Solway Coast Smugglers

Smuggling along the Solway Coast was rife during the 17th and 18th centuries with large professional gangs operating on the Scottish and English sides.

These illicit “midnight traders” were smuggling many goods including tobacco and alcohol.

Old harbour wall Port Carlisle

The Solway Coast was frequented by smuggling ships

With custom duties in the 1700’s considerably lower in the Isle of Man than on the mainland, Making money by buying legally imported goods on the island, repacking them in smaller parcels and smuggling them into England and Scotland along the Solway, became a lucrative business.

The Isle of Man became known as ‘that warehouse of frauds’ because so much contraband, from all over the world, was stored there.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, sales of confiscated goods by the customs officers, were held regularly at Carlisle, Whitehaven, Workington and Ulverston.

These goods included: Tobacco, spirits, tea, silk, salt, Russian linen, cotton stockings, feathers for beds, glue, human hair, starch, candles, cheese and hair powder.

According to an article by the Solway History Society;

“In 1724, brandy was seized from a sloop near Skinburness. In 1731, eighteen casks of brandy were found on the shore near Dubmill Point after two local men, Joseph Simm and Daniel Miller tipped off the customs officers. The two informers were left to keep watch on the area but were discovered by two of the smugglers, John Sharp and John Osborn, who promptly gave them a beating. The informers brought charges of assault against the smugglers but the case was dismissed by the jury!

In 1764, the Customs men found “a very considerable gang of smugglers, armed with guns and pistols, escorting about forty horse loads of brandy and tea” near Hayton, just inland from the coast. The officers attacked but “being overpowered with so much superior force, were obliged to retreat”.

Between 1772 and 1787, a small boat named the Ferret, was based at Skinburness and used by Customs officials to intercept these smugglers at sea.

It is said that Longburgh House at Burgh by Sands, is reputed to have been built from the proceeds of smuggling. Legend has it that the right-hand first-floor window above the front door was used as a signalling place.

Thomas Stowell gravestone

Thomas Stowell gravestone

In 1755, the King’s boast from Skinburness intercepted one of these smuggling ships. During the chase, a young Manx smuggler, Thomas Stowell, (or stoal) was wounded by gunfire.

He was landed, with his cargo of brandy and tobacco, at Bowness-on-Solway where he died.  His grave can be found at St Michaels’ Church, Bowness on Solway, alongside an unmarked grave belonging to other Solway coast smugglers.

More information

Gravestonepix.com – Thomas Stowell, the grave of a Manx smuggler.

Smugglers’ Britain – Find out about smuggling in Britain

Wherecanwewalk.com – The Maryport Smugglers Route walk – The Bank End Ramble





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