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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Teesside

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Myths and Legends
Men lifting goods off boat
Smugglers working together to hid their goods

© Courtesy of Halsgrove Publishing
Saltburn smugglers: local heroes or violent criminals?

“A terror to the neighbourhood”

The flip side of this charming, quaint picture of Saltburn’s local smuggling initiative is very often bloody and violent. As pressure to suppress the contraband trade increased, battles between the preventive officers and smugglers became more frequent and fierce; violence was common on both sides. In 1778, the 'Newcastle Chronicle' carried numerous descriptions of the increasingly brutal tactics employed by the smugglers.

“It is the practise for fifteen or twenty to come on shore armed with muskets, blunder busses etc,. threatening death and destruction to anyone who dare offer to oppose them.”

Man with gun
Some smugglers were not afraid to use violence
© Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council
A menacing letter left by smugglers warning off the area’s custom officers, reveals the strength of feeling against attempts to suppress the lucrative trade.

“Dam your ferry, and Parks blast your Ise you say that will Exchequer all Redcar but if you do dam my Ise if we don’t smash your brains out you may as well take what we give you as other Officers do and if you don’t we’ll sware that you take bribes”

A letter of 1775 from three customs officers working in the Markse area House describes the severe injuries they sustained from an altercation with a group of smugglers. Accompanying the letter is a surgeon’s bill and a request that the cost be met by Customs Office.

“we attempted to prevent the said Goods being Run and having siesed part thereof, the Crew belonging to the said Boat, consisting of seven unknown persons rescued what we had seized and with handspikes and Bludgeons desperate Beat and Maimed us.”

The picture painted by these primary sources is a far cry from the romantic world of the warm-hearted smuggler perpetuated by Saltburn’s folklore.

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Smuggling: The house detective
Trade and the British Empire
Saltburn Smugglers Heritage Centre
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