Memories of Smuggling
97 Year-old Wootton Men’s Adventures
Wootton Creek is fast becoming a yachtsmen’s rendezvous, and not least of the attraction there is the Sloop Inn. At least three hundred years old, it began its existence as a ferry house, long before the first bridge was built. Later, after the Napoleonic Wars and until some 70 years ago, it was a smugglers port of call. There still remains part of the hidden tunnel, which communicated the far creek bank and along which came the kegs of contraband to be stored under the stairs. In those days, the local fishermen dealt very profitably with the French and buying brandy at 1/- (shilling) a gallon, they evaded the two preventive men stationed at Fishbourne, and paddled their cargo along the creek. It is on record that many an illicit cargo was hidden in the churchyard with the connivance of the clergy. There is no record of a smuggler having been caught, but a man called Raynor was pursued by a preventive cutter, and shot dead. His grave may still be seen in Binstead cemetery.
The last of these reckless men is 97-year-old Mr. James Henry Young [1839-1939], who lives at Fishbourne. Mr Young, hale and hearty despite his great age, recalls those far off days when he assisted the local fishermen to pick up the brandy kegs, which were deposited overside until the coast was clear. For obvious reason reasons done at night, the all clear signal would be flashed from the back door of the Sloop Inn, and the smugglers craft would glide up to the tunnel entrance where men would be waiting, hurriedly to hide the cargo. The actual lantern used is still in existence, and can be seen at any time. The host, Mr. R. Batt has himself witnessed adventure at first hand. A sailor man for many years, he is a fit host for such a nautical house of cheer as the Sloop Inn. The inn is becoming increasingly well known among yachtsmen, and one of its most attractive features is the Captains cabin. Complete with portholes and a cabin stove, it is redolent with nautical atmosphere. Prominent among the decorations is a model of a China tea clipper made by Mr Acklund of Wootton. There is also a well-executed watercolour of the inn painted by Mrs Ward Fowler of Ryde.
Editors note: The tunnel also extends from the Sloop Inn to the adjacent house called Ivy Hall, however it is reported that a previous owner of Ivy Hall called in the fire brigade to survey the tunnel and it was recommended that it be sealed due to the risk of methane gas.
This is a copy of an article from an unknown source around 1937
Article reproduced by courtesy of Mrs. Gill Salter