Smuggling in Bexhill – Timeline

During the 18th and early 19th century smuggling and assisting smugglers became an important source of addition income to many local agricultural labourers. From 1804 until 1814 The King’s German Legion, soldiers from Hanover who became part of the British army, were billeted in Bexhill and Martello Towers were built to repel a French invasion.

c1677 Building that became the Bell Hotel constructed.

1695 French ship anchored off Bulverhythe, met by John Young and Thomas Pope who was Customs Officer at Bexhill. A cargo of hats and letters landed.

1714 French sloop lands brandy at Cowding Gap (Cooden) and then moved on to pick up wool from ‘Cockmere Haven’. (an alternative date of 1715 mentioned)

1717 Customs Riding Officer Gerard Reeves killed during fight with Mayfield Gang, Eastbourne

1729 Bexhill Hurricane

1736 Groombridge Gang, who had links with James Blackman landlord of the Red Lion at Hooe, involved with incidents at Bexhill, Lydd and Fairlight.

1743 James Blackman led an armed convoy with a cargo of tea and brandy. It landed between Bexhill and Pevensey and was hidden at Wych Cross.

1744 Customs officers with five Dragoons intercept a landing at Pevensey Bay, they were overrun by smugglers wounded and disarmed. [June] 60 armed men raided the house of Philip Bailey in Bexhill, destroyed household goods and furniture and insulted his wife and family, John Walsh Riding Officer was also attacked. The next day three large cutters land goods at Pevensey Bay.

1745 Bill of Indictment against the smugglers not found at Assizes. Three tons of tea and some brandy landed at Bexhill, the smugglers were mostly mounted, heavily armed labourers from Bexhill. En route they raided a the house of a Customs Officer, attacked his family and assaulted another officer. 30 soldiers caught up with them and there was a pitched battle.

1748 Amsterdam (Dutch East-Indiaman) wrecked at Bulverhythe.

c1750 The Grange built.

1751 First documentary reference to the Bell Hotel.

1790s Signalling station built on Galley Hill.

1794 Barrack Hall built by Mr William Russell.

1797 Thomas Pumphrey, Riding Officer, reports seizes of spirits at Bexhill 5th July.

1798 Work begins on barrack site.

1801 Pococks the Butchers opens in High Street.

1803 Martello Towers built in this area by ‘Yorky’ Smith.

1804 The King’s German Legion (Hanoverian soldiers) stationed in Bexhill. Start of unsuccessful coalmining venture. The King’s German Legion attempt to excavate the Amsterdam.

1805 Capt. John Clark commanding HM Revenue Cutter Vulture caught a lug-sail boat heading for The Sluice (Normans Bay) with 540 casks of brandy. [same day as Battle of Trafalgar]. Kings German Legion soldier murdered in Little Common.

1806 Vulture caught a lugger with 500 parcels of tea.

1813 Sophia Brazia’s paternity suit against a KGL soldier.

1814 The King’s German Legion leave Bexhill

1815 £200 offered for the men who attacked John Wilton while he was trying to seize a cargo at Cocksheath near Bexhill.

1815 Battle of Waterloo

1816 Frigate Osprey fired on a lugger off Bexhill when it refused to stop, the crew escaped.

1817 Coastal Blockade established. Turner publishes Liber Studorum on plate shows local Martello Towers.

1818 A decked lug-sail boat Fox of Bexhill captured at Normans Bay with a cargo of gin, the smugglers returned that night and recaptured their ship assaulting John Aston

1819 John Aston on duty at Martello Tower 55 at Normans Bay was beaten trying to seize a boat but managed, with assistance, to take the boat and cargo. [4th Jan] The blockade man of the Martello Tower on the Horn was taken to the Bell Inn and offered £50 and a further £50 if he would go to Pevensey and look the other way – he doesn’t. Blockade men of Tower 50 seize two French galleys [3rd Sept]. Blockade men assaulted trying to seize a French boar off Martello Tower 52. “A Remarkable Instance of Longevity” dinner at the Bell Hotel.

1820 Linkwell built.

1822 Smugglers march on Martello Tower 52 (Little Common) to seize the Blockade Sentinel, one was shot dead. One version of the story says there was a lady waiting in a coach but she drove off when the boat set sail – perhaps a spy? In February 300 smugglers from the Little Common Gang gathered near the Star Inn to unload their boat the Queen Charlotte, Preventative Customs men drove them off and one smuggler was shot. Story of the lady in a coach also mentioned here.

1824 Cargo landed by Martello Tower 50, intercepted and 100 tubs of spirit and seven smugglers caught. The smugglers captured William Welch when he boarded their boat and he was beaten and drowned.

1825-1827 Period covered by Gillham account book. Written by George Gillham leader of the Little Common Gang who lived at Peach Cottage. Their boats were The Long Boat and the Queen Charlotte and operated out of ‘Willow-Tot’ between Cooden and Normans Bay (near The Star Inn).

1828 Battle of Sidley Green 3rd Jan. Cargo landed at ‘Mr Brooks 40 acre point’ (Sackville site) guarded by 16-18 batsmen. Spotted by Coast Blockade men at Tower 44 (Galley Hill) who called reinforcements and caught up with the smugglers at Sidley Green. Quartermaster Collins and smuggler Smithhurst killed. One wounded smuggler taken to the Bell Hotel. 8 smugglers caught and transported to Australia.

1832 Boat with 300 tubs of spirit beached at Worthing, the cargo was unloaded by 200 smugglers guarded by ‘a company of Bexhill batsmen with a few firearms’. There was a fight at which one smuggler died, two were injured and four Preventative men wounded. Battle between smugglers and customs men at St. Leonards. Two Customs men killed at Bulverhythe Martello 42, buried at Barrack Rd cemetery. Customs man killed at 40 Martello Tower, Bopeep.

1833 Coastguards spot landing between Normans Bay and Pevensey, tub-men protected by batsmen with guns, a two hour running battle ensued that stretched over 6-7miles. Batsmen would draw up in a line fire retreat and reform in a line, a military tactic.

1850 By this time most organised smuggling in Sussex had ceased.

1854 Crimean War

1859 Guns put back in Martello Towers against threat from Napoleon III.

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