ike all seaside towns in the South of England, Whitstable has a rich history of smuggling. However, Whitstable’s smuggling stories have a little twist. Along with the usual bounty of tobacco, lace and brandy, it seems that the local smugglers sent cargo back to France….prisoners of war.
During the Napoleonic Wars in the late 18th Century, French prisoners of war were smuggled through Whitstable from the surrounding areas and London. The town’s low beaches and muddy flats made it ideal to moor and launch a boat easily.
Many houses in the area still have secret windows and passages used for the smuggling of goods and people. When a house was demolished in Castle Road in the 1940s a massive number of manacles were found hidden beneath the floorboards.
Whitstable’s plethora of alleyways also assisted the smugglers in some capacity as they provide such easy access to the beach as well as allowing access to many of the houses and pubs along Island and Middle Wall.
The majority of the alleys are either named after the pubs or shipyards connected to them, for example Red Lion Alley and Collars Alley. Collar’s Alley was named after Mr Collar, a good Samaritan who owned a store and provided warmth and cocoa to children during the great freeze of 1895.
Coastguard’s Alley was named after the building (which still stands next to the tennis courts) erected by the local coastguards in an attempt to stop smuggling in the area.
Well worth trying to squeeze along is Squeeze Gut Alley, so named after a continuously pranked, overweight policeman who could never chase the pranksters down it for fear of getting stuck.
Although some of the alley’s namesakes have now gone, the intricate web of routes to the beach provide a living history for the town and also a handy shortcut to The Old Neptune pub.