Tales from the Archives: Pub’s place in history of Sussex smugglers

This story was published on July 21 in the Observer series. Read the original story at chichester.co.uk/news/local/nostalgia-pub-s-place-in-history-of-sussex-smugglers-1-7486021]

[All images: West Sussex Record Office]


Inns around the Sussex and Hampshire coast and countryside were often used as resting places by smugglers, and back in the 18th century what is now known as the Royal Oak at Langstone was one such establishment.

During this period of time, the South Coast was harassed by smugglers who plundered the endless fleet of ships which passed up and down the Channel.

Their cut-throat business done, they would then turn for their own safe harbours. These were found in ample supply in the hundreds of small waterways which penetrated the coast from Dorset to Kent.

Sussex and Hampshire were perhaps the most plagued counties, for here the dreaded Hawkhurst Gang rested on its long journeys; here members congregated and made plans to distribute their booty.

Thick woodlands and tiny villages provided many hiding places for contraband, and many an honest man, finding goods hidden in his outhouses and barns, turned a blind eye, praying that during the hours of darkenss the unwanted goods would disappear.

More than one parson hastily re-locked his church when he caught sight of sacks, or brandy, or rolls of silk stacked between the pews.

On January 16, 1749, most of the smugglers in the notorious Hawkhurst Gang were condemned to death.Some were taken to Selsey Bill and hung in chains on the seashore where they had spent so many hours as smugglers.

Gradually, the terror of travelling through thickly forested areas in Sussex and Hampshire receded.
People relaxed, secure in the knowledge that the King’s Men were at last clearing the South Coast of these cruel marauders.

The roads from Portsmouth and Chichester to London were at last being used with confidence.

Read further: The dark history of Chichester’s Smugglers’ Stone

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