The Hadleigh SocietyMar 1990
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Hadleigh Gang


The Hadleigh Gang we are told* was part of a highly organised body of smugglers operating the Suffolk coastline. They specialised in the running of tea and other dry goods in the 18th century.

In one particular nasty incident they joined forces with gangs from Norwich and Yarmouth in which 100 men and 120 horses are said to have been used. There were, however, occasions when some 300 horses and 100 carts may have been used in a smuggling operation at Sizewell Beach. In 1745 it seems a total of 4551 horse-loads of contraband was brought into Suffolk in the second half of the year alone. This was made easier, of course, by the withdrawal of Revenue boats to the Nore to act as tenders for the Royal Navy in their protection of the East Coast against the possibility of invasion by the French.

It is considered that a number of 'warehouses' must have been employed between the coast and Hadleigh for the transport and storage of contraband in a most efficient and well organised operation.

In 1735 it came to light that a "little house at Seymor near Hadleigh", was being used and a force of Customs Officers supported by Dragoons raided the place. They found a large quantity of contraband tea which they took away to the George Inn at Hadleigh for the night. In the morning the smugglers numbering about 20 cut-throats overpowered the small party of Customs Officers accompanied by four Dragoons just outside Hadleigh and recovered the tea. We are told that two smugglers named as John Wilson and John Biggs were later hanged for this incident in which a Dragoon was killed and others of the party were wounded.

One of the leaders of the gang was apparently a John Harvey of Pond Hall who was finally brought to trial and sentenced to be transported for seven years.

It is said that many of the upper storeys of the more ancient houses in some parts of the Town are still linked together thus enabling a fast get-away over the roof tops, should the occasion arise - but surely, this is no longer necessary ? (or is it !? Ed.)

* For a host of these and other smuggling stories see 'Smugglers of the Suffolk Coast' by Leonard. P. Thompson, published by Brett Valley Publications of Hadleigh or 'Hadleigh through the Ages' by W.A.B. Jones published by East Anglian Magazine Limited of Ipswich, Suffolk.