Petworth audience is gripped by tales of smugglers

SMUGGLING, tales of economic collapse, gangs, corruption, cruelty, mob rule: all in a county of tiny villages, virtually inaccessible during winter and its people enduring conditions of poverty and deprivation... hard to believe today.

Chris Hare’s catalogue of dates, personalities and facts gripped the Petworth Society’s audience in the Leconfield Hall.

He is an expert and a most accomplished speaker.

This was the 19th Garland memorial lecture and it proved to be one in true George Garland spirit.

One could almost imagine him in a smuggling role, had he been born into the 17th or 18th centuries.

Then, government initiatives aimed at solving the economic and political crisis resulting from wars was to tax imports of luxuries – tobacco, tea and spirits.

It was not surprising, therefore, that enterprising people became free traders, smuggling those items across the Channel into Sussex, where, for generations, this had been the practice, notably in exporting wool.

They would not regard themselves as criminals, like highway robbers of burglars.

Chris traced the development of smuggling up to the 19th century with a wealth of stories about the characters involved, incidents, often extremely violent, and the political manoeuvring always in the background.

An absorbing story, well told.

The Petworth Society was established in 1974 to preserve the character and amenities of the town and surrounding parishes, encourage interest in history and create community spirit in the area.

For membership details contact chairman Peter Jerrome on 01798 342562.