During the 17th and 18th centuries smuggling or Free Trading was commonplace in the West Country and considered to be a very profitable way of life!
Smugglers were known to have used Lee, Ilfracombe, Heddon’s Mouth, Watermouth Cove and Morte. Some of the smuggling operations were clearly considerable; in 1785 a 96 gallon cask of rum was found at Watermouth Cove and in 1801 224 gallons of gin and 164 gallons of brandy were found on the foreshore near Ilfracombe.
Wrecking was another popular activity, as goods were washed ashore from a wrecked ship were regarded as common property. The wreckers of Mortehoe were notorious and feared by sailors it was said a sailor would rather drown than come ashore at near the men of Morte.
Any ship in trouble brought locals to the shore and in no time the ship would be destroyed and its cargo carried away. It was illegal to claim salvage from a wrecked ship if anyone was found alive on it. Therefore the wreckers would dispose of any survivors!
One of Mortehoe's most notorious wreckers was Elizabeth Berry, who it is thought used her pitchfork to drown sailors." (she was arrested for plundering the William and Jane in 1850 and given 21 days hard labour).
Just the tonic to kick start the hobby again....