Smugglers Tales

Smuggling was a regular part of life for the community of Babbacombe and St Marychurch, but the smugglers had to be very wily.

The illicit goods came ashore at Babbacombe, Petitor and other local beaches.

In 1819 building commenced on a coastguard station, a new watch and boat house on Babbacombe beach next to the summer house belonging to the Glen. Preventive boat crew settled to duties in March 1820.  Some of the officers slept in boats on shore, few were local men for obvious reasons.  In 1825-6 a terrace of five coastguard cottages was built in a strategic position on the cliff top, now known as Babbacombe Downs Road.  Although the coastguard staff were well-trained responsible people, often armed with sword or pistol their job was to closely watch the shores and cliff tops both on foot and by horse.

The villagers worked right under their noses or feet.

The boathouse and coastguard station. The Vine is up to the left.


On the opposite side of the road is number 67, in the 1800’s the house was called ‘Marystowe’ and was the home of The Reverend H. Grey.  His coachman/groom lived in a nearby cottage, which has together with adjacent stabling block been converted into 4 cottages called Greys Cottages.  Getting back to the Reverend, he was a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ character who on the one hand entertained Charles Kingsley when he stayed there in the 1850’s and on the other indulging in smuggling activities.  A tunnel is believed to have led from the cellar of ‘Marystowe’ to a point above Babbacombe beach.  The local villagers must have lent a hand; it is rather unlikely that Charles Kingsley was part of the circle.

There is an account of smugglers carrying a keg up Beach Road, being apprehended by Coastguards and the keg on inspection found to be full of water.

One local who took the risk quite successfully was a rag and bone man who lived in Hartop Road who was never searched because he was so smelly.

Attics of cottages were connected to each other allowing goods to be passed from house to house with secret hideaways underground, in steps and chimneys.

One woman pretended to be in labour as a way of disguising the fact that she had a smuggled keg in her bed.

The workers at Harry Grant and Sons Ltd used to earn 5 shillings (25p) a night carrying tubs of contraband.  Although they risked being caught, fined £25 or sentenced to 6 months in prison, they considered the risk to be just part of the ducking and diving to make a living.

Hampton House had an underground passage to a well and several properties had tunnels.  One of these tunnels was found when the bypass was built in 1978.

Even in recent times Oddicombe, Babbacombe and Ansteys Cove have been involved in the ‘smuggling’ of cannabis.

Some things never change!!!