Little Yellow Cottage – Update 15 – Smugglers, Press Gangs and Pub Closures

Update 15 – Smuggling, Press Gangs and Pub Closures

Initially, I was built as a tiny cottage in a terrace, then a pub, then I was split from the pub and became 37a and became a cottage again. In the 1900s I was given a little extension at the back that enabled me to have a proper kitchen and then in the 1960s and 1970s I managed to survive and got my Grade 2 Listing and that’s protected me from demolition but now I’m squeezed between two modern buildings which, paradoxically, shows off my lovely old features even more.

Press Gangs

In 250 years I’ve seen it all. During my early years there was huge activity regarding the ‘recruitment’ of unfortunate victims to man the fighting ships in His Majesty’s Navy. As 50% of the crew would die of scurvy, dysentery, various poxes or from wounds sustained in storms and day to day work before you consider the terrible wounds sustained in battle, it’s not surprising that it wasn’t first choice for the able-bodied menfolk of the Whitby or any other town. There are stories of Press Gangs who would drift into pubs and buy a beer for some unlucky victim and a shilling (5p) coin would be dropped into the bottom of the tankard. It was alleged that once the man had taken a sup he would be grabbed and the liquid emptied to reveal that he’d accepted the ‘King’s shilling’ and thereby had become a serviceman fighting for King and Country. The hapless individual would then be dragged off without any return home, to fight for his King against Spanish, French, Portuguese or any other country that was deemed to be an enemy. If he was lucky and didn’t show any signs of making an escape or dying of any or all of the above he ‘may’ be allowed home once or twice every couple of years on the other hand, if he tried to escape then he was treasonous and would be hanged in front of his fellows for cowardice. Grim times for the victim! A hundred and fifty years ago seamen could be recruited into the Royal Navy by simply being told that this was going to be their fate. He would often be ‘encouraged’ to volunteer by being offered a couple of months pay as an advance. This wouldn’t go far though as they would take it back as payment for clothes and equipment including a hammock, the fact that he was a volunteer; however, did have some perks over being a ‘pressed man’ and he would be treated more favourably.

So pubs were important. Not just for ‘recruitment’ but also trading and a bit of recreation. After I was built there were times when I was a simple dwelling as I am now but there were other times when I was a pub; now those were interesting times! I was known as The Steam Packet, The Greenland Fishery and The Steamboat Inn. I had enjoyed a hugely successful trading life in the late 1800s but ended up being de-licensed in the cull of pubs following the 1904 licensing act. This legislation was enacted to enable compensation for the redundant landlords and encourage magistrates to reduce the number of pubs.

Pubs and Smuggling

You don’t need to be a dreamer to imagine the bar layout of my living room. The beams and supports defined the bar and I have a hatch that was used to dispense the beers and porters until, of course, my landlord succumbed to exhaustion.

At that point, the hatch would close and the ‘clientele’ would wobble their way out of my tiny front door (now restored) and stagger down Church Street singing their way to their homes and wives. They were a hard community in many ways but were always ready to make the ultimate sacrifice to save the lives of seafarers and passengers who were compromised by the vicious storms that could materialise in the North Sea well before weather forecasting and the Shipping Forecast became a mariners aid and, it has to be said, an institution to the rest of the listeners of the wireless that would become ubiquitous in coming years. Saving lives as part of a team in an open rowing boat in a North Sea Storm was astonishingly brave but taken as part of what Whitby seamen did. They do it now in a rather better-equipped boat but the nerves of steel and bravery are still the base requirement and they have that in buckets. God Bless them all, I’ve seen them leave and I’ve seen them come back and occasionally the conversation around my dinner table would be sombre and sometimes silent. Our part of the North Sea can be cruel and if that’s mixed with heroism then there’s a recipe for tragedy and I’ve seen my fair share of that.

The men from the key-side would call in at all times of day and night. Licensing hours hadn’t been invented in those early days so ‘calling time’ was a matter of exhaustion for the landlord. In Whitby, there was much merriment and hard-drinking after a busy day on the docks and there was always the opportunity to buy goods at ‘special’ prices. If lorries had been invented the ‘goods’ would have fallen off them. Smuggling was very nearly a profession and the yards and alleyways of Whitby would give cover for furtive meetings or, when chased, a means of escape from the excise men.

I remember many nights of noisy, drunken talk of the “The King of Smugglers”. He was John Andrews, the Landlord of the Ship Inn up the coast in Saltburn. His pub was the distribution centre for contraband goods that were moved from town to town via horse and cart, inshore boats, donkeys and mules and even strapped to the body; usually of women as intimate searches of women were almost non-existent. The women of Whitby would leave their home looking slim and healthy and return to ‘certain’ bars and houses looking rather more, shall we say, ‘plump’. Their undergarments had been augmented with pockets and pouches that accented what they’d already got and may well have induced an element of disappointment for their lusty husbands when they returned to normal size; however, the disappointment would be mitigated with the knowledge that they’d generated more money in a one day extended walk from Saltburn than two weeks fishing in the wildest of conditions off Greenland. Most of the ‘goods’ were wines, spirits, tobacco, teas and coffee. All fairly innocuous stuff with minor involvement in drugs which were largely opiates and used by all strata of society but thought of as no worse than alcohol at the time. 

Mrs Gaskell, who lived in Whitby at the time, commented “There was a clever way in which certain Whitby women managed to bring in prohibited goods. In fact, when a woman did give her mind to smuggling, she was full of resources, and tricks, and impudence, and energy more so than any man”

Horizontal Jogging

My rooms as a pub would be filled with workers from the shipyards and harbour; however, the seafarers were, by far, the most colourful.

Beer would be strong and flat and in the early years safer to drink than water. The atmosphere in my bar would be thick with smoke and there’d rarely be a woman unless she was touting for trade as a ‘personal trainer’ or carrying contraband goods under their skirts.

There’d be considerable interest in horizontal jogging especially from the sailors who’d have spent many weeks at sea looking forward to some amorous adventures in one of my rooms hired by the hour…”Hmmm, a whole hour?”, you may ask…

I still have the hatch through which the beer would be served. It was converted to a window in later years but became the victim of rot caused by the damaged roof eight years ago. It’s one of the few wooden structures that couldn’t be repaired so it’ll be replaced as a hatch over the next few weeks.

Serving Hatch

Slum Clearance, Renewal and Renovation

I heard an interesting tale from a passing ‘oddball character’ earlier this week. He was talking about the slum clearances that happened a few decades ago. He said that the criterion for demolition was the lack of a water closet, I do have one and survived whereas the premises either side were more commercial and suffered the ultimate ‘improvement’ i.e. they were demolished and rebuilt with modern bricks to a design that was more to do with cost than architectural merit and I remain squeezed between them happy in the knowledge that my team are renovating where possible and renewing only if it’s really necessary.

I’m pleased with my new and renovated windows and George has done a lot of work on my door and surrounds with help from Frank Kennedy who routed the wood on the left to create the fluting, I’m so very grateful. The wrought ironwork has been reapplied following shot blasting and repainting together with a lick of paint both outside and in.

Front Door – Before

Front Door – After

There’s still a lot to do inside, especially on the floors and walls but plans are afoot for bathroom and kitchen and the top floor is ready for the lime plaster and floor boarding.

I’m still listening and I have more to tell, especially regarding some wonderful coincidences regarding Lee (my builder) and family members from way back.

I’ll let you know.

With love from The little Yellow Cottage…x

Feel free to share or comment. I love comments…LYC..x

3 thoughts on “Little Yellow Cottage – Update 15 – Smugglers, Press Gangs and Pub Closures”

  1. Iv walk by this little house all my life it as been so sad to see it like it as been for the last 5 6 years I’m so glad it’s back to its old self x

  2. Love reading the updates, can’t wait to see the end result. Everytime I walked past the poor Cottage looked so sad ?


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