool because we had an excess amount of wool on this side of the Channel and the French had an excess of almost everything else.

Jack Rattenby was one of the smugglers and the carriers were ‘landmen’ who would row out to the ships and bring in goods at night landing the booty on quiet beaches like we have in these parts. Examples included rum, brandy, silk, and tobacco.

As this grew over the years the smugglers employed tactics to evade the customs men. Sometimes a bribe to the taxmen was enough for them to turn away. In one year 12,000 gallons of gin landed at Dover and so defrauding the taxman.

Violence took place among the gangs operating to outdo one another. An example was the infamous ‘Hawkhurst gang’ who operated in the Hastings and Rother area.

Many stories were told to us which have passed into folklore. However, smuggling, in many forms, continues to this day.