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Piracy, Wrecking and Smuggling

In the Middle Ages wrecking and piracy became common place in many areas near the sea.

Our area in the fourteenth and fifteenth century were said to be leaders in both practices and became a normal way of life for many local families.

As far as wrecking went, one of the favourite local methods in the Oole and Itterby area was to tie one foreleg of a cow loosely to it’s head and then fix a lantern to it’s horns. By setting the unfortunate animal free on the foreshore on a dark night, this created a light that shone out to sea in a rolling manner, that well mimicked the light usually set at the top of a mast on a ship in deep water.

As far as piracy went, the area was littered with small creeks from which a small boat could be quickly launched and could quickly return to privately unload and hide. Any foreign vessels were generally looked upon as fair game by everyone, including the authorities and consequently vessels from Holland and Scotland began to dread the opening, that was the Humber. Even English sailors began to give the area a wide berth, which had an obvious effect on trade for a time.

The small creeks in Lincolnshire also provided opportunities for smugglers and so, though there are no records, it is perhaps fair to assume that trade increased in that fashion,

It is recorded that even as late as 1572, the Earl of Huntingdon wrote to Lord Burghley complaining about the creeks of the Humber being used by pirates and smugglers and commented about the fact that there were no ‘revenue officers or preventative men’ in the area to stop the practice.

As far as smuggling went, it should perhaps be recorded that initially there was more goods smuggled out than in. This was probably due to the high tolls extracted for exporting such items as corn or leather.

However it soon became apparent to our local area that there were goods worth bringing in and selling at a high profit if only they could be sent safely to areas with bigger populations like Lincoln.

However to do this was not as easy as it may seem, for another problem had to be overcome – the Highwayman and perhaps what was worse the respectable Highwayman!