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  • Writer's picturecaitlyncallery9

Smugglers Haunts

Smugglers, when they were about their nefarious business, preferred not to be seen or disturbed. Witnesses could be compelled to testify, and most people in Georgian times would never lie under oath, so it was better to keep them from seeing anything in the first place.

Rudyard Kipling’s poem (written some 150 years after the smugglers operated) reminds civilians to “watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by.” This was a very effective strategy, since the people could honestly say they hadn't seen anything, at a time when what you heard was inadmissible evidence without EYE-witness testimony to back it up.

But intimidation wouldn’t always work, so the smugglers employed other methods to keep away prying eyes. Which is why there was suddenly a proliferation of ghost stories associated with places they used to hide contraband, such as the ones in “Viscount in Hiding,” and “The Smuggler’s Daughter,” when people are kept away from the area known as Marshy Meadow by tales of hauntings and creepy goings-on.

Herstmonceux Castle, near Hailsham, is one of the places used by the gangs operating in Sussex in Georgian times. Built in 1441 by Sir Roger Fiennes, a veteran of Agincourt, but by this time largely in ruins, it was perfect for hiding brandy, tea and tobacco. Supposedly, this castle was haunted by a nine-foot-tall drummer, who walked the battlements beating his drum. Officially, the drummer was the restless soul of Lord Dacre, a jealous man who constantly beat his drum to keep suitors from his young wife. She soon grew tired of his constant drumming, (and who could blame her?) so she locked him in a room and left him there to starve. According to local legend, he now paraded the battlements, glowing in a sinister way, (aided, no doubt, by a coating of phosphorus powder,) and beating his drum for all he was worth. And when he did that, locals knew to stay away and leave the smugglers to their business.

Michelham Priory, also near Hailsham, is the home of the ghostly Thomas Sackville, a rather unsavoury character who didn't change his ways, even after death. The living people who encountered him after his demise were pushed and shoved and tormented, by what looked like fresh air. He would also slam doors and windows. Clearly, it was better to stay away from the Priory when he was on the prowl.

Bodiam castle, near Robertsbridge, was in ruins until it was bought and partially restored by Mad Jack Fuller in the early 19th century. (Mad Jack was not, himself, a smuggler.) At Bodiam, there were reports of a lady dressed in red, staring out across the countryside from one of the castle's towers. At odd times, music and other strange noises could be heard. Anyone with an ounce of common sense kept well away on the noisy nights!

And then there is the Mermaid Inn at Rye. There are so many ghosts haunting this particular inn, it's a wonder there is any room for breathing, paying guests.

Used as a meeting place by the Hawkhurst gang, they would not give it up, even after their deaths. Several of them – and their wives – are said to haunt the place.

For example, the wife of one of the smugglers sits in a rocking chair, while a lady in white sits by the fire. A man walks through walls and another man has been seen, sitting on the ends of beds. All effective ways of clearing out those who might overhear a smuggler's plans in the early 19th century, as well as a good way of listening in on the conversations of your enemies and rivals.

There is also the ghost of a maid at the inn, killed by smugglers for knowing too much, and now guarding their whereabouts. Though why she would want to protect her murderers from being discovered is never explained.

With all these ghosts haunting the area, it was not surprising that the Excise men were unable to find anyone who had seen the smugglers at their business. As one man said, “those that hev seen ghosts would hardly take notice of living breathing men, no matter what they was doing, would they?”

He might have added, anyone who had any sense whatsoever would make sure to have seen neither.

“Then that asks no questions isn't told a lie.                                                            

Watch the wall, my darling, while the gentleman go by.”

Viscount in Hiding” and “The Smuggler’s Daughter” are published by The Wild Rose Press.

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