Parish Clerks Network

Sea & Smuggling

The following extracts are taken from the

Smugglers’ Britain website by kind permission of Richard Platt, author of ‘Smuggling in the British Isles - A History’.

Smugglers’ customers

Some of the contraband landed in southern England was consumed locally: tilling the rich soil a little way inland made many a farming fortune, and just as the squire demanded the best brandy, so too his daughters expected the best French lace. However, there is evidence that the smuggled imports often found their way to London: a trail of stories of smugglers' hidden depots points to a cross-country highway that channelled goods from the coast to the markets in the capital.

Amazingly, some contraband made its way to London from as far afield as West Dorset: in 1719 a merchant at Lulworth was importing cocoa beans at a time when there was a taste for drinking chocolate only among the smarter London set. Some contraband travelled long distances inland for different reasons. Cargoes of brandy landed in Dorset in the early 19th century were of such poor quality that they were virtually unfit to drink, and the kegs were carted a safe distance from the coast to undergo a further distilling process, before being sold in the town taverns.

Arish Mell

SY855803 2 miles E of West Lulworth

To the west of the marble workings of Purbeck, every point where there was direct access to the sea was pressed into service at one time or another. Worbarrow Bay was a popular landing spot, with Arish Mell beach in the middle especially convenient: one run there in 1719 was of spectacular proportions, with five luggers unloading together, and...

A perfect fair on the waterside, some buying of goods, and others loading of horses... there was an army of people, armed and in disguise, as many in number as... at Dorchester fair.

Nearly sixty years later, a local newspaper reported that...

A Dunkirk schooner landed... upwards of twenty tons of tea, in sight of and in defiance of the Custom House officers as they were mounted twenty four-pounders, which they brought to bear on the beach. The smugglers on shore carried it off in three waggons and on horses, except twelve hundredweight, which the officers seized, and carried to a public house at West Lulworth... but thirty or forty of the schooner's people, well armed, followed after, and broke into the house, beating and cutting the people they found there in a cruel manner, and carried off the tea.

The following extracts are taken from

Dorset Smugglers by Roger Guttridge

The contraband boom continued, reaching a level in 1719 which would have been unimaginable five years earlier. In one week in October of that year, there were two runs of unprecedented size, one at Worbarrow Bay on the Purbeck  coast, the other further west near Bridport. The run at Worbarrow involved no less than five ships unloading simultaneously and an observer described “a perfect fair at the waterside, some buying of goods and others loading of horses, that there were an army of people, armed and in disguise, as many in number as he thought might usually be at Dorchester fair, and that all the officers in the county were not sufficient to oppose them”.

A report from the Weymouth Custom House in 1804 stated:

“The places for landing smuggled goods to the eastward of this place are Jordan Gate, Upton Mills, Ringstead Beach, Mupe, Arish Mill [Mell] and Worbarrow Beach. The three latter are the most noted places. It frequently happens that large vessels carrying from four to six or seven hundred casks land their cargoes at these places, which vessels do not belong to or are known to any in this part of the coast. This they carry off in defiance to the officers on the station ..and which ... we suppose may amount to ten thousand casks annually ...”

After a brief respite in the early 1830s, a final round of brutality and ruthlessness was unleashed in the Purbecks. Several coastguards were attacked and two were thrown over the cliffs to their deaths, one to the west of Lulworth, the other at Gad Cliff in the parish of Tyneham.

Smugglers Roll of Honour


STICKLAND, William, fisherman, 1840, 26, smuggling, 6 months

STICKLAND, Thomas, fisherman, 1840, 23, smuggling, 6 months


MOWLAM, George, fisherman, 1821, 40, smuggling, £100, 6 months

GALTON, James, labourer, 1822, 53, smuggling, £100, 1 year, of Agiston [Egliston] near Worbarrow