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PEPPER COVE AND RALPH'S CUPBOARD:
Some Cornish Legends

An area that for more than two centuries was synonymous with a dangerous, illicit trade generates many myths and legends. As I discovered when I researched the background of the smuggling coast of Cornwall, locale for THE SMUGGLER AND THE SOCIETY BRIDE, even place names whisper of its smuggling past.

 

Pepper Cover, north of Porthcothan, was named for the boatloads of the spice that used to be landed there. North of Hayle, the coast road to Portreath passes Ralph’s Cupboard, where openings in the rock were used to store contraband. Hayle itself was also a landing point; tourists can visit a house, once a youth hostel, in which a sloping trench leads from the ground floor down to an arched tunnel that runs north toward the coast.

 

At Lelant, an old granite cottage (now a private home) used in the 19th century as a “kiddlewink” (beershop) had a cave excavated beside it for storing contraband, and it’s said the church at Lelant itself was used to store illegal spirits.

 

Perhaps because they would be less likely to be searched by zealous revenue agents, churches were sometimes put to use in the trade (with or without the knowledge of the local vicar.) South of Mylor, at Penrhyn, local legend claims that a tunnel led from the coast into St Gluvias' Vicarage. At Gunwalloe, caves along the beach were said to be linked by a tunnel leading to the belfry of a local church.

 

Mullion Cove in Mounts Bay was another favorite landing place. In fact, it’s said that the area residents were once so incensed when a government brig captured the cargo of a local smuggler that they raided the armoury at Trenance, opened fire on the brig, and recovered the smuggler’s illegal goods!

 

It wasn’t the only attack. At Prussia Cove, one member of the famous Carter smuggling family set up a small battery of cannons on the cliff to warn off revenuers; on one occasion, he fired on a cutter when it approached too close to his storage sites.

 

Caves were the most popular hiding places, but farms and outbuildings were also used, sometimes with “false walls” behind which contraband was concealed. The sunken road leading to Penpol Farm at Sunset Creek near Truro made that farm, with its caves and woods, a favorite haunt of area smugglers.

 

Reverend Hawker, vicar of Morwenstow, wrote many tales about the smuggling in his parish. One tells of the “Gauger’s Pocket” at Tidnacombe Cross, on the edge of the moor near the sea. Into this crevice, overgrown with moss and lichen and sealed by a moveable piece of rock, smugglers would drop a bag of gold for the local revenue agent in exchange for his cooperation in “keeping the coast quiet” during their run.

 

Near Padstow, another tale claims a farmer carrying goods inland, spotting a distant exciseman approaching, lifted a nearby gatepost from its socket, dropped the brandy tub into the hole, replaced the gate and greeted the king’s agent cheerfully when he passed by a few minutes later.

 

--For more tales of Cornish smuggling, see http://www.timetravel-britain.com/articles/country/smugglers.shtml and the Smuggling Museum in Polperro: http://www.polperro.org/museum.html

 

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