From feared Yorkshire smuggling haven to tourists' delight

Its picturesque beauty has made the seaside community of Robin's Hood Bay a popular haunt for tourists but in centuries past, the small fishing village to the south of Whitby had a fearsome reputation for its involvement in the smuggling trade.

PIC: Tony Johnson

The twisting streets and hidden alleyways of Robin’s Hood Bay made it an ideal location for those involved in black-market trading to bring ashore vast quantities of sought-after goods – from tea and gin to tobacco and French lace.

Known in the 18th century as Baytown, much of the village’s economy was predicated on the involvement of locals with the smuggling trade, which was often concentrated around local pubs. At its height, it is estimated about 40 per cent of the local population was involved in some capacity.

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The Welcome to Yorkshire website gives a flavour of the nature of the times with the following anecdote about the now-closed Fisherman’s Arms pub.

“On an autumn evening in October 1779, Revenue officers backed by the local militia raided the Fisherman’s Arms pub and seized 200 casks of gin and brandy, 150 sacks of tea and a small armoury of blunderbusses and cartridges,” it says. “Local legend has it that the customs men tasked with guarding the seized spirits overnight sampled rather too much for themselves and fell asleep – allowing the smuggling gang to return and retake the bulk of their contraband.”

During the 19th century, the authorities gradually managed to gain an upper hand on the smuggling trade and those involved began to turn to more legitimate enterprises.

More recently, the village has become well known through its association with the Oscar-winning film Phantom Thread. The film, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, features a number of Robin Hood’s Bay locations, including the classic interior of the Victoria Hotel and the clifftops above the village. But the past has not been forgotten, with smuggling tours a popular tourist activity.

Technical details: Fujifilm X-Pro1 camera with a 18-55mm lens, exposure of 1/250th second @ f8, ISO 400.