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9th November 2016 | Regional News

Cornwall’s Smuggling Past

For centuries, Cornwall’s rugged coastline made it a haven for smuggling, and back in the 17th and 18th century illegal contraband such as brandy, gin, and tea were regularly imported into the country. In fact, some parts of Cornwall relied solely on the smuggling trade, as “something for nothing” was more attractive and profitable than fishing.

Smuggling was a business for the brave-hearted, as there were extremely harsh penalties for those who were caught, such as heavy fines and even death. One precaution that smugglers did take was to make villagers face the wall when they approached with their contraband. Then if an individual smuggler was arrested, it meant the villagers could truthfully swear that they had seen nothing.

Here at Parkdean we’ve uncovered some of the most famous smuggling stories around our holiday parks in Cornwall.

The Carters of Prussia Cove

Nicknamed the King of Prussia, John Carter was one of the most notorious Cornish smugglers. Along with his brothers Harry and Charles, John ran an extremely successful smuggling ring during the late 1700s, using small inlets in West Cornwall, including Prussia Cove.

When establishing his family business, John Carter built a house above a large cave near Prussia Cove, where he constructed a harbour and a roadway. Just over 30 minutes from Mullion Holiday Park, the caves were used for storage and protection, and the area was extremely sheltered and secluded. It was impossible to see the harbour without leaning right over the edge of the cliffs, which is why the business was so successful.


Video sourced from Sean Durrant

Interestingly, John Carter was a dedicated Methodist and actually had a reputation for being a very honest dealer. One time, he reportedly broke into the Customs House at Penzance and took back the contraband that had been confiscated from him. The Customs Officers knew it was John who had broken in, because he had only taken back his own goods, and they knew he refused to steal anything that wasn’t rightfully his. He mysteriously disappeared in 1807, presumed to be dead.

Reverend Richard Dodge of Talland

Reverend Richard Dodge was the Vicar of Talland Church for over thirty years during the 1700s. Located close to the Cornish fishing town of Polperro, the church sits high upon the headland overlooking Talland Bay, which again was ideal for smugglers due to its isolated position.


Video sourced from vincent998x

An eccentric character, Dodge was often seen leaping around the churchyard at night, and gained a reputation as a magician. According to local legend he could raise the dead at his will and would run around with his horse whip chasing devils away from the churchyard and into the sea. However, it became apparent that he was actually heavily involved in smuggling, and spread stories of ghosts and demons to keep prying eyes away from his illegal activities.

Although the village of Talland no longer exists, the church is still there today. It is thought that the smugglers came into Talland Bay, and then up Bridals Lane before reaching the church. This is where Dodge would often be seen cracking his whip and warning people to stay away from the area. Only 15 minutes from Looe Bay Holiday Park, Talland Church is still open, and is definitely worth a visit.

The Cruel Coppinger

The Cruel Coppinger is one of the most feared characters in Cornish smuggling folklore, and there is still a great mystery surrounding his true identity. The story goes that he was a huge Danish man whose ship was wrecked off the coast of Cornwall. He then set up a fierce network of smugglers who were made up of thieves and pirates, and was renowned for his ruthless and brutal behaviour.

It’s understood that the Cruel Coppinger lived on the north coast, and mainly operated on the coastline near Newquay. His terrifying gang of smugglers became known as “Coppingers Tracks” and they ruthlessly controlled the bridleways and footpaths which led to a cliff called Steeple Brink. Here, a rope ladder led to a cave where all of the contraband was stored, such as kegs of brandy, chests of tea, and even stolen livestock.

Using his knowledge of the Cornish coast, the Cruel Coppinger and his gang regularly lured ships and boats onto the rocks to wreck them, before stealing all the cargo. Even the Revenue Officers avoided Coppinger and his band of cutthroats.

If you have any other tales about Cornwall’s smuggling past, we’d love to hear about them on our Facebook page.

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