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Read the book! This fascinating book by award-winning author Richard Platt tells the story of British smuggling Click here to buy

Photograph of the author, Richard Platt
The author, Richard Platt. Click here for a brief biography.


Smugglers Britain logo

About the site ... and its author

If you have enjoyed this website,
write and tell me!

However, when writing, please bear in mind the following points:

  • I cannot help you trace your smuggling ancestors, and I will not reply to your email if you ask me to do so. If you want to find your roots, please click here to go to a page that is designed to help you.
  • If you have another question about smuggling, you may find the answer in books listed in the bibliography.
  • I wrote the text for this site more than 15 years ago and I no longer have my notes.

Here is my email address (sorry, it's not clickable. You have to retype it):

Richard Platt's email address

The site is based on a book, The Ordnance Survey Guide to Smugglers' Britain, which was published by Cassell in 1991. This site is not connected in any way with the Ordnance Survey or Cassell Publishers. The book is out of print, but I have recently completed another similar book, Smuggling in the British Isles which you can buy by clicking here.

Places mentioned on the website are not necessarily open to the public unless the text explicitly states this; access and opening times may have changed since the text was written. Any exploration of the places mentioned on these web pages is entirely at your own risk: I take no responsibility if you fall off a cliff or get trapped in a sea-cave.

I took all reasonable steps to ensure that Smugglers' Britain contained no factual errors. If you alert me to mistakes, I will change the site - usually within a week.

Quotes and reuse of pictures

Text © copyright Richard Platt 2006. For charity, non-profit, private and educational purposes [See definitions below] you are welcome to quote passages of up to 100 words provided that you do not quote more than 1000 words in total in a single work. Please ask my permission (I won't usually refuse) before quoting longer passages, and for any quotations, however short, published in print or electronically. Please provide a link to this site if you use text on a web page. All print quotations should be attributed as follows: "quoted with permission from Smugglers' Britain © Richard Platt 2009".

I own the copyright on many of the images reproduced on this website. I am happy to supply hi-res scans of them for reproduction, or for film or broadcast. I make a charge for commercial use to recoup the cost of keeping the site up and running. There is no charge for other uses (listed above and defined at the bottom of the page), as long as you include a link to this site.

The Author, Richard Platt

I am a full-time author, and I have written more than 100 (mostly) non-fiction books. You can read more about me and my writing by clicking here.

I have done TV and radio interviews on smuggling or piracy for: Meridian, BBC, ITV, the Discovery Channel and many local stations. I worked as a costume consultant for the Disney feature film Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. In the window on the left you can watch a short interview I recorded for the BBC's Heaven & Earth Show. It was broadcast February 2006.

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Books about the sea

Smugglers' Britain was my first book on a maritime subject, but the sea has become a recurring theme: I have since written several books on piracy, men-of-war, and shipwrecks:

The cover of Smugglers' Britain The cover of Dorling Kindersley's Cross Section Man-of-War The cover of Dorling Kindersley's Eyewitness Pirate
Cassells published Smuggler's Britain, on which this site is based, in 1991 Man-of-War was the second of seven cross-section books that Stephen Biesty and I produced for Dorling Kindersley Pirate, part of Dorling Kindersley's successful Eyewitness series
The cover of Walker Books' Pirate Diary The cover of Salamander's Pirates The cover of Dorling Kindersley's Eyewitness Shipwreck
Chris Riddell won a Kate Greenaway medal for his stunning illustrations in Walker Book's Pirate Diary I contributed a chapter on the Mediterranean corsairs to this adult title on pirates for Salamander Another Eyewitness title published by Dorling Kindersley in 1997

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More about this site

The explosion of import smuggling that took place in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries has been absorbed into the public consciousness leaving only the vaguest of traces. The smugglers gave us phrases such as ‘on the spot’ and ‘the coast is clear’, yet they remain, at least in most people’s minds, shadowy, romantic figures. I became interested in this period of Britain’s history while researching a popular magazine article on the subject, and though I found the story fascinating, I was surprised and disappointed to discover that there were no books in print on smuggling. The Ordnance Survey Guide to Smugglers’ Britain was an attempt to remedy this situation.

Choosing sources

In researching the book, I read many volumes that purported to be histories of smuggling. In reality, most of them were histories of the prevention of smuggling, or of the customs and excise services. This is perfectly understandable: historians prefer to work from primary sources whenever possible, and by the very nature of the game, smugglers left few accurate and detailed records of their activities. Their adversaries in the service of the Crown were, by contrast, prolific correspondents, and in the public record office at Kew there are hundreds of thousands of letters and other documents that deal with the minutiae of life in the country’s custom houses. I am not a historian, and early on I came to the conclusion that the story of smuggling is far more interesting than the story of its prevention. I therefore tried whenever possible to write about smuggling from the point of view of those who broke the law, not those who enforced it.

Yarns and hearsay

To find this perspective, I left the carefully-paved and reliable road of official revenue records. I branched off onto the muddy and rutted paths of traditional yarns, folk tales, and recollections of the oldest inhabitant. I hope the result will please those who are fascinated by tales of smuggling and smugglers. It will certainly appeal to those who wish to follow in the footsteps of the men and women who profited from Britain’s punitive taxation laws. By the same token, this site may well irritate historians. I have shamelessly included a great deal of hearsay and many unverified assertions, and for the sake of clarity, I have used a few revenue terms — such as ‘preventive’ — in a rather loose way.


This is not to say that I have accepted as fact every yarn I heard and read. On the contrary, I have more often tended towards scepticism. For example, if every story I've quoted about a smugglers’ tunnel was true, the coast of southern England would resemble Swiss cheese, and most cliffs would collapse into the sea. If a story seemed plausible, I’ve said so.


In the course of my research, I visited and photographed most of the places on the British mainland and the Isle of Wight about which I have written. The exceptions are the most remote areas, and those where I found little evidence of smuggling. Specifically, I stayed south and east of a line drawn between Stranraer and Inverness, and I omitted most of the west coast between Liverpool and Carlisle.


I received an enormous amount of help in writing Smugglers' Britain, but I am indebted to a few people in particular.

The staff of the British Library, then still at Bloomsbury, helped me track down hundreds of obscure references, and branch librarians all over the country responded to my letters with photocopies of their local archives. The staff of the Customs and Excise Library at King’s Beam House helped me in the early stages of my research.

Ilford Ltd generously provided me with film with which to shoot the colour pictures.

Robin Wood provided some early encouragement.

Many thanks also to...

  • Blue Circle Heritage Trust
  • Flat Holm Project
  • Foulkes-Halbard of Filching
  • Margate Caves
  • Parham Park
  • Post Office Postcode Services
  • The Three Daws Inn, Gravesend
  • The many people who allowed a complete stranger to photograph their homes, and who shared their knowledge of the smuggling trade
  • The friends who provided meals and beds during my travels, and endured my countless smuggling yarns!

[Back to text]
If you are in any doubt about whether or not your proposed use falls into one of these categories, then it probably doesn't. I am sorry I have to include all this nonsense, but it seems that in their eagerness to avoid paying a small reproduction fee, some publishers willfully misunderstand the blindingly obvious. So just to make this absolutely clear...

Charity means a registered charity.

Non-profit means an organisation that does not aim to make a profit. It doesn't mean a business that has not yet made a profit, but aims to do so in the future.

Private purposes means use in a family, home or social context. If the picture or text are reproduced, then the number of copies is dozens, not hundreds.

Educational purposes means that: you are a member of staff or a student at an educational institution such as a school or college; that you use the picture or text solely as part of your work within that institution; and if the picture or text are reproduced in a publication, that publication does not have significant circulation outside of the educational institution.