Rum goings on . . .

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Hidden hooch: 19 tubs of rum were found in the loft and another hidden in the garden

For my Beer & Skittles column I return this week to the Robin Hood at Icklesham. No apologies for that. This is a cracking good story that adds to our pleasure, perhaps, as we stand at the bar, pint in hand.

BEERTOPAt the Petty Sessions held in the Town Hall, Rye, in September 1856, Edwin Barden, of the Robin Hood public house, Icklesham, was charged with having in his possession 85 gallons of smuggled spirits — which is equivalent to 680 pints of rum. We know this because of a fulsome report in the Sussex Express at the time. I’ve edited the report to bring you that news:

Superintendent Thompson and Inspector Jeffreys, of the East Sussex Constabulary, with Walter Hoar, supervisor of Inland Revenue of Battle, proved the finding of 19 tubs of rum in a loft in the defendant’s house, the Robin Hood Inn, Icklesham, and one tub in the garden.

Charles Fraser, the customs officer from Hastings, stated that he had received 85 gallons of rum in 20 tubs from the Robin Hood public house, Icklesham and delivered them to the custom house at Rye. William Acton, collector of customs at Rye, said he had calculated the strength and value of the spirits, which he set at £107 13s 4d. According to the National Archive currency converter this would be £4,618 in today’s money.

The lawyer defending the Robin Hood landlord said he would not attempt to grapple with the evidence for the prosecution, but would appeal to the bench for their clemency. The full penalty and recommended fine was, he said, according to the Act of Parliament, treble the value of the smuggled spirits and this the landlord could never pay. But as the bench had the power to mitigate the sum to one quarter of this amount, he strongly urged them to do so, as there was then a possibility of the money being paid. In response, the solicitor for the prosecution said he did not consider it a case for mitigation.

The magistrates then consulted together for a short time, and on their return, stated that they had found Edwin Barden, landlord of the Robin Hood public house, Icklesham, guilty of possessing smuggled spirits and the fine would be £120 plus £7 10s costs — £5,480 in today’s value.

The defendant, obviously not having that sort of money, was taken into custody, but before the business of the court was concluded, he appeared again and stated that he was prepared to pay £80 down and asked for a fortnight to pay the remainder, which was granted with the consent of the prosecution.

The Pubs of Rye, 1750-1950, by David Russell, is available from the Heritage Centre, Adams, the Queen Adelaide, or online.