Wednesday, 11 November 2015


Smuggling provides one of those fascinating subjects ,as for example, highway robbery and piracy, where so many romances are spun that it's hard to receive a sharp image of the way things were.  The Exeter newspaper, The Express and Echo of April 26th, 1963 tells how Forestry Commission workers 'ploughing' on Salcombe Hill found two limestone slabs hidden beneath the turf in a field 'near the top of the hill leading down to the village' of Salcombe Regis.   Beneath these slabs was a chamber ten foot square and twelve foot deep.   A team of local worthies investigated the hole and concluded that this was a hiding place for contraband goods landed at Salcombe Mouth.  

The investigators were a retired parson, the Reverend R.J. Reed, living in Newton Poppleford, a local archaeologist, Mr R. E. Wison and a certain Mrs S.H.M. Pollard.   They noted that the floor was of compressed earth and flints and that the diggers of it had scattered the earth 'to avoid drawing attention' to the chamber. It would be a satisfaction to know if a more detailed account of their discovery was published.  Is there anybody out there who knows, for example, exactly where was this cache?

Stories of hidden contraband abound but hard evidence of where it was hidden is thin on the ground (or under it!).   Clearly such a hidey-hole as this would be a safer place to stash goods than a farmer's barn or a church tower,  although there is no doubt these too were used.  There was a legend, no more than that, in the estuary village of Lympstone, which was infamously involved with smuggled goods coming across the Exe, that the carriers routinely hid their contraband in the deep ditches that run parallel to Wotton Lane.   This seems to make sense in that no greedy farmers or pious parsons needed to be involved.

In this same Express and Echo article, the writer, Frank Cole, quotes J.R.W. Coxhead, the writer on local smuggling, as saying:   'some half a dozen (such caches) have been found in the Branscombe area since the turn of the century.'  (That century not the last one!!)   Again it would be pleasing to see some hard evidence of such finds.   None seem to have been ploughed up recently.