REDCAR – Seventy Year Ago 1802

Accreditation The Redcar & Saltburn-by-the-Sea Gazette 04/10/1872


     In our last article it was stated that the story of Redcar and Saltburn life, during the revolutionary period extending from 1770 to 1820, is the history of as stormy and lawless a time as any which this coast has known. It might with great truthfulness i.e. called the “Smuggling era.” And much as we may regret that such a state of things should have existed, as we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that the noble qualities which were displayed in the brilliant design and dashing execution which brought success on the one hand, and the pertinacity, pluck and self reliance with which the over-matched smuggler crew struggled on to the last on the other, show deeds – which if done in support of a worthier cause – would have lifted them into the region of the heroic. But before plunging into matters of smuggling history, it will be as well to give a few particulars respecting the town and its surroundings as they then appeared. And first let us state, that the Redcar of today is built as nearly as possible upon the old lines. The whole of the south side of the street from Dr. Bennett’s to the place now known as the “Church opening,” presented a continuous row of low, thatched and white washed cottages; whilst beyond the opening and extending to the Cliff House, was a broken series of cottages, and mud walled enclosures. Beyond this house stood two or three dilapidated dwellings on the cliff, almost on the site of the present residences of Messrs. Cook and Mackean. On the north side of the street commencing with Pounder’s opening a row of similarly constructed houses ran, as they do now, as far as King’s opening, with the usual breaks at Bath Street and the Swan, but with this exception, that there was a vacant space where the shop of Mr. Pearmain is now situated Eastwards of King’s opening there stood in the following order, three cottages, the Pound the Poorhouse and three other cottages, which brought the northern line of the street almost to the level of the church opening. In the middle of the street opposite the Stockton Hotel, stood the block latterly known as Blatherwick’s “Abbey,” whilst in the same line, were two other sets of double cottages, one set in front of Redcar House, and the other further to the eastward, nearly opposite the Crown and Anchor. A few cottages stood in the Back Lane, but none were found on the field side of the lane with the exception of a few – which may now be seen beyond the church opening – in the neighbourhood of Mr. Hartburn’s old school. In this locality stands the house, which was then the most considerable one in the place. Being long the residence of a smuggler, whose chief duty it was to receive payment for smuggled goods, it was, from it natural rendezvous of the fiery spirits who “stirred up the life,” as the saying goes, on this coast. The Old Wesleyan Chapel, and behind it, in the seaward direction, the Old School room – with its adjoining house – stood along the western boundary of the town north of the High Street. This ends the list of the blocks of buildings which formed old Redcar. Strange to say, the majority of these houses possessed secret places of stowage. Closets without a visible means of entrance and brick well shafts in the large houses, leading from the attic to cellar carefully hidden within the walls, were to be found on all sides. Vaulted chambers were formed beneath the garden plots. In addition to these, large caverns were dug in the adjacent fields and in the banks towards Marske and Saltburn. We can thus now see how extensive must have been the contraband traffic in this district when it is stated that even this vast storing capacity was inadequate to meet the demand often made upon it. The old inns still retain the same positions though in some cases, with changed names. The Crown and Anchor, and the Stockton Hotel, were then know at the Lifeboat and the Ship; whilst the Jolly Sailor, White Swan, and the Red Lion still keep their old titles. With the Old Wesleyan Chapel – as the only one place of worship – within an area of two miles of Redcar, until the service of the Church of England began to be held in the Old Schoolroom towards the year 1820; with no effective services of preventive men until about the last- named date; with every inducement in the same as high pay, to join in the contraband trade; with the terrible facility which the shelving beach from Redcar to Saltburn afforded for the landing of smuggled goods, is it astonishing that the inhabitants of these coast villages should grown up in total disregard of law and right. Two shillings, for carrying a four gallon keg ashore, was a temptation easy to be withstood by a man, who knew how hard the winds blew in winter to keep him from his bread. The revenue officer, too, was more friend than foe to the smuggler. The usual levy of two kegs for each load, placed outside the officer’s door was sufficient compensation for the outrage committed against the law. When the tribute thus levied had become a large dimension, it was shipped off to the Custom House at Stockton, and was entered there to the credit of the quasi active official at Redcar and Saltburn, who obtained much honour thereby. A woman found carrying a keg under her arm would, if she met the officer in the open street, be simply told to take the keg to his house, and by way of reward she would obtain her glass of gin. Truly may it be said that the eccentric but good-natured officers W – and F – and H – were born of the age in which they lived, recognising, as they did, the sublime doctrine that smuggling was a necessity. The carts laden with kegs, in charge of four stout men armed with sticks, might take their journey across the moors to Osmotherley, the horseman might carry his couple of brandy barrels slung in a sack at his saddle bow, a man might hawk the gin from door to door fresh from the keg at a penny a glass, and yet officer W – never saw it. He drank his gin, he smoked his pipe, and thanked God that he was a good officer as his brethren at Coatham, Marske, or Saltburn. And did he not give his neighbours kindly warning when the wrath of the Stockton authorities might be expected to break out, on a house to house search for smuggled goods. For the only object of dread on this contraband shore, in these early days was this self same search party from the Custom House at Stockton, who were often assisted by bands of soldiers. Hand-to-hand fights were often the result of these raids, accompanied by much loss of life. In proof of this, we give an account of an engagement furnished by one who lived at the time:-

     On a dark night in December, in the first decade of this century, a lugger with three immense sails, glided into the smooth waters, which lies between the East and West Scar. At a given signal from the vessel, two cobles, manned, apparently by men who had been on the look out for the stranger, at the cliff end of the town, rowed away to the side of the lugger. After a short parley, an unusual stir was heard in the vessel, and kegs and casks of gin and brandy, were soon rolling along the creaking deck, to be handed over the vessel’s side, and then safely conveyed to shore and carried up into the town. Bales and bundles of the richest silk, parcels of the finest tobacco, and cases of costly china soon followed, until the lugger was relieved of her contraband cargo. The day was breaking before the last load was stacked. The fishermen then betook themselves to their beds, whilst another relay of men and women set to work to hide the treasures in the nooks and crannies, which were laying close at hand. No sooner however, had they got to work when a loud shouting rent the still morning air; and jingle, jingle, tramp, tramp, up dashed a body of soldiers, scattering the scared towns-people in all direction. Carts were soon seized, and loaded with the goods, and in an incredibly short space of time, men and horses were moving off in the direction of Stockton. News, however had been conveyed to the lugger, of the fate of her cargo. The word was given, “Arm to follow,” and soon the friendly boats conveyed such a crew to the Redcar beach, as it had not been seen for years. Fifty men in the prime of life, clad in red pantaloons and sashes, each armed with two pistols and a cutlass, mustered there, burning with disappointment and fancied wrong. Off they go, across the Coatham banks – across the marshes – leaving Wilton on the left. Soon they perceived the dusty cavalcade in front, and plainly can hear the rattling of the carts. Half a mile only separates them. Can it be that the soldiers begin to show sign of fear? What means that incessant slashing of whips – those loud excited shouts! Tis all in vain, the smugglers still gain upon the devoted soldiery. The speed of the heavy laden wagons in front avails to nothing to stop the oncoming of the howling revengeful fiends behind. Bang – bang – out leap the cutlasses, and the battle begins. The soldiers make a short stand, but overpowered by numbers, they fly as best they can and leave their goods behind them, in the hands of the smugglers, who once more assert their right to the sole dominion of the coast.

     At sea, however, the smuggling lugger, smack, and sloop were mercilessly pursued by the numerous revenue cutters, which were armed with six or seven guns and ably manned. Numberless are the tales told of engagements between them and their natural antagonists. Here is one:-

     On the 2nd February, 1774, it blew hard from the N.E. The sea which had been getting up the whole day, was running high, and the rough water was visible for miles. “Nasty weather for the lugger, we saw off Runswick, Jack,” said one of the group of fishermen, who stood on the sands, opposite the old Life Boat House. “True, was the rejoinder, but if my suspicions are correct, we shall soon see that same lugger make for this coast before long. The revenue cutter which hailed her and my mates off Whitby did not ask us for nothing, if we had seen an open lugger, just like the craft we saw this morning.” Just then the lugger appeared in sight, pursued by the Revenue Cutter, of which they had been speaking. On dashed the fugitive ship, but as she was well handled, she took the water between the “Scars,” and “hove to” within the bay. A boat lowered and partly filled with kegs. The crew leaped into the boat, and pulled for the shore; suddenly, cries were heard, more piercing that that of the loud ocean. The boat had for the moment disappeared. A few helpless forms were seen struggling in the water; and soon Francis Wallet and six of his crew, sunk to rise no more. Only one escaped. The bodies were washed up at Redcar, shortly afterwards, and buried in Marske Churchyard. Their graves are marked by an ancient tombstone, upon which is rudely cut, the figure of a boat upset, and surrounded by casks and oars. An inscription written below by some kindly soul, who viewed their follies with a tenderness, truly Christian, and runs thus:-

Tho ‘Boreas’ Blasts and Neptune’s waves,
Have tossed us to and fro,
In spite of all by God’s decree,
We anchor here below.
Tho’ we anchor here do ride,
With many of our fleet,
In hope again for to set sail
Our Saviour Christ to meet.



     In the month of September, 1810, a coble containing B—— and W—-, was on its way at nightfall to Saltburn bay to fetch home a few barrels of brandy required by the agents ashore for immediate transfer inland. They had arrived within a short distance of the smuggler for which they were bound, when they became aware of a strange looking craft lying out to the eastward. He cannot surely have returned so soon,” said B—-. “Yet that sloop is wonderfully like the Ariel.” “It’s him sure enough, “T—- replied. “I ken him by that large square sail.” Arrived on board the lugger they found the crew equally concerned to know what the friendly looking ship, which was “ratching” across the bay under press of canvass might be. At length they concluded that it was in reality the smuggler sloop Ariel, which had long been expected. The captain, however, seemed not quite sure of the character of his visitor, so he put his ship about as one determined to know the worst, and steered in the direction of the stranger, which had now altered her course a little and was bearing down upon him. It certainly was strange – no flag – no sign. The ships neared each other, running right for each others bow, when, in a moment, up goes the stranger’s flag – a little white smoke issues from her deck – a shot whistles along the whole length of the smuggler’s craft – and the command to “heave to” is heard across the waters. The King’s cutter is upon them. There is no time for loitering. The smuggler spreads her sails, and the vessel leaps across the waves. The cutter follows with her raking shot, but she is no match for her chase. She soon sinks behind and the tight little lugger vanishes into the night.

     The “Lark” lugger, however, was the peculiar darling of the smugglers on this coast. With 18 guns and 50 men, some of whom were ancestors of the present pilots and fishermen, she could almost outstrip the fastest frigate in the King’s service. Her deck beams screw bolted – her immense lug sails, one of which contained more than 1,000 square yards, and above all the bravery and skill of her commander – Captain K—-, rendered her the most formidable antagonist which these waters have seen. Some of her deeds smacked a little of the Flying Dutchman. But as it would take a volume to record the adventures which befell her, we rest content with only one.

     The King’s frigate had pursued the “Lark” from Yarmouth Roads to Hartlepool Bay. She had taken her at advantage at the beginning of the chase, and had kept it throughout the day. Never was the “Lark” in greater distress than when she appeared, almost at nightfall, out to sea off Redcar, with the terrible frigate – one of the swiftest in the service – on her weather bow. She tried her usual dodge – she loosened her deck knees – she sent the bulk of her men below to swing the hammocks – she hoisted her biggest sails, but yet, tho’ the timbers creaked and her masts bent ominously low over the water, it availed nothing. The frigate still hung upon her, and checkmated every move. To the astonishment of all on board the frigate had never fired, although with her weight of metal and number of men, she might have blown the “Lark” out of the water. Often too, had the frigate so closely overhauled her chase that her jib boom hung over the taffrail of the “Lark.” Capt. K—-knew by this that the King’s officer refused to capture his ship, of whose exploits he had no doubt so often heard, except on equal terms. Turning to his sailing master, says he, “Tom what is to be done now?” to this Tom replied, “Both vessels are going 14 knots an hour sir. We can hail up to the wind and change course in a few minutes, if we cut away the top sails, and dress the “Lark” in her light suit, long before that ugly rascal of a frigate can even haul herself up to the wind, leaving her pursuer toiling in a vain attempt to change her course. When the frigate was able to follow, darkness had covered the sea. Captain K—-, delivered his cargo to Saltburn, the following evening.

Again, —


     On a still October day in the year 1801, the inhabitants saw off the coast an unusual number of colliers steering for Tees Bay. Flashes of light appeared on the distant horizon, and a sound of distant guns came rumbling across the waters. Soon it became apparent that these hapless colliers were pursued by an armed vessel. A French privateer with 17 guns and 40 men, and commanded by an Englishman named Blackburn, presently hove in sight. The pikemen and volunteers were soon armed and conveyed on board the revenue cutters, smacks, and ships under letters of marquee, which were fortunately close at hand. All then stood out to meet the Frenchman. A short engagement then took place. The Privateer stood her ground well, but having tired away all her ammunition, sheered off to the eastward, and was pursued by the attacking squadron as far as Flamboro’. A sloop of war fell in with the Frenchman off Yarmouth, and disguising herself as a Norwegian timber vessel lured her to her side. The Frenchman bade the sloop to send a boat on board. The reply to this summons was a shower of shot which whistled through the Frenchman’s rigging. An English flag was run up the mast head, and a desperate encounter the crew of the privateer was captured and lodged in the guard ship. When morning broke however, Captain Blackburn had disappeared. How it happened was never known, but the solution will not be difficult to find when we are told that the “Lark” was in the “roads” on the evening of the battle, and she too had disappeared that same morning.

     In later times however, after the preventive service was organized, we perceive with what a quickened zeal the smugglers were hunted down. The following story is proof of what is now stated has been taken in its main facts, from the diary of officer Walton, kindly lent to the author of this article, by Mr. John Coulson.

     On the 13th of April, 1818, wind S.W., the “Swallow” cutter was observed to be in pursuit of an open smuggling lugger, laden, as it afterwards proved, with about 900 tubs of gin, brandy, tea and tobacco. The lugger was running parallel to the shore, and throwing overboard her cargo. Luckily, the vessel drew little water, and as the tide was high she managed to hold on her way, until off Marske, when deeming it hopeless to escape, she determined to run ashore, although nearly thirty armed preventive men were drawn up to receive her. Nothing daunted however, the smugglers armed themselves and sallied forth from the vessel. A hand to hand fight ensued, which in the end resulted in the capture of the crew of the lugger. The prisoners were conveyed to the Watch House, which stood on the cliff at Marske, and twenty seven men were set over them as guard. In the course of the evening however, eight of the prisoners broke from their confinement, and set off towards Saltburn. In a short time afterwards, the escape was found out and a hot pursuit set on foot. The smugglers suffering from loss of blood and fatigue, from the day’s struggles, made but slow progress, and were soon overtaken in the hollow, near to Saltburn, known by the name of Hazlegrove. At this spot the succeed in recapturing two of the men, one of whom named Minto, was severely wounded, even after the engagement was over, by one of the preventive men, that his captor was prosecuted, and afterwards held up to ridicule in a song written by Carleton, the landlord of the Red Lion.

      The past with all its darkness cannot be recalled, the future lies before us. Through the warnings of that past may we attain to a still more prosperous future, and hand to our children’s legacy of virtue.








dean July 26, 2011 Redcar