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Post-medieval smugglers' cache at 'Smugglers' Tresco

A Scheduled Monument in Tresco, Isles of Scilly

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Latitude: 49.9571 / 49°57'25"N

Longitude: -6.3276 / 6°19'39"W

OS Eastings: 89716.972471

OS Northings: 15305.370229

OS Grid: SV897153

Mapcode National: GBR BXRS.QH7

Mapcode Global: VGYBY.8BQQ

Entry Name: Post-medieval smugglers' cache at 'Smugglers' Tresco

Scheduled Date: 25 September 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1016188

English Heritage Legacy ID: 15512

County: Isles of Scilly

Civil Parish: Tresco

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: Isles of Scilly

Church of England Diocese: Truro


The scheduling includes an 18th or early 19th century smugglers' cache, a
hidden store for contraband goods, situated beneath the garden of a cottage
now known as "Smugglers", near the north east coast of Tresco in the Isles of
The smugglers' cache is visible as an underground passage and chamber,
`T-shaped' in plan, in the garden close to the south of the cottage. Its
entrance passage, the stem of the `T' plan, is 0.35m wide and 1.5m long,
WSW-ENE. The entrance itself, at the WSW end, is flanked by a broad upright
slab forming a jamb at each side, 0.5m high and rebated at the outer end to
accommodate the missing door. Beyond these jambs, the entrance passage is
walled by coursed slabs. The descent of the entrance passage to the chamber
very effectively obstructs entry. Its floor drops steeply beyond the entrance
jamb slabs, descending approximately 0.7m over the following 0.85m of the
passage. The passage roof enhances the obstruction: it remains level, covered
by two flat slabs and a slender corroded iron bar, until near the end of the
passage when the roof level suddenly drops 0.4m at a slab laid vertically and
resting on the innermost coursing of the entrance passage. Beyond this, the
passage opens slightly north of centre in the west wall of the subterranean
inner chamber of the cache, the cross-bar of the `T' plan. The chamber is
rectangular, 1.8m long, NNW-SSE, by 0.6m wide and 0.75m high, cut directly
into the granitic subsoil, locally called `ram', but faced on the west by
coursed slab walling. The chamber is roofed by four large slabs laid flat
across the sides and chocked level in places with small stones.
The cache is covered by soil, a thin layer over the entrance passage but much
deeper over the chamber. A shallow and partly silted hollow runs down to the
passage entrance, exposing the ends of its jamb and roof slabs and kept clear
by rough walling on the south of the hollow.
This cache and its adjacent cottage are located near the southern side of Old
Grimsby Harbour, one of the two main harbours on Tresco and with easy access
to the deeper water anchorage of St Helen's Pool to the north east.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

The Isles of Scilly, the westernmost of the granite masses of south west
England, contain a remarkable abundance and variety of archaeological remains
from over 4000 years of human activity. The remote physical setting of the
islands, over 40km beyond the mainland in the approaches to the English
Channel, has lent a distinctive character to those remains, producing many
unusual features important for our broader understanding of the social
development of early communities.
Throughout the human occupation there has been a gradual submergence of the
islands' land area, providing a stimulus to change in the environment and its
exploitation. This process has produced evidence for responses to such change
against an independent time-scale, promoting integrated studies of
archaeological, environmental and linguistic aspects of the islands'
The islands' archaeological remains demonstrate clearly the gradually
expanding size and range of contacts of their communities. By the post-
medieval period (from AD 1540), the islands occupied a nationally strategic
location, resulting in an important concentration of defensive works
reflecting the development of fortification methods and technology from the
mid 16th to the 20th centuries. An important and unusual range of post-
medieval monuments also reflects the islands' position as a formidable hazard
for the nation's shipping in the western approaches.
The exceptional preservation of the archaeological remains on the islands has
long been recognised, producing an unusually full and detailed body of
documentation, including several recent surveys.

Smugglers' caches are hidden stores where contraband goods were concealed from
the authorities, potential informants and rivals. Rising trade, demand and
taxation affecting imported commodities such as tobacco, spirits and tea
during 17th and 18th centuries, coupled with few effective controls on
maritime activity outside the major ports, encouraged an illicit trade by
smugglers profitting by avoiding payment of duty on goods run across from the
Continent or acquired at sea from trading vessels in the Channel. Trade in
contraband goods was especially rife along most of the south coast of England,
facing the Continent; some small ports and coastal villages in Kent, Sussex
and the south west achieved notoriety for their smuggling activity, involving
large numbers of vessels and men and forming a significant part of the economy
in some areas by the mid-18th century. Early counter-measures included a
network of Customs Stations whose collectors controlled Revenue Cutters,
sometimes supplemented by naval vessels. Despite some limited success, their
resources were too thinly stretched and could not match the local knowledge of
the coastline of the smugglers. Increasingly effective control only came with
the ending of the wars with France when, in 1816-17, the Customs was
considerably expanded to include the new Coastguard, with sufficient manpower
to operate as a widespread preventative force along the south coast. In
conjunction with stringent penalties, the trade in contraband goods had been
severely curtailed by the 1840s. Accounts of successful anti-smuggling actions
by Customs and the Coastguard forces reveal a variety of ingenious methods
adopted in the early-19th century to conceal smuggled goods after their
arrival and before or during their distribution, reflecting the increased
pressure on the smugglers' activities. In addition to securing the contraband
beneath the surface of the sea, fixed to weights on the sea-bed, other
favoured sites of temporary storage included hidden caches constructed within,
beneath and near dwellings or public houses used by the smugglers.
Until the establishment of the Coastguard, conditions in the south west of
England proved especially favourable for smuggling, with its deeply indented
coastline remote from the centres of authority and administration but
conveniently facing the Continent and adjacent to the trade routes entering
the Channel. The enhancement of these factors in regard to the Isles of Scilly
was used to advantage by many among its population, as is testified by the
repeated complaints of successive Customs collectors based there. The
importance of smuggling as a vital supplement to the islands' economy of the
18th and early-19th centuries is shown by a petition in 1819 to relieve the
islanders' poverty, citing the effectiveness of the new preventative force as
a main cause of their distress. Apart from historical references and
association with some surviving buildings on Scilly, this formerly important
activity leaves relatively few remains, chief among which are smugglers'
caches and a series of 19th century lookout points set up and used by the
Coastguard force. Three smugglers' caches are known to survive on Scilly, one
on St Mary's and two on Tresco. Each is visible as an underground chamber in a
hidden location separated from nearby contemporary dwellings and each is of
differing form. The number of smugglers' caches that survive nationally is
not known and by their intentionally-concealed nature, more are likely to
survive than have been recorded. Smugglers' caches provide one of the few
surviving remains of an activity which demonstrates the interplay of
developing trade and increasing efficiency of law enforcement during the post
medieval period.
The smugglers' cache at "Smugglers" cottage survives well. Its position and
unusually complex design show clearly the degree of skill, ingenuity and
effort invested in concealing the location of such caches and making their
examination difficult at a time when the activity they represented formed an
important part of the local economy. This cache also shows the strategic
factors important in the siting of such clandestine stores, being located near
but not obviously at a landing place and within easy reach of a well-used

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Tangye, M, 'Cornish Archaeology' in A Smuggler's Cache, Tresco, Isles of Scilly, , Vol. 14, (1975), 119-120
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7371, (1988)
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 8915
Source Date: 1980

Source: Historic England

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