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Smugglers by John Atkinson. Public domain.

Britain has an amazing selection of local beers and ales which you can often only find at a few select pubs close to where they are produced. Many of them have been given names which have a strong regional historical or cultural relevance. Manufactured at the Ringwood Brewery, Lovey Warne is one such ale. Classified as a golden or blonde ale, it has a moderate toasted malt and caramel aroma and a bitter citrus taste[1]. It is named after a famous local figure, the female smuggler, Lovey Warne and its amber colour is meant to symbolise her scarlet coloured cloak.

When people think of smuggling in the 17th and 18th centuries in Britain they immediately think of the coasts of Cornwall and Dorset. Books such as Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier set in the wild, remote landscape of Bodmin Moor and Winston Graham’s Poldark series have also helped cement this connection in people’s minds. People tend to forget that smuggling went on all over Britain and how well organised and sophisticated the smuggling network became at its height.

Free trading: A respectable occupation

Smuggling or Free Trading as it was otherwise known became an important source of income for many families hit hard by exorbitant taxes. These unpopular taxes implemented to help pay for the wars on the continent and fill the Treasury’s coffers, had left many families on the brink of starvation. So in order to augment their meagre or in many cases non-existent wages many people turned unsurprisingly to smuggling. People from all levels of society were involved in the trade with the high-duty goods such as brandy, tobacco, lace and tea bringing the best profits.

Revenue men in a gangs lair. Copyright National Maritime Museum.

Smuggling was considered by many to be an honourable trade and a recognised occupation. In addition many people even though not directly involved in the trade themselves were sympathetic to the smugglers’ cause. One such sympathiser, a farmer by the name of Burt Chubbs helped rescue smugglers being chased by excise men. He hid them in his barn and then misdirected the officers by claiming the smugglers’ wagon had broken his leg whilst heading towards Burley[2]. This attitude together with the deep mistrust rural communities felt towards outsiders and especially the King’s men known for their corruption meant that it was nearly impossible to convince anyone to become an informant and most rewards for information were left unclaimed.

A centre of smuggling: The New Forest

The New Forest. Source Wikipedia.

One such area which became well-known as a centre of the smuggling trade was the New Forest. The New Forest (one of the most beautiful areas in England) in Hampshire lies inland away from the harbours of Christchurch and Bournemouth in Dorset. The dense forest which would have then extended much further south made an ideal hiding place for contraband transported from the coast. Indeed many of the villagers who lived within the boundaries of the forest played an important and active role in the distribution of these goods and it was once claimed that every labourer in the forest was either a poacher or a smuggler or both. In the mid-18th century, it was written “We hear from the New Forest in Hampshire that smugglers have got to such a height in that part of the country that scarce a week passes but great quantities of goods are run between Lymington and Christchurch[3]. Another source showing the scale of the operations stated that he had heard of “twenty or thirty wagons laden with kegs, guarded by two or three hundred horsemen, each bearing two or three tubs, coming over the Hengistbury Head, making their way, in the open day past Christchurch to the Forest[4]. Some parts of the forest are still known as ‘the Boatyard’ despite being miles from the sea.

Smugglers Road and Vereley Hill in the distance. Image by Jim Champion via Wikimedia Commons.

A smuggler’s refuge

The picturesque New Forest village of Burley with its traditional cottages and pretty lanes is located about 4 miles south east of Ringwood. Today it is a charming stop for tourists visiting the New Forest but go back about three hundred years and the village reveals its much darker past. The village once a close-knit secretive community was a main centre for smuggling in the region. The village was so infamous that the revenue men preferred not to enter it unless they absolutely had to as they were aware that the villagers were able to raise an armed mounted troop of men at short notice more than capable of dealing with the King’s officials.

Burley in the 1940’s. Image source: new forest explorer website.

One of the main pubs in the village, The Queen’s Head Inn was used to store contraband and not long ago during building work a secret smugglers’ cellar was discovered. In the room the workmen also found some long forgotten loot including pistols, cutlasses, brandy bottles, coins as well as several straw hats from Italy[5]. It is even claimed that prior to the discover of the cellar, strange noises such as groans were heard coming from their direction, these sounds promptly stopped after the discovery. I wonder were the noises warning people away from or directing them to the cellar?

The infamous Warne Brothers

Hiding contraband. Source Copyright National Maritime Museum London.

In Burley you will find a small street called Warnes Lane named after the notorious Warne family who lived nearby. The Warne brothers Peter and John were believed to have run the Christchurch smuggling fraternity in the first quarter of the 1800s. They possibly acted as ‘landers’. The lander’s role was to move goods away from shore and inland as quickly as possible. They would then either hide the contraband somewhere safe such as a pub or a church or pass it on to their clients. It is rumoured that there was an oak tree in Burley where the gang would meet to discuss their plans. Peter and John lived with their sister Lovey in a house at Crow Hill Top called Knaves Ash. Knaves Ash was perfectly positioned for moving contraband unseen due to the number of tracks that converged at the house[6]. One of the most famous of these sunken tracks was known as Smugglers’ Road. It begun near the inlet village of Chewton, passed through Burley, continued onto the turnpike road at Picket Post and ended at Ridley Wood.

Not much is known about the Warne family but their father may have owned or managed one of the pubs in Burley[7]. If he did then there is a possibility that it could have been the Queen’s Head Inn. Although it was the brothers who were a leading force in the smuggling ring it is their sister Lovey (probably short for Loveday) who has passed into New Forest folklore.

The legend of Lovey Warne

The legend goes that Lovey would walk along Vereley Hill watching for any sign of the revenue men. If she saw them she would turn her cloak inside out to display a red lining which she would wear to warn the smugglers. The romantic image of Lovey wandering the heath in her red cape has captured people’s imagination and she has been immortalised not only in alcohol but also in music and books.

Lady Smugger. Source: public domain [?]

Signalling to the smugglers was not the only contribution Lovey made to her brothers’ business. For a while she took an even more active role. On orders from her brothers she would ride on her pony (most likely one of the New Forest ponies, known for their sturdiness and stamina) to pre-arranged meetings with ships’ captains in Christchurch harbour. There she would go to the captain’s cabin, undress, wind herself in valuable silks, put her clothes back on and return home[8]. As she left the ship she would have passed by the inept and oblivious revenue men who even if they were suspicious were under official orders not to search women. At home the silks would have been removed and possibly sold at the market at Ridley Wood which dealt in both legal and illegal goods.

The scam continued for a time until one incident when Lovey’s luck nearly ran out. One day as she left a ship she was stopped by a revenue man and invited for a drink at the Eight Bells in Christchurch, an offer she would have been unable to refuse without arousing suspicion. Once at the pub, the revenue man became a little too friendly, touching her legs and thighs and getting a little too close to the hidden silks. Acting quickly she jabbed the man in the eye with her elbow and fled whilst the landlady sat on the man pretending to tend to his damaged eye allowing Lovey the time she needed to get away[9]. It is believed this incident put an end to Lovey’s front line participation.

Lovey and her brothers pretty much disappear from history at this point. The only further brief glimpses we have is a possible record of Lovey marrying at the age of seventeen in Christchurch in around 1814 and a story surrounding her death. The church of St John the Baptist was built in Burley in 1839 and Lovey was one of the first villagers to be buried there. According to the story she wanted to be buried with her beloved pony but permission was not granted and instead the pony was buried in the middle of a ring of fir trees outside the churchyard[10].

Old Postcard of St John the Baptist Church, Burley. Source FGO Stuart.

The usefulness of a good, sturdy petticoat

It was not unusual for women to play a prominent role in the smuggling trade. Although they may not have been physically able to move the heavy tubs, they did contribute in other ways. Like Lovey they could act as look outs, be responsible for keeping the cargo hidden or deliver messages. Again just as Lovey had done many women would wrap themselves in silks and carry them hidden but openly past the revenue men who were powerless to do anything about it.

Rigging out a smuggler by Thomas Rowlandson.

Women would also transport alcohol by hiding cow or pig bladders filled with brandy and gin underneath their thick petticoats. In 1799 George Lipcomb described meeting some of these women. He was initially shocked by their “grotesque and extraordinary” appearance “till upon enquiry, we found that they were smugglers of spirituous liquors…and, indeed they were so heavily laden, that it was with great apparent difficulty they waddled along[11]. Sometimes being so overburdened was useful, in Gosport a woman called Maclane was the only survivor when the Queen Charlotte boat sunk, she was saved from drowning by “being buoyed up with a quantity of bladders”[12]. In Folkestone women would disguise themselves as laundresses and hide liquor in baskets covered with linen.

Women were also involved in processing commodities. They would cut and dry ordinary leaves to mix in with the tea leaves to increase its bulk for selling and dilute French brandy. Brandy was shipped in its pure form, which made it easier to transport in large quantities but was undrinkable. The women would also heat the liquid and change its colour from clear to the honey colour which the British preferred[13].

Despite the fact that women were not allowed to be searched a number of them were arrested on smuggling related offences such as the 70 year old Catherine Winter, a Weymouth seamstress who served an 18 day sentence in 1844. Other evidence from the Register for Dorchester Gaol between 1782 and 1853 lists the names and occupations of more than 64 women from the surrounding villages and towns in prison on smuggling charges[14]. The end of the Napoleonic War together with the tax reforms of 1830 finally brought the country much needed social and economic relief and as a consequence made smuggling much less appealing.

Although smuggling did of course continue albeit on a much lesser scale the golden era of Free Trading was over and the New Forest shook off its disreputable reputation and eventually become what it is today, a beautiful and popular tourist destination.

Lovey Warne, still famous today. Source: unknown.


The New Forest, Bournemouth & Poole – smuggling, www.smuggling.co.uk/gazetter_s_13.htm

Burley, http://www.thenewforest.co.uk/discover/burley.aspx

Lovey Warne, www.perfectpint.co.uk/real-ale-beers-info/9852/Ringwood-Brewery/Lovey-Warne

Lovey Warne of the New Forest, http://the-history-girls.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/lovey-warne-of-new-forest.html

The New Forest Smugglers, http://www.thenewforestguide.co.uk/history/new-forest-smugglers/

New Forest Smugglers, http://inewforest.co.uk/new-forest-smugglers/

Burley 1958, http://www.royhodges.co.uk/Burley.pdf

Smugglers Cove, http://dorsetsea.swgfl.org.uk/html/smuggler/smug_mr3.htm

Women and the smuggling trade, http://the-history-girls.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/women-and-smuggling-trade.html

Smuggling in the eighteenth and early nineteenth Century, http://lugnad.ie/smuggling/

Dorset – Smugglers Coast, http://dorset-ancestors.com/?p=910

Cindy Vallar, Smuggling, www.cindyvallar.com/smuggling.html

Smuggling in and around Burton Bradstock, http://www.burtonbradstock.org.uk/History/Smuggling/Smuggling.htm


[1] Lovey Warne, www.perfectpint.co.uk/real-ale-beers-info/9852/Ringwood-Brewery/Lovey-Warne

[2] Burley 1958, http://www.royhodges.co.uk/Burley.pdf

[3] The New Forest, Bournemouth & Poole – smuggling, www.smuggling.co.uk/gazetter_s_13.htm

[4] The New Forest Smugglers, http://www.thenewforestguide.co.uk/history/new-forest-smugglers/

[5] ibid

[6] ibid

[7] Lovey Warne of the New Forest, http://the-history-girls.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/lovey-warne-of-new-forest.html

[8] The New Forest, Bournemouth & Poole – smuggling, www.smuggling.co.uk/gazetter_s_13.htm

[9] Lovey Warne of the New Forest, http://the-history-girls.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/lovey-warne-of-new-forest.html

[10] Burley 1958, http://www.royhodges.co.uk/Burley.pdf

[11] Smuggling, http://www.cindyvallar.com/smuggling.html

[12] Smuggling in and around Burton Bradstock, http://www.burtonbradstock.org.uk/History/Smuggling/

[13] Women and the smuggling trade, http://the-history-girls.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/women-and-smuggling-trade.html

[14] Dorset – Smugglers Coast, http://dorset-ancestors.com/?p=910