Writing about the Aldington Gang in 1902, Commander Shore recorded the events of 8 November 1820, when the gang first came to the notice of authorities.
At about 11:00 pm, on a shingle beach midway between the village of Sandgate and Shorncliffe Battery, a large boat from Boulogne, carrying spirits, tobacco and salt was surrounded by between 200 and 300 men. The smugglers were divided into three parties: the largest worked the goods and two ‘fighting parties’ carried bludgeons and firearms and were stationed either side of the boat to protect the working party.
An affray began when several armed smugglers attacked two Blockade men who shouted out a challenge. One was shot in the groin and the other was seriously beaten with bludgeons. On hearing the firing Lieutentant Peat and his orderly, Green, rushed down to the shore. Peat was shot in the leg and Green overpowered and taken hostage. Nevertheless Peat managed to fire his blunderbuss twice and to cut his way clear of the fighting party with his cutlass.
No prisoners were taken but the boat was secured and a quantity of the smuggled goods were seized the following morning by riding officers some distance from the coast. The smugglers released Green the following day.
Shortly afterwards, an agent of the law officers of the Crown was dispatched to Kent to collect evidence against the offenders. He reported local rumours suggesting that three smugglers were killed in the affray and that another dozen were wounded. His reports also noted that most of the inhabitants of Folkestone, Sandgate and Hythe were connected with the smugglers and therefore unlikely to assist in the detection or prosecution of offenders.
Most of the smugglers were disguised in smock-frocks and had blackened their faces or covered them in black crepe, making identification almost impossible.
This first report of the Aldington Gang’s activities reveals a gang that is highly organised and well prepared:
• somewhere between 200 and 300 men had been brought together from an area of 20 or so miles to meet at a particular time and place, without detection by local law enforcement authorities;
• the organisation of fighting and working parties and the gang’s orderly path of retreat and dispersal reflected a high degree of discipline and knowledge of military principles; and
• arrangements were made for the dead and wounded to be carried away and treated by discreet professionals at remote inland cottages.
Encouraged by their success, the gang struck again the following night, near Dymchurch, and succeeded in running something like 450 tubs and numerous packages, losing only one tub and their boat to the sentinels.
The header image at the top of this page is of Sandgate Promenade in the 1890s.