King Henry III died on the 16th November 1272, whilst his son Edward, was in the Holy Land, fighting a crusade, for Christianity. Edward succeeded his father, becoming King of England. Upon his return from the Holy Land, he was crowned King Edward I of England, along with his Queen; his devoted wife, Eleanor of Castile on the 19th August 1274 at Westminster Abbey.
Following his ascension to the throne, he fought many wars in protection of his homeland, including those against Wales and Scotland, and used up a great deal of England’s funds in these battles.
Edward taxed the Jewish money lender’s to finance these wars, and when they could no longer pay, he declared they be a threat to England.
In 1287, some 300 Jews were executed at the Tower of London, and others were reported to have been murdered in their homes. In 1290 he banished all Jews from England.
In 1295 Edward summoned his Model Parliament, which included; clergy, aristocracy, knights and town leaders. Its aim was to raise money for these wars.
This led to high taxes being imposed on the English people, which brought large outcry’s from the rich and poor alike, a decision which was to change a way of life, for many centuries to come.
Parliament passed an act, putting customs duty, on the export of wool, which was in great demand in Europe. This was to be the first permanent customs system established in England. The tax gradually rose, which paid to finance Edward’s wars, but this also, led to smuggling.
The Customs Service initial responsibility was to collect the duty, at the allocated ports, not to prevent smuggling. In the Sussex area, Chichester was the only port, where importing and exporting of goods was allowed. It was not long before merchants were landing produce at small ports, with little or no officials.
In 1357, some merchants were caught smuggling goods through Pevensey Port, and were put on trial at Rye, this didn’t deter the smuggler.
By 1614, it had become illegal to export wool, but that didn’t deter the hardened smuggler, this just increased the price, and port officials were easily bribed. When the death sentence was imposed for the exportation of wool, the smugglers started arming themselves, and the only way they could be stopped, was by force.
In 1671 during the reign of King Charles II, the Board of Customs was created.
During the 1670’s, some 20,000 packs of wool, were exported between Romney Marshes and Calais each year. The smugglers had fast boats, fully armed to outrun the Revenue Service. By 1714, demand from the continent was high, but stocks were ever decreasing, which saw an end to wool sales, and the French went to Ireland.
In the 1730’s smuggler’s started importing Tea and Brandy, with plenty of French distilleries to supply the French smuggler, and plenty in England willing to buy from the smuggler.
In the years 1735-1749 the Hawkhurst Gang (Holkhourst Genge) became feared with an army of 500 armed men, working out of the village of Hawkhurst.
In 1784, duty on French wines and tea was reduced, so the market for the smuggler turned to spirits and tobacco.
In 1831, the Coastguards policed the water of England’s coastlines, seeking out the smuggler. In 1833, violent clashes at Pevensey, saw an end to smuggling in the area.
During the latter half of the 18th century, the Cornish Coast was associated with smuggling. Taxes encouraged fishermen to supplement their income with brandy, gin tea and tobacco, which was landed on remote coastal areas, and hidden in caves, away from the prying eyes of the Revenue Service.
It wasn’t until the early years of the 19th century, that heavy penalties were imposed, on anyone caught smuggling.
Unscrupulous hauliers persistently smuggle large quantities of contraband, whether it be alcohol, tobacco, drugs or people, much as their forefathers would have done in the past.
Even though the penalties for being caught are still, they still continue…