Digging Up the Secrets of Gower's Smuggling Past; Hidden Coves and Secret Caves Made the Beautiful Peninsular an Ideal Place to Lure Ships onto Rocks and Capture the Cargo, Says Derek Draisey Whose New Book Charts the History of Gower from the Roman Invasion
Byline: ROBIN TURNER
G ower's past as one of Britain's major smuggling centres has been unmasked in a new book about the history of the peninsula. A History of Gower (Logaston Press pounds 9.95) by Derek Draisey covers the area's development from the time of the Romans to the period of rapid industrialisation of nearby Swansea. The book tells the tale of a drunken night in April 1803 when exciseman Frankie Bevan seized more than 400 four gallon casks of smuggled whisky at Pennard.
The casks were loaded onto wagons, destined for the centre of Swansea.
But throughout the journey a mob of 200 drunken men and women harassed the wagon train ``all the way to Wind Street'' in the middle of what was then the town, not city, of Swansea. The author says, ``From a detailed report of the incident there can be little doubt the drivers, along with their escort of 50 Sea Fencibles (militiamen) were no less intoxicated than the mob.''
According to the book, smuggling was rife throughout Gower with its hidden coves and inviting beaches right up until 1882 when the Royal Navy began blockading the Bristol Channel.
In 1805, the Cambrian newspaper recorded how customs officer George Beynon acting with Sea Fencibles descended on a smuggling operation on Rhossili Sands. They drove off the smugglers and seized 100 casks of spirits and fine wine.
Large scale smuggling in Gower is thought to date back to the 16th Century but during the 18th Century it was pursued on an unprecedented scale due to the amount of duty levied on commodities like tea, tobacco, brandy and lace.
Some of the items were taxed as much as seven times their marketable value.
Ships, often of French or Spanish and sometimes Irish origin, were directed to beaches under cover of darkness by organised gang members using lan-terns. Farm labourers, oystermen and quarrymen were waiting to carry the contraband inland and hide it in their homes or haystacks as a way of supplementing their meagre wages.
The true extent of smuggling can only be guessed at as the only records refer to the odd successes of customs officers.
But a report in 1795 announced that at least 5,000 kegs of liquor had been landed in a Gower in a six-month period that year.
The mere presence of Customs and excise officers must have prevented much smuggling.
In Port Eynon alone during the early 18th Century there were eight officers on stand by in the village.
Derek Draisey's look at the history of Gower stretches back to the Roman In-vasion of Britain in 43AD. He points to evidence of small Roman hill forts on Gower, probably governed by the Roman fortress at Leucarum (Loughor). …