‘All by the coast
Smugglers hid away
Excise men and pirates
Came and left our Bay.’
Around every corner of a seaside town another tale of pirates and smuggling waits to greet you and this is certainly true of the beautiful Yorkshire coast.
Heading down the narrow streets of Robin Hood’s Bay you can but wonder whether they were made that way to allow those wishing to escape from the Excise Men to do so!
Large ships hovered off the coast in Whitby sending signals to their partners in crime bidding them to row out in their smaller boats to collect the contraband.
The King of Smugglers John Andrew was the landlord of the Ship Inn at Saltburn, between here and Redcar Yorkshire smuggling was notorious.
Imagine ships entering Scarborough Harbour under the cloak of darkness; their cargoes being taken on moonless nights to be secreted in the caves and holes in the cliffs along Marine Drive. Even in the 1800's one Victorian writer wrote "if anyone was to ask me was there till caskets of rum and whiskey to be found hidden in the myriad of caves I would have to answer yes." It would be well matured by now!
Stories of secret 'hidey holes' (cupboards) false floor and secret passages form part of the history of the Ancient Three Mariners Inn. It is rumoured that one passage led from the Inn straight to the Harbour. Perhaps ‘Snooker Fagg’ or George Fagg the notorious smuggler frequented this Inn. He was the captain of a ship named 'Kent.'
A story tells of how he even supplied customs men with a sample of smuggled gin. Eventually the luck of Fagg and his crew ran out in Filey Bay. Following a battle between Snooker and the Excise men, the Kent was so badly damaged that the smugglers were forced to surrender.
They say that hushed whispers on cold windless nights can still be heard of ‘Cruel’ Peg Fyfe and her band of robbers who scared residents from Holderness to Spurn Point. Peg was said to practice witch craft as well as leading a fearsome band of robbers. Accused of skinning a local youth alive, she was condemned to be hung. Before the event could take place she it was claimed that she swallowed a spoon to save herself, only to be killed by a couple of knights passing by.
Smugglers cave along with Pigeon Hole at Flamborough (which nestles between Filey and Bridlington) echo with legends of hidden passage ways and secret hiding places; as does the Bending Mule Inn.
Nanny Cankerneedle (a reputed witch) was ousted from her sleeping place in the crypt of St. Nicolas’ church in Hornsea by the parish clerk, so he could hide smuggled goods there.
It is along these very seas that Edward Pennel pirated and struck fear into all. Pennel was eventually caught, tried and executed in Hornsea.
Authors Ian and Marie.