‘The Battle of Wingham’

One of the Stories in “Nefarious deeds of the Holkehurste Gang” concerns an violent altercation between the Hawkhurst Gang, led then by Arthur Gray, and the Wingham Gang. The events I dramatised happened in April 1746 in Wingham – a small Village between Canterbury and Sandwich, and was so violent an affray that the Supervisor of Customs at Canterbury, himself a man used to such things, said that he hadn’t seen anything like it before.

Historic Map of Wingham

Historic Map of Wingham

It all started off in Sandwich the previous night. A large group of smugglers had gathered , under the auspices of both Gangs, and agreed terms to unload two cutters with 20 ton of tea on to, it has been said, 350 waiting horses. The trouble started when one of the cutters was captured in the channel, and 9 1/2 ton was lost. (this boat was taken back to Margate).

Now the men had an agreement that no-one would leave until they all were ready, but, as the final horse was loaded, the Wingham men took off with the 11 1/2 tons of tea, leaving those loyal to Hawkhurst with nothing. Unsurprisingly, Gray’s men were none too impressed at this, and very quickly got organised. 92 men armed with pistols and broadswords descended on Wingham the following morning, and a fight started. This fight covered the whole of the village, and it was so bad that Villagers not part of the Gangs stood on the roads outside, warning travellers away from the place lest they be dragged into it.

Each captured man was made to give up their horse, with the goods on it, and had to sit down, like a captured prisoner of war. In the end, forty fully laden horses were captured by the Hawkhurst men, and the gang was demolished by the end of it. Indeed, it was reckoned that they were too fearful to turn the Hawkhurst men to the Customs. Despite this, only 7 men were wounded, two gravely.

Wingham Today

Wingham Today

Indeed, in terms of organisation and ruthlessness, the Hawkhurst men were so far ahead of the other Gangs in the area , even the name ‘Eastcountrymen’ (as they were often referred to) was spoken with respect and deference across the south east. Events like this merely served to enhance that reputation.


Anachronisms galore

Why Historical Fiction takes more to carry off well. I have blogged on this before, but Anna tells it better .


I recently read a book where relatively early on there’s a glaring anachronism – in this case the main characters are using Playstation, but this is like two decades before Playstation existed. I should probably get over this irrelevant slip and concentrate on the unfolding story, but unfortunately such mistakes dilute the credibility of the characters – at least for me. Having discovered one anachronism, “Eagle Eye Belfrage” is now on the lookout for more, and sure enough, if you find one, you’ll find several. And each and every one of them puts yet another nail into the coffin of this particular read until I at last put the book down and start on another.

Of course, there are degrees to these anachronisms. If the main character in a novel set in Roman Britain happens to break off a snowdrop, I can live with it. If said character starts enthusing…

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Ritchie Perrin – a Brief Life .

Staymaker cover

One of the Main Characters in Staymaker was a man by the name of Ritchard Perrin.  Chichester born and bred, he was a carpenter by trade. Some Carpenters were highly prized and skilled artisans, others were no more than labourers. Carpenters fell roughly into three distinct classes – firstly Master Carpenters, effetively the building contractors of the day, responsible for planning and organising the building – even down to designing the building. These often became very wealthy, and built houses for people to rent.

The second group was the small master craftsmen and their apprentices. These undertook smaller projects and commissions. The thrid, and far more populous group were the journeymen and labourers. These were the common, often unskilled men bringing the repuatation of the trade down.

From the fact that Perrin was fairly well off when his career ended , I presume him to be in the second group. We know he was well off because after his recovery from the “attack of Palsy” that robbed him of the use of an arm (a death knell for a tradesmen like himself) he had money enough to invest in the Chichester gang’s runs, and in turn keep up his own lifestyle.

He acted as the gang’s main buyer, going across to Guersey or France to select and pay for the tea and other goods, before accompanying them on the journey back to the mainland. For the run to Christchurch bay in 1747, he was accompanied by The Chichester Gang’s leader, John Dymer . (Matthew Hunter is completely fictitious!) . Both men escaped in the rowing boats along with most of the crew on that run. This was when he really started working with the Hawkhurst men as well. For the Poole raid, he sat back and held the horses alongside the young Thomas Lillywhite, but was inolved enough in their other activities to be gazetted along with them.

When the gangg broke up, he had little to fall back on baring the wealth that he had accumulated. this soon failed, and he was arrested and tried and executed in 1750 alongside Fairall and Kingsmill. The old Bailey account does insinuate that he went to his end far more pious and contrite that the other two men however.