A week ago I was lucky enough to be asked by the BBC to take part in the Great British Story Roadshow when it visited Maidstone, near my home. The invitation came because I have written a couple of books on smuggling, and I also have a large website about the “Free Trade” that flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries. At the event I was surrounded by proper historians, which made me feel rather a fraud, because I have never formally studied history, and don’t usually refer to primary sources when I am writing.
The location, in North Kent, was appropriate, because smuggling was rife in this part of Britain. The crossing to the Continent was very short, and London was a huge marketplace for the contraband gin, tobacco, brandy and tea (yes, tea!) that the smugglers brought in.
I had to give a ten-minute talk every hour about smuggling, which was exhausting but rewarding. Sometimes I drew a crowd, but in a mid-afternoon talk I entertained just one man and his dog. (Not quite as bad as the disastrous book launch I once did with illustrator Stephen Biesty at Warwick Castle, where exactly nobody turned up!)
Perhaps the most fascinating part of the day for me was meeting a descendant of an 18th-century smuggler, who had been deported to Van Diamen’s Land for hs crimes.