Smugglers and Smuggling

Smuggling was a regular part of life for the community of St Marychurch.  The outskirts of the village did not stretch much beyond where the Chilcote Memorial now stands.  Similar to today, St Marychurch Parish Church was tightly encircled by cottages and shops.  Illicit goods came ashore at Babbacombe, Petitor and other local beaches.  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.


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.

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.


Babbacombe villagers were no better.  The Coastguard Cottages in what is now Babbacombe Downs Road were built in the 1700’s and 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.  On the opposite side of the road is the Combe Court Hotel, in the 1800’s the house was called ‘Marystowe’ and was the home of the Rev. 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 Rev Grey, 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 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.


Even in recent times Oddicombe, Babbacombe and Ansteys Cove have been involved in the ‘smuggling’ of cannabis.  Some things never change!