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Tales From Cornwall’s Smuggling Past image header

17th November 2016 | Regional News

Tales From Cornwall’s Smuggling Past

Cornwall is famous for many things, including surfing, walking, and its golden sandy beaches. However, throughout the 18th century it was mostly known for smuggling. Cornwall was perfect for smugglers, as it’s rugged and rocky coastline had very few revenue men to patrol it.

Although there are many stories about smuggling in Cornwall, there is little evidence which can turn fiction into fact. In search of the truth, we’ve teamed up with Visiting Cornwall to unearth some of the greatest stories from Cornwall’s smuggling past.

Penzance Pirates

admiral benbow

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In February 2008, during a renovation of a waterfront warehouse in Penzance, builders were startled when they stumbled across a series of underground tunnels. Intrigued by the discovery, the workmen continued to investigate and it didn’t take them long to realise that they had uncovered a network of smuggler’s tunnels from over 200 years ago.

A pair of 2ft square holes were found underneath the Abbey Warehouse, which was being renovated into a restaurant and office. The holes led to two tunnels snaking under the roads, reaching the Admiral Benbow Pub on Chapel Street, nearly 300 yards away. There was even a spy hole in the tunnel so smugglers could see if the tax men were in the pub looking for them.

Whilst the pub was regularly filled with local smugglers back in the 18th century, it was particularly popular with the Benbow Brandy Men, who were known to have used tunnels to smuggle brandy, gin, and tobacco from the harbour to avoid tax.

Smuggling in Penzance became a popular activity since the majority of local residents were tin-miners, meaning digging tunnels was a skill that came naturally to most of them. Although smuggling was rife in the area, it was a dangerous exercise, and the cost of getting caught was extremely high. Many smugglers frequently went to jail, and those who were caught up in the violence could be sentenced to transportation, or even worse, death.

Visitors of the Admiral Benbow Pub today will see a smuggler lying on top of the roof, holding a gun. This allegedly represents Octavious Lanyon, head of the Benbow Brandy Men. The story is that Octavious climbed onto the roof to create a diversion during a revenue raid, and was supposedly shot down and seriously injured.

If you’re staying at either Sea Acres Holiday Park or Mullion Holiday Park in Cornwall, you’re not far away from the Admiral Benbow Pub, so make sure you take a trip to learn more about the pirates of Penzance.



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