The modern Marine and Coastguard Agency is very different from its forebears.

The Coastguard Cottages, near Coastguard’s Beach on the Erme Estuary are reminders of how the coast used to be protected. There was a time before they were built when things were quite different. Now they form three cottages which – with others are let by the Flete Estate

The Pilot’s Home on Wonwell Beach would provide protection to vessels wishing to navigate the estuary – to the lime kilns or beyond.

Below is a transcription of a letter from the commander of the Coastguard station at Kingsbridge, to his superiors:

“To the Controller General of the Coast Guard”

Kingsbridge 7th December 1824


In obedience to your directions contained in Letter … with the Custom House Letter enclosed …. I beg to state I have no information i can rely upon, that any such quantity of Spirits, as stated in that report, has ever been landed in the district since my having taken charge of it; I am aware that Spirits have been offered for sale at a cheap rate, perhaps at the prices set forth in the customs House statement, but I have reason to suppose and believe, that the said spirits were only in part landed in the district under my inspection; the Cargo I am informed by a Magistrate of the County, and landed in Torbay, eastward of Paignton and afterwards removed to Dartmouth, another I am positively assured (and only a few days ago) was landed in the River avon Bantham, westward of Longstone  Point and conveyed …. of the County to the various Towns and Villages; one I have reason to believe but I have no positive assurance of it, was sunk and afterwards landed on the Western part of the Salcombe station; and some were landed at Hall Sands on the night that a seizure of 128 Tubs were taken at that station, another vessel a French Smuggling Cutter was seen by the crews at Hope Cove, and was afterwards examined at Salcombe, but I have no information as to what became of her cargo, it was supposed that she had sunk it in Bigbury Bay and the boats were three days employed in creeping for it, but without effects there I conceive to be the five vessels alluded to in the Collector’s report. As to the Vessels alluded to whose trade it is to smuggle, namely the Henry and the ?Pillwell?, both these vessels I am informed have been so employed for the last five years or more and the men who are engaged to Smuggle who live at Bantham, Hall sands, Ford and some at Salcombe, occasionally hire French, and other vessels, and risk their property in them, but i do not think that any cargo run on this coast exceed from 80 to 120 or 130 tubs.

Smuggling I do believe has increased as I believe I stated when I made the application for an increase of force at Hall Sands on the 7th October, and i attribute the increase to the improvement in agriculture which has brought a greater demand into the market, and the Smugglers have stated this as I believe I also represented. At Hall Sands, from all the reports that I can collect, smuggling has always been practised with some success, and I should feel that by a light from oared Boat being placed there, that it would be greatly checked. As to the low price, that Spirits have been sold at, I am informed that it is with the view to get immediate payment and a small profit, as there is no large capitalist, and no one person who has much property at stake. And i am fully of opinion, that if the coast was left only to the Customs House Officers, that smuggling would soon be found to make a rapid increase as all the disposition still remains but a constant watch keeps them in check. As to the daring disposition and practice of the smugglers, I am at a loss to find out in what ways this has shown itself, none of the Chief Officers of the Station have ever made a representation to me, and I certainly am not aware in what way this has appeared.

If the Collector and Controller at Dartmouth, are in the habit of receiving satisfactory reports of smuggling transactions, it would be very desirable that serviceable communication should be made to me; and it would be much more satisfactory to have to report with them, after such communication, than to reply to their statement without receiving any further intelligence, than that spirits are in the town and selling at a low price; and whoever is the confidential person, to give information the same person i should conceive might occasionally represent, when and where, the runs are likely to take place; such useful information might be beneficial to the service;  but hearsay reports can do but little good, without some positive Information. I beg to assure you that no exertion shall be wanting on my part to check this illicit trade, and I shall use every endeavour to cause the Officers and … … … active and vigilant.

I have the honour to be,

 W Fletcher… …

Source: The National Archives, CUST 65/25


This one comes from the same source (as far as I can tell, will confirm!), but is the anonymous letter sent to 5 surveyors of the Coast Guard in Brixham, concerning complaints about their practice

Sirs               Brixham

Mr Clarke and His officers come on board of our vessels when we come from Guernsey and as they say to rummage us but it is only for what drink they can get which they always have not less than two glasses of Grog and every vessel else that comes from Foreign, they goes on board and most times gets drunk. There was one yesterday come in belonging to Mr (illegible) and Mr Clarke and his men went on board and got tipsy before dinner hoping you will speak to him as us Captains do not like it and if we do not give them some they always put us out on the (illegible)

I am, Sir




  1. In a book called “Holbeton Memories” Leonard W Miller, Penwill Ltd 1994 – there is a postcard of the Coastguard Station at Mothecombe and a note indicating that
    “Records show that a station existed at Mothecombe in 1822 with 5 boatmen and an officer in charge. Smuggling was active around the Mothecombe coastline as the diaries of Michael Evens, Holbeton tailor and smuggler, dated 1836-1863 bear witness”

  2. On the 1947 Ordnance Survey map 20/64 (2.5 inches to one mile) – there are Coastguard Stations at the following locations:-

    Inner Hope witha lookout on Bolt Tail (OS Pathfinder 1362 19890

    Others identified

    Noss Mayo with a lookout on Gunrow’s Down near Hilsea Point (1988 OS Landranger 201)
    Steeple Cove lookout (near Bolt Head – OS Landranger 202 1985)
    Prawle Point (OS Landranger 202 1985)
    Coombe Point lookout – Dartmouth (OS Landranger 202 1985)

    On the 1947 map the island we now call Burgh Island was called Borough Island

    Also on that map there is a rifle range on the beach from Owens Point right up to Pamflete and the fords between Wonwell and Mothecombe slips and Saltercrease and Efford are still marked.

  3. There was another one at Gara Rock – sorry forgot it

    The Coastguard Station at Gara Rock, including a Watch House and cottages for those
    who were to man the station, was built in 1846/7. The 1890 First Edition Ordnance
    Survey map shows the station as a long rectangular block (cottages) with a small
    ‘north wing’ at the west end. The map labels the site as being a Coastguard Station
    containing a Lookout House, Watch House and Life Saving Apparatus House.

  4. According to Merv at the Smuggling Day, the Coastguard Cottages could perhaps have been at Wonwell Gate Cottage – apprently thats where his Great Grandpa Edwards lived when he came from Ireland… more to come!

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