The Lincolnshire coast has had its fair share of smuggling over the years and there are many tales of smugglers & smuggling to be found in these parts.
Skegness being 19m NE of Boston and the task of prevention of the smuggling of contraband falling mainly on the shoulders of one riding officer from Boston and with his other responsibilities meant that he was unable to visit the town daily. If his inspections coincided with a run, he might find himself entertained at a local hostelry, while the locals unloaded the small boats that were beached between Seacroft and Gibraltar Point. These vessels plied between the beach and the smuggling cutters, unloading various contraband cargoes, typically gin, tobacco, snuff, tea and sugar.
The haunt of the Skegness smugglers was The Vine inn, and here in 1902, building work revealed a skeleton dressed in uniform with brass buttons carrying the royal crest. This was probably the body of a revenue man who disappeared in the early years of the 19th century. It was in the Vine that the unfortunate man was last seen alive. The room where the skeleton was found is now the Grill Room.
The most notorious of the Skegness smugglers were Thomas Hewson and James Waite. Hewson was a tailor by profession, but left his family in his native Anderby to take up the free-trade. Among other dark deeds, he was suspected of the murder of a young man of Sloothby: Hewson was known to have lured the lad away from his employer, and was caught with a watch belonging to the youth. However, the body was never found. James Waite was caught for smuggling numerous times, and had three boats confiscated and sawn in half: when he was not awaiting His Majesty's pleasure he lived at Ingoldmells, in a house picturesquely named Leila's Cottage (now a prominent pub called The Ace). Waite's renown can be judged from the fact that Skegness Coastguards at one time carried in their watch boxes a portrait of the man, captioned 'James Waite, the notorious smuggler'
The coast north of Skegness to Saltfleet was another popular stretch for landing goods. Boats were unloaded on the beach, and the contents transferred to carts. These were then hauled through gaps in the sand dunes, known as 'pullovers'. Ingoldmells was for a long time a favoured landfall, and as late as 1846 Dutch vessels were still landing tobacco on the beach there.
Contraband landed on the beaches here could not always be spirited away immediately, and tubs were frequently buried in the dunes to await later collection. Early in the 20th century a partly decayed barrel of tobacco was unearthed in the sands: the owner had clearly been unable to return to claim his cargo, or perhaps had failed to take accurate bearings to locate the hiding place among the drifting sand-dunes.
In the 18th and in the early part of the 19th century, smuggling was common along the Mablethorpe coast. Customs duty on tobacco, spirits, tea and silk made it a lucrative occupation although very dangerous. They were hard times so desperate measures were taken to make money.
The export of wool was taxed and at one point, banded. Unsold wool in England together with a great demand on the Continent lead to illegal exports. If caught, men were whipped, transported to penal colonies in Australia or sometimes, hanged.
There were examples of battles between excise men and smugglers along the coast. A cannon ball was recovered from sand hills not far from the town that was reportedly fired from a excise boat at smugglers escaping. A regular ploy was to send a boat just off the coast showing a light, the news of this would then be passed on to the excise officer and whilst he waited for things to kick off further down the coast contraband could be unloaded with no trouble.
In the middle of the night carts drawn by horses were driven through the sandhills and out into the shallow water to waiting ships. Kegs of gin and bales of silk were transferred and silently return into the night.
Farmer’s carts would often be used to transport smuggled goods off of boats. Sometimes the white faces of the horses were blackened and their hooves covered with sacks. The iron shod cart wheels were wrapped with straw. This was to deaden their sound if they had to pass over chalk roads. Otherwise, the noise would carry some distance on a still night. The contraband gin and tobacco would then be hidden away in barns, cellars and in secret hiding places in chimneys..
The bathing machines were also used to store smuggled goods in. The bathing machine would often be wheeled down to the seas edge just before nightfall. Goods from boats would be unloaded into the machines during the night and then next day during daylight hours the machines would be wheeled away into the sandhills to be unloaded the next night.
The Riding Officers of the Customs and Excise were established in 1898. Their responsibility was to prevent smuggled goods from being transported inland. They covered up to 10 miles inland. Items were often stored in farmer’s barns until safe to move them inland.
One farmers daughter recalled when she was an old woman how she often travelling to Alford with her father on his cart when delivering smuggled goods. The goods would be place on the cart and then covered by a large quantity of Potatoes. On arrival in Alford is mates in the know would often call out in jest “are those taters for sale” to which he would reply “All sold all sold”. He would then pull up in a busy Inn yard late in the day and the Landlord to make sure no one would be suspicious would call out “Oh you’ve brought those takers at last have you, no time to unload them tonight you’ll have to leave the cart in the carriage shed.” The Carriage shed would contain a secret vault where items could be stored until safe to move them again.
Thomas Paine was a radical socialist thinker and is considered to be one of the forefathers of the United States. He lived and worked as excise officer in Alford but only for just over a year. However, his role in the formation of the United States of America is so important that Alford takes pride in its association with him
In the 18th Century, Alford was a centre for smuggling. This consisted of the illegal export of wool from the Lincolnshire coast and the import of contraband, particularly alcohol and tea.
Paine began as an Excise man in Grantham but Alford was his first responsible position. He started in August 1764. His office was in the Windmill Hotel in Room 105. It overlooks the main Market Place in Alford. The inn was also and important trading and commercial venue in the town. It's position made in idea for conducting business.
The Excise laws of the day were very strict. Many people felt that the restrictions were grossly unfair so many ordinary people were involved. It was there were many fights and consequently, casualties on both sides. Most smuggling was carried out at night.
The period here was fairly peaceful when Thomas Paine served in Alford. He tried to discourage smuggling rather than to punish it. He was dismissed for passing some goods on their documentation, rather than inspecting it himself. This was common enough where the trader concerned had a good name, but it gave some jealous colleague an excuse to have shopped him. It was a number of years before Paine was reinstated. He eventually served again at Lewes in Sussex.
In 1774, Paine immigrated to America. At this time the people there were preparing for Independence, which was formally declared in, 1776 July 04.
Paine became an influential writer. He became famous for his pamphlet, "Common Sense", and is credited for coined the name 'United States of America'. He was a good friends with Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.