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You are in: Tees > History > Local History > Saltburn's hidden tunnels?

The Ship Inn pictured by Terry Ferdinand

Picture by Terry Ferdinand

Saltburn's hidden tunnels?

They say the Saltburn Smugglers had a secret passage inside Huntcliff, through which they would carry their wares, but is the legend of John Andrew's hidden tunnel just a romanticised legend?

Smuggling on the North East Coast of England was rife in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the North Yorkshire and Cleveland coastlines were hotspots for the practice.

The taxation on goods at this time was so high that smuggling became a highly profitable business, and Saltburn was ideally placed, as the cliffs provided an ideal place to hide contraband from customs officers.

Legend has it that Saltburn conceals a maze of secret smugglers' passages. The most famous being the one used by John Andrew. It is said that the secret passage led from half way up Huntcliff to the Ship Inn, then through to the White House on top of the cliff.

Who was John Andrew?

The story goes that John Andrew was born in Scotland and moved to Saltburn in 1780, after marrying the niece of Will Harrison, landlord of the Ship Inn on Saltburn beachfront.

The smuggling exhibit in Saltburn

The smuggling exhibit in Saltburn

John is said to have first arrived at the Ship Inn the morning after Will Harrison was found dead. At the time, John was questioned by four smugglers about the death, but there has never been any proof he was involved.

It is thought that John Andrew had eight children, one of whom he called John Andrew.

John Andrew soon became a respected member of the Saltburn community. So respected was he that he was often called upon by customs officers to help track down smugglers. Little did they know he was the their main target.

The saying 'Andrew's cow has calved' was part of the Saltburn smugglers code. It meant that the smugglers boat was offshore and ready to be unloaded. When the code word was spread the community knew that the men needed to unload the goods, pack horses were then loaded up and used to transport the goods to a safe hiding place.

People have looked for centuries for signs of passages but have found only places that would have served as good hiding places.

When John left Scotland it is thought that he became a master mason, a skill he used to build the hiding holes he is reputed to have used in the cliff side.

It is thought that John hid some of the goods in a chamber under one of the stalls in his stable. He would then put a vicious mare in the stall that would kick any stranger who entered. It was one sure way to stop anyone from finding his stash.

One story tells of a woman who hid a keg of spirits under her skirt during a spot raid of her house by customs officers.

"Andrew's cow has calved' meant there was a boat offshore, help was then needed to unload the illegal contraband."

Smugglers code

John Andrew was eventually captured in 1827 but his loot has never been discovered – some think it may still be hidden somewhere in Saltburn.

There is also some dispute over whether it was John who was arrested and hanged. Some believe that it was actually his son, also named John Andrew, who was caught, not the renowned 'King of Smugglers'. 

Is there any evidence?

Sadly not. Rebecca Robinson at Saltburn Tourist Information Centre told us that although people have been searching for many years, no-one has ever found any evidence of secret passages, or hiding places, in Saltburn.

last updated: 13/11/2008 at 15:58
created: 10/11/2008

You are in: Tees > History > Local History > Saltburn's hidden tunnels?

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