The Wenhaston Smuggler by Keith Johnceline
In 1855 an unsigned letter was delivered to the vicar of Wenhaston, Thomas Greenwood, expressing concern about a certain inhabitant of the village who, the writer claimed, had been smuggling for twenty-five years. In his letter the writer advised the vicar that the man in question, who he refused to name in fear of himself being killed, possessed a wherry, horses, carts, his own men and was at one time landlord of the Harbour Inn at Southwold. He further claimed to have knowledge that the goods were landed at the bridge at Wenhaston and then sent by carrier to Ipswich or to his brother in law in Norwich, a draper. The writer was very anxious that his name was not published!
Roy Clark, in Black Sailed Traders, writes that in 1830 a George Butcher of Wenhaston owned two wherries, one of which was later passed to a Mr Turner. In the diaries of James Maggs, who was described by their editor as Southwold schoolmaster, auctioneer and general factotum, there are several references to George Butcher. On 12th March 1843 he sold Commerce to Mr Butcher for £240, while on 22nd February 1844 Sole Bay was launched for George Butcher. He was at that time the owner of the Harbour Inn at Southwold. On 15th October 1855 George Butcher sold Venus to William Ayliffe for £70. The most damaging entry in the diary was on 30th November 1855, when James Maggs escorted George Butcher to Ipswich Gaol for smuggling.
George Butcher was born in 1803 and at the time of his conviction was fifty–two, described as a coal and seed merchant living at Hill House, at the top of Blyford Lane, Wenhaston. He was 5 feet 4 inches in height and had a fresh complexion, brown hair and hazel eyes. Born in Westleton, he was married with two children, at the time of his arrest aged twenty–five and twenty-one. He was charged with offences against customs, and was taken to Ipswich Gaol on 1 December 1855 to serve his sentence of nine months. When taken to the goal he was wearing two coats, one waistcoat, one pair of trousers, one pair of boots, a shirt, and possessed two handkerchiefs and £7 11s. 1d. in money.
It was interesting to see on the next page in the Ipswich Gaol Book the entry for a Mr Foreman, a labourer of Blackheath, Wenhaston. He was taken to the gaol on 1st December for the same offence and received the same sentence, nine months. He was forty–two and described as having a sallow complexion, brown hair and grey eyes. He was also married with two children and was born in Halesworth. Undoubtedly a member of Butcher’s gang.
On being released from prison George Butcher carried on with his coal and seed business, as shown by entries in White’s Directories for 1855, 1865 and 1874. He was still living at Hill House. An entry in the Parish Register for 26th August 1875, however, records the burial of George Butcher, aged seventy–one.
Ipswich Gaol Book.
Alan Bottomley, ed., The Southwold Diaries of James Maggs, 2 vols, Suffolk Records Society, 25-26 (1983-84).
Roy Clark, Black-Sailed Traders (1961).
White’s Directory of Suffolk (1855, 1865, 1874).
Census Returns, 1841, 1861.
Atton & Holland, The King’s Customs, 2 vols (1908).
Keith Johnceline, Wenhaston, March 2000.
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