AA Alfriston Smugglers Inn

Still on the trail for stories for my book, I visited the village of Alfriston this week home of smuggling. Whenever I think of the county of Sussex  I think of walks on the glorious downs, the rugged coastline with smuggling and shipwrecking, and the picture postcard English villages and  Alfriston is certainly one of the villages.  During the 18th century when smuggling was an acceptable trade Alfriston was home to the infamous Alfriston gang, and all three of its Inns were connected in some way. The George and the Star face each other in the narrow street, and the third, once the Market Cross, now the Smugglers on the side of the small square and all are worth a visit.

AA Alfriston The Smugglers Inn Plaque

The Star Inn is believed to have been built as a hostel by the Abbot of Battle in 1345 to accommodate monks travelling to the shrine of St Richard in the City of Chichester. In the 1500s it was turned into an Inn with numerous fascinating colourful wooden figures built into the front of the buildings that gaze down on passersby today. Outside the Inn sits a rather strange looking figurehead of a red lion, taken from a Dutch ship wrecked in Cuckmere Haven 300 years ago, and raided by the infamous gang. The George is also a fine 15th building with oak beams and wall paintings dating to the 16th and 17th century, but it is to the other Inn that  I found most interesting.

alfriston

The leader of the Alfriston gang was Stanton Collins who came from a good family and lived at the then Market Cross Inn, now The Smugglers, and when he took it over from his father he turned it into a bar and smugglers’ haunt.  It is a curious building with 21 rooms, 48 doors six staircases and numerous hidden exits including tunnels, one of which led under the floor of the bar down towards the river, though it was filled in a while ago.  If customs men came into the bar the smugglers could escape through a space beside the chimney into a secluded hideout, and when the customs men left, so the story goes, their friends would shout up the chimney that it was safe to come out. The notoriously violent gang used the stream that meanders beyond the High Street to bring their illegal gains from Cuckmere Haven to the village ready for distribution, and of in those days the river would have been wider.  The gang were never caught, but broke up when Stanton Collins was arrested, not for smuggling, but for burning a barn.  He was tried at Lewis Winter Assizes in December 1831 and sentenced to transportation to Tasmania, for 7 years, aboard the Lord William Bentinck. The gang had a reputation of being ruthless, and one tale tells us that one of the smugglers was in hiding above the cliffs overlooking Cuckmere Haven one dark night, waiting for a sign that the booty had landed.  His job was then to alert the gang that it was safe to collect it. He was about to go and tell them when he noticed a Revenue Officer at the cliff top picking his way through the dark, guided by large chalk rocks set at intervals along the path. Of course the gang was well prepared, and had moved some of the rocks so they led directly to the cliff edge.  As the officer tumbled down the cliff he yelled out, but managed to grab the edge of the cliff. The smugglers rushed from their hidey-hole, and stood looking down the man hanging on by his fingertips.  The officer begged them to save him, but stepping forward, one of the gang stamped on his fingers sending him spiralling to his death.  Everyone thought the officer had accidently falling in the darkness, and it was only a deathbed confession by one of the gang that revealed the truth.

Star Inn

About Wendy Hughes

Wendy turned to writing, in 1989, when ill-health and poor vision forced her into early medical retirement. Since then she has published 26 nonfiction books, and over 2000 articles. Her work has appeared in magazines as diverse as The Lady, Funeral Service Journal, On the Road, 3rd Stone, Celtic Connections, Best of British, and Guiding magazine. She has a column in an America/Welsh newspaper for ex-pats on old traditions and customs in Wales. Her books include many on her native Wales, Anglesey Past and Present, The Story of Brecknock, Brecon, a pictorial History of the Town, Carmarthen, a History and Celebration and Tales of Old Glamorgan, and a book on Walton on Thames in the Images of England series, a company history and two books on the charity Hope Romania. She has also co-authored two story/activity books for children. Her latest books are: Haunted Worthing published in October 2010, a new colour edition of The Story of Pembrokeshire published in March 2011, and Shipwrecks of Sussex in June 2011 and Not a Guide to Worthing in 2014. She is working on a book entitled A-Z of Curious Sussex which will be published in 2016 Wendy also works with clients to bring their work up to publishable standard and is currently working on an autobiography with a lady that was married to a very famous 1940’s travel writer. Wendy has spent many years campaigning and writing on behalf of people affected by Stickler Syndrome, a progressive genetic connective tissue disorder from which she herself suffers. She founded the Stickler Syndrome Support Group and raises awareness of the condition amongst the medical profession, and produces the group’s literature, and has written the only book on the condition, Stickler The Elusive Syndrome, and has also contributed to a DVD on the condition, Stickler syndrome: Learning the Facts. She has also writing three novels, Sanctimonious Sin, a three generation saga set in Wales at the turn of the century, Power That Heal set in the Neolithic period entitled Powers that Heal, and a semi biographical book entitled New Beginnings which deals with two generations coping with blindness and a genetic condition. She has also had a handful of short stories published, and in her spare time is working on several at the moment. She also gives talks on a variety of subjects including Writing and Placing Articles, Writing Local History, Writing as Therapy, Writing your first novel, etc, and runs workshops on the craft of writing – both fiction and non-fiction. She is a member of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists, and a member of the Society of Authors.