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.
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.
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.