Rye is key attraction on new ‘Smugglers Trail’

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A NOTORIOUS band of smugglers who once terrorised Rye have been immortalised in a new heritage trail.

The Hawkhurst Gang operated in the Rye area and across Sussex and Kent from 1735 until 1747.

They were reputed to have frequented the Mermaid Inn in Rye where they would sit with their weapons on the table.

On one occasion when the gang was drinking at the Mermaid Inn some twenty of them visited the nearby Red Lion, firing their guns in the air. A young bystander, James Marshall, who took too keen an interest in them, was taken away and never seen again.

The Mermaid is one of the places featured on the new trail, which features 12 hostelries across the Sussex and Kent which have links with the smugglers.

The gang generally operated freely in the area, as when in 1744 they unloaded a considerable amount of contraband from three large cutters at Pevensey, from which the smuggled goods were carried inland by around 500 pack horses.

Contraband included brandy and rum but more often than not tea.

The gang met its demise in April 1747 when it was defeated in a vicious battle with the Goudhurst Militia.

The majority of the gang were hanged and their bodies left to rot in gibbets as a warning to others.

The Smuggler Trail was launched by the Hawkhurst Community Partnership last month with the help of Hastings Mayor Kim Forward

Each participating establishment displays an iconic commemorative plaque, along with a special information board.

An information leaflet is also being produced to guide visitors along the trail.

Said Yolanda Laybourne, Co-ordinator of the project: “The Hawkhurst Gang were, and still are, one of the most famous smuggling gangs, and we believe that this project will really benefit local businesses as our residents and visitors explore the smugglers’ old haunts.

“To help us with our launch, well-known local historian Geoff Hutchinson joined us, dressed in character; and what are believed to be two of the only remaining pistols which were used by the Hawkhurst Gang made a very rare appearance for the occasion.