Contents - Click for more
Home Page

Bonfires - Then and now
Monster's Drums
- you've heard them, now read all about them
Mad Jacks Morris - you've seen them, now read about them
Same Sky - Incredible and inspirational
Smugglers and Smuggling in the Hastings Area - Hastings' Local area website
Map of the route

Pictures from the 2000 event, possibly the best yet!
2000 - Click Here for Pictures around the firesite
2000 - Click Here for Criers and Fires 2000

The 1999 Event was a magnificent event - 
1999 - Click Here to see just how good it was!
1999 - Click Here to see if your Bonfire Society has been immortalised
1999 - Click Here to see the Internationally famous Town Criers who took part in the procession "Criers and Fires"


The costume of Hastings Borough Bonfire Society is based upon smugglers of the Hawkhurst gang or the revenue officers. Today the Customs Service say their role is to "collect taxes and protect society". Any country where there are forbidden products or where there are large differences of duty charged in nearby countries will provide business for the smuggler. In recent years forbidden driigs and literature as well as alcohol & tobacco provide a lucrative income for the modern day bootleggers and smugglers. Over the centuries in depressed parts of the country smuggling had allowed a healthy black economy. A smuggler could earn more in one night's work than he could in a week legitimately. Successive governments have always ensured there were products for the free trader to bring across the borders to sell

In the eighteenth century, controls on the export of wool, designed to protect our cloth industry, created a healthy trade in smuggled fleece out of Britain, known as owling. Huge amounts of wool from the farmers on the Downs and the Marshes were smuggled. When tea imports were taxed at 129% enormous amounts of tea were smuggled into the country to be consumed by all classes of society. Throughout the last century, again because of excessive taxation tobacco and alcohol became and remain popular products to be smuggled.

At Hastings the profession of Free Traders dates back over several centuries with gangs such as the "Hastings Outlaws", "Transports" & "Ruxley's Crew" being amongst the most violent of all the smuggling gangs. In 1768 thirteen members of Ruxley's Crew who were also involved in piracy were hanged after killing the master of a Dutch ship off Beachy Head. They rightly deserved the name of "Ruxley's Chopbacks”

John Collier who lived at Old Hastings House, a lawyer and five times Mayor of Hastings as the Surveyor-General of Riding Officers in Kent 1735-1750. He appears to have been a conscientious officer prepared to take the risk of upholding the law in the face of intimidation from much of the community. Many other officials were more than happy to turn a blind eye and even receive some of the proceeds.

Throughout the last century the Hawkhurst Gang dominated the business of smuggling along the Hastings coast, with much of the contraband being taken within hours of being landed to the customers. Horses would quickly transport the goods to the smuggler's warehouses in country hamlets such as Stockwell, where the illegal goods were quickly integrated among legitimate products for general sale. Gang members were often known by a nickname, a practice still popular in Old Hastings. Many were tried and hanged, as penalties for smuggling became more severe.

Others were able to amass great wealth from their smuggling but the faceless individuals in the capital who financed the operations and took little risk inevitably made the greatest amounts

Perhaps in a few years when our island is truly integrated with Europe, and the authorities are more tolerant of drug usage, we will use the Euro and have consistent taxation throughout the community. The Free Traders will no longer have any reason to creep ashore at midnight or load up their Ford Transits at Calais with bottled booty.

Click to return to Hastings Week's Home PageClick to search our web sites click for XL(2000)LtdClick for Hastings favourite websiteclick for 1066 Country Communiuty Directory - Hastings' favourite web site is sponsored by XL(2000)Ltd

Photos copyright (c) Ion Castro 2000