And the wind having dropped and the night being now a
really very beautiful moonlight night indeed, and all before Kipps to
spend as he liked and with only a very little tendency to spin round now
and again to mar its splendour, they set out to walk the whole length of
the Leas to the Sandgate lift and back, and as they walked Chitterlow
spoke first of moonlight transfiguring the sea and then of moonlight
transfiguring faces, and so at last he came to the topic of Love, and
upon that he dwelt a great while, and with a wealth of experience and
illustrative anecdote that seemed remarkably pungent and material to

Calm moonlit evenings provided not only an opportunity to discourse on love but also ideal conditions for the smuggler to ply his trade.  Smuggling was rampant in Folkestone during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries because the high duty on luxury goods and the short crossing to the Continent gave impoverished fishermen the opportunity to improve their lot.  The extent of the illegal trade was revealed by a Royal Commission in 1746: six tons of tea and 10,000 gallons of brandy were brought from Boulogne every week!  During the nineteenth century, Folkestone’s chief occupations were listed as smuggling and fishing and Lord Liverpool described Folkestone as “a nest of damned smugglers”.

Despite draconian punishments – prison, transportation or even hanging – smuggling continued with complicity from the local community, who refused to divulge information to Preventive Officers and offered safe passage through the network of connecting cellars around the harbour.  Dickens notes:

Within a quarter of a century it was a little fishing town and they do say that the time was when it was a little smuggling town.  I have heard that it was rather famous in the hollands and brandy way and that the lamplighter’s was considered a bad life at the assurance offices.  It was observed that if he were not particular about lighting up, he lived in peace; but if he made the best of the oil lamps in the steep and narrow streets, he usually fell over the cliff at an early age.**

Smuggling in Folkestone was the subject of several studies and finished watercolours by J.M.W. Turner. In his Folkestone from the Sea, 1823-4, a party of smugglers is shown receiving barrels of illegal gin from French sailors by moonlight.  An operation usually carried out under the cover of nightfall is exposed by a sunrise which has arrived too early for the miscreants.  From the right approaches a boat of the Coast Blockade, initiated in 1816 to combat smuggling, which is spotted by the men who quickly try to ‘sink’ the barrels on ropes for later retrieval.  In another watercolour, Folkestone, Kent 1823,smugglers are shownburying their contraband on the beach in broad daylight. ***

*Quote from Kipps by H.G. Wells supplied by David Cowell:
** Dickens in Folkestone, Ann Neville, Folkestone & District Local History Society, 2002

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