The Vulcan Arms - Sizewell - Suffolk

Local History

This part of the Suffolk coast has an intriguing and interesting history. Both north and south of Sizewell have well documented local histories with Dunwich being the largest port in Britain during the 12th and 13th centuries and Aldeburgh being a port since Roman times. Thorpness, the next place along the coast is an odd curiosity, the entire village built in the early 1900's to resemble the traditional English seaside town.

Sizewell, on the other hand has had very little written about it, though it was once renowned for the smuggling activities that occurred on its beaches, especially during the seventeenth century.

The Hadleigh Gang is a name that gets mentioned throughout the local history books, and their smuggling operations were enormous.

Sizewell - a den of smugglers

Though now a quiet village retreat, this certainly doesn't reflect the decidedly dodgy history of Sizewell and its immediate surroundings. Two centuries ago, the landscape around Sizewell looked quite different. The sea was flanked by spectacular cliffs, and the most convenient route through them was via Sizewell Gap. From the cliffs, smuggled goods would be unloaded from boats anchored off the coast in the dead of night and carried inland along an ancient trackway crossing Westleton heath-lands, or hidden in Minsmere levels or stashed in dens and tunnels dug under the soft sandy soils of the Common that lay between Leiston and Sizewell. These excavations were then covered with stout planks, and concealed by replacing the turf together with pieces of gorse.

The most notorious of these smugglers was a group of men known as the Hadleigh Gang. As their name indicates, they came from the market town of Hedleigh, located some 40 miles inland. At full strength, the gang numbered 100 men, each turning out with two horses. Such a force would have been almost unstoppable, even when the customs authorities had military support. Certainly, the precise descriptions of the gang's activities recorded in the custom house letters suggests that the authorities could do little more than watch and count the horses. On occasions the residents of Sizewell, could see up to 100 carts gathered on the beach and up to 300 horses such was the enormity of the smugglers operations, their rewards being tea and spirits from the clippers that sailed past this coast.

The year of 1745 was a particularly good year for the smugglers, since the reserve cutters had been called away to strengthen the fleet as it faced war with France and Spain. Under armed protection of military proportions the Hadleigh gang made rich pickings:

May 5th - 40 horses loaded with brandy and tea;

May 20th - 70 horses loaded with tea;

June 16th - 80 horses loaded with tea followed by another 54 horses the next morning;

June 22/23rd - 300 half anchors of spirits carried off by 100 horses;

25th June 100 horses loaded with spirits.. and the list goes on.

The gang frequently clashed with the preventive forces, but the biggest battle took place in 1735. The gang's store-house at Seymor (Semer) had been discovered, and the customs authorities, backed up by the military, took the cache to the George Inn in Hadleigh, for overnight storage. This was an outrage that the gang could not take lying down, and 20 or so smugglers soon presented themselves at the inn to demand the return of their goods. In the battle that followed a dragoon was shot dead, and others injured; the gang rode off into the night with their prize. The authorities recognized 17 of the smugglers, and two were hanged for firing pistols in the battle. This did not deter the rest, though, and 12 years on the leader of the gang, John Harvey, was committed to Newgate prison, and eventually transported for seven years. Even this setback was temporary--the following year the gang broke open the King's Warehouse in Ipswich to rescue their goods.

In an article in the East Anglian Magazine (1969 vol XIX) by Sturat Brown entitled 'Smuggling in Suffolk', there are frequent references to Sizewell and the exploits of the Hadleigh gang. A typica recount for is for June 15th when it states that 80 horses mostly with tea landed out of Cobby's cutter at Old Chapel about 2 miles from Sizewell: at the same time 34 horses all loaded with Tea landed out of the May Flower cutter and 20 next morning out of the same at Sizewell. (There is a suggestion that Cobby, who owned one of the boats involved, was one of the smugglers who broke into the Poole customs house, and was ultimately hanged and his body displayed on a gibbet at Selsey Bill.) Of the countless local tales about the free-trade, one yarn in particular is extremely vivid, and gives an unusually detailed glimpse of how the local smugglers operated. Furthermore, the details of the story have been verified by several writers. The story is set in the summer of 1778, when a group of smugglers brought in a cargo of gin. They landed the 300 tubs undetected, shipped it a couple of miles inland in six carts, and stored the contraband in a barn at Leiston Common Farm, under the watchful eye of Crocky Fellowes, a trustworthy accomplice. All would have been well had the cache not been found by another local of Leiston, the club-footed 'Clumpy' Bowles. Either Bowles did not have the same sympathy for the local smugglers, or he smelt a reward, because he reported the find to the local revenue man, Read. Realizing that he'd need some support if he was going to separate the spirits from their owners, Read tried to summon a pair of dragoons who were billeted at the White Horse [252] in the village. The dragoons were drunk, so Read looked elsewhere for reinforcements. He sent for two dragoons from the inn at Eastbridge, but the landlady there plied the two men with spirits before they left, so their assistance was equally useless. Read eventually got together some help, and the party was met at the locked door of the barn by Crocky Fellowes, and two chums--Sam Newson and Quids Thornton. The three men kept Read and his party occupied while 20 of the smugglers moved the tubs through an adjoining hay-loft and onto waiting carts. When the work was complete, the three men guarding the barn unlocked the door, admitted the revenue officers...then locked them inside. The carts trundled off to Coldfair Green, a mile southwest of Leiston. Here the smugglers had another hiding-place waiting. A dung-heap concealed a trap-door, which led to a sizeable underground vault. The tubs were bundled in and the dung moved back into position; the finishing touch was to eliminate all the cart tracks and footprints by driving a herd of sheep over them. This subterfuge seems to have been sufficient to outwit the revenue men, but the tale is not yet over. Some time later, the gang returned to recover their cache. They shovelled the manure away from the door and opened the vault. Despite warnings from Crocky Fellowes, They didn't wait for the foul air from the dung to disperse before descending, and three of the gang were overcome by the fumes; two of them died as a result. News of the deaths travelled fast, and eventually reached the ears of a revenue officer at Saxmundham. He guessed that the smugglers would move the tubs to Aldringham, probably to the Parrot and Punchbowl. He was right. He rode to the pub with two (sober) dragoons, and caught the smugglers red-handed. However, while their gin was in hiding, the gang had not been idle. They soon found out who had informed on them, and at nine one night two of them arrived at the crippled breech-maker's house on the Yoxford Road close to Leiston High Street. They dragged Clumpy from the house and took him on horseback to somewhere a little less public. There they gagged him with the bung from a beer barrel and savagely whipped him. They threw the apparently lifeless body over a hedge, but Clumpy was clearly a man of some stamina. A farm labourer found him, and took him to the Green Man at Tunstall, where a servant recognized the bung with which Clumpy's assailants had gagged him; she had lent it to a man called Tom Tippenham. Clumpy's testimony, and this corroborative evidence earned Tippenham and his accomplice to a 2-year stretch in Ipswich prison. [253]

There are also comments about smuggling at Sizewell to be found in the diaries of William Goodwin of Street Farm, Earl Soham. (full extracts to be found at the Earl Soham website)

An entry for February 1785 reads 'Smugling since Mr Pit's Bill of last Sessions for lessning the Duties on Teas is very materially reduced and seems nearly at an End - previous to wh. the Contraband Trade sold two parts out of three of ye Teas consum'd in the Kingdom besides immense quantity of Spirits, insomuch that the Liquor and Tea Merchants totally declin'd Traveling for orders - It was a common thing almost daily to see Horses loaded with Tea and Carts with Spirits pass through this village unmolested; for almost all the People from the highest to the lowest were either directly or indirectly concern'd and of course abettors of the practice - private Gin and Tea shops were in every Parish to the great prejudice of the fair Trader and the morals of the common People; but now by the operation of the Smugling Bill and the vigilance of the King's Cutters this shamefull Business is nearly at an End, most of ye Star-Light Traders being ruin'd by the continual loss of Their Cutters many of wh. are worth from five to Thirty Thousand Pounds - The number of Horses on the Beach at Sizewell was frequently from 100 to 300 and of Waggons and Carts from 40 to 100 at a time; notwithstanding so many thousands of People, in this County having been so largely concern'd in this contraband Trade. They are all Poor not one having acquir'd any thing like independency, wh. arose from Their want of Aeconomy and the profligacy of Their Manners'

Then on 2nd Marchof the same year he states '15 Carts, 40 Horses and 600 Tubs of Spirits were seiz'd this day at Sizewell by a party of Dragoons together with some Tea and bale goods, notwithstanding which ye Smuglers work'd another Cutter at ye same place the ensuing night '

In 1816, the smuggling was brought under control when a coastal blockade was established and troops from ships patrolling the coast were set ashore to patrol the beach. This was finally ended in 1831 with the establishment of the Preventive men and the coastguard. Who knows what hidden booty may still lay buried beneath the sandy soils of Leiston common, or what secret tunnels may link various hideouts. Even the Vulcan Arms was reputed to have had a tunnel which linked the beach with its cellars. Just beware that you don't fall into one!

The Vulcan Arms

The earliest recorded mention of a pub at Sizewell was in a census in 1540 which listed Sizewell as being made up of two fishermen, a yeoman farmer and an alehouse. There was no mention of a name for the alehouse and although the present building dates from more recent times it is almost certain that the original alehouse was on the same site. How long it had stood there remains to be clarified.

With the end of the English Civil War Cromwell closed down many of the country's alehouses, the one at Sizewell being among them. From then it became a Blacksmiths shop and remained so until the early 1700's when it reverted back to being an alehouse/pub. The name given to this second incarnation was The Vulcan Arms since Vulcan was the Roman God of blacksmiths.

The next recorded listing was in the 1844 census, when a Mr Joseph Baxter was named as being the licencee. Adnams brewery took on the pub at the start of the century and a plaque on the bar wall lists all the landlords from 1906 when a H.H. Brown was in charge right up to the present day.

During the 1980's when Sizewell B was being constructed the pub gained a bad reputation with many local stories of drunkenness and wild behaviour from the contractors building the new Power Station. Indeed, the timbers that divide the pubs interior are said to have come from the construction of the power station.

Unfortunately the pub got stuck with a bad reputation and fell short of custom once the contractors had left. So Adnams finally put the pub on the market and in 1997, when the present landlord took it over as a Free House. Since then an enormous effort has been put in to get the pub into the attraction and repuitation that it has become today.


Yes, the pub is haunted - by a young lady dressed in black. Who she is no-one knows but local lore has it that she only appears to young men and likes to rip their bedclothes off during the night! Reported sighting include a customer who followed her into the toilet, where she promptly disappeared - they refused to use the loo after the experience; she also appeared in the night to a guest staying in the pub lounge upstairs, she beconed him to follow then walked through the wall where once a door had connected through to the next room but was now bricked up. More recently she appeared to a member of staff in the kitchens.

The Vulcan Arms
Sizewell Gap
Sizewell , Suffolk , IP16 4UD England
Tel: 01728 830748

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