The East Anglian coastline was ideal for smuggling. Low-lying, bleak and lonely, it made a perfect landfall for a swift ship loaded with a cargo of contraband. The Revenue Service was poorly staffed and financed, and its cutters were easily eluded by local seamen who knew how to pick their way through the maze of tidal creeks and channels in the broad estuaries. During its heyday, smuggling embraced a huge range of dutiable luxuries including lace, silks, coffee, and playing cards as well as less orthodox cargo such as golden guineas and spies. It was a big industry; employing more than 40,000 people and accounting for a quarter of all England’s overseas trade.
Stan Jarvis’ book describes the industry in detail along each section of the East Anglian coast from Southend-onSea to King’s Lynn, explaining the methods used and introducing the characters involved. Whole communities were involved in this black economy, young and old, rich and poor, labourers and landowners; smuggled goods were re-distributed to the rich markets of Colchester, Chelmsford and London.
His book is a vivid portrait of a trade which even today is remembered with awe, tinged with more than a little affection. The Colchester revenue cutters which sought to control the local trade were based in Wivenhoe since that was the furthest they could go up the Colne and there are references to local auctions of seized contraband such as the one at Wivenhoe in 1743 which included ‘neat old Bordeaux and Nantes brandies’, totalling an amazing 5,900 gallons.