UK: RAF Search & Rescue Role Ends After 74 Years – Published 04 Oct 2015 1925z (GMT/UTC)

RAF Search & Rescue Role Ends After 74 Years

PROUD RECORD: 34,025 Call-outs completed and 26,853 lives saved

The RAF's final operational search and rescue sortie comes to an end at RMB Chivenor at 12.07 on 4 October 2015. (Image: RAF)

The RAF’s final operational search and rescue sortie comes to an end at RMB Chivenor at 12.07 on 4 October 2015. (Image: RAF)

More than 74 years of continuous life-saving operations by the Royal Air Force in the UK came to an end at 1.00pm today, when the Chivenor duty search and rescue crew was formally relieved from its standby commitment by the United Kingdom Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre. The finale for RAF Search and Rescue in the UK was ‘business as usual’ with a final search and rescue operation taking place in the early hours of this morning.

The crew of the RAF's final operational UK search and rescue sortie: (left to right) Wing Commander 'Sparky' Dunlop (captain and Officer Commanding 22 Squadron), Sergeant Dan Allanson, Sergeant Russ Jenkins and Flight Lieutenant 'PJ' Howard. (Image: RAF)

The crew of the RAF’s final operational UK search and rescue sortie: (left to right) Wing Commander ‘Sparky’ Dunlop (captain and Officer Commanding 22 Squadron), Sergeant Dan Allanson, Sergeant Russ Jenkins and Flight Lieutenant ‘PJ’ Howard. (Image: RAF)

Chivenor is the last of the RAF’s 6 search and rescue bases to hand over responsibility for helicopter search and rescue provision to Bristow Helicopters Ltd.

Official search and rescue statistics show that since 1983 the RAF’s 6 units completed 34,025 callouts and rescued 26,853 persons in distress.

The final RAF crew to hold operational search and rescue standby commitment in the UK: (left to right) Sergeant Doug Bowden, Flight Lieutenant Ayla Holdom, Flight Lieutenant Christian 'Taff' Wilkins and Flight Sergeant Chris Scurr.(Image: RAF)

The final RAF crew to hold operational search and rescue standby commitment in the UK: (left to right) Sergeant Doug Bowden, Flight Lieutenant Ayla Holdom, Flight Lieutenant Christian ‘Taff’ Wilkins and Flight Sergeant Chris Scurr.(Image: RAF)

Other Reports


Chivenor hands over air rescue services to private firm

AgustaWestland AW189 in Coastguard livery operated by Bristow

AgustaWestland AW189 in Coastguard livery operated by Bristow

An RAF air rescue team based at Chivenor in north Devon has handed over its role to a private firm.

Bristow took over from the military at RMB Chivenor at 13:00 BST and will fly out of St Athan in south Wales.

The handover was delayed by four days because Bristow said it needed extra time.

Aberdeen-based Bristow won a 10-year contract to take over the service, which is being privatised around the UK.

The £1.6bn search and rescue deal with Bristow ends 70 years of search and rescue from the RAF and Royal Navy.


Well done RAF! – Goaty 🙂


UK Search & Rescue helicopters to be cut by nearly 50% – 300313 1650z

UK Government plan to close 50% of UK Coastguard Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centres – Updated 07 Feb 2013 0001Z:

Privatising Search and Rescue:

Could this be the coalition government’s biggest cock-up yet?:

Support flaring for Clyde Coastguard, Scotland – Published 03 Sept 2012 1440Z:


UK: Coastguard warns of spring tide danger after at least 15 trapped. Rescues by lifeboat and helicopter – 010413 2230z

The rescue operation at Zacry’s Island, Newquay, on Saturday evening. Credit: Newquay RNLI

Nine people, including a three-year-old boy, were rescued by a lifeboat crew after becoming trapped on an island.

Queensferry RNLI volunteer lifeboat crew were called out Sunday after the group became trapped by the incoming tide at Cramond Island.

The Queensferry was launched at 3.20pm and arrived at Cramond Island six minutes later.

RNLI crew members took the group board the lifeboat and landed safely at Cramond harbour. No one was injured.

A RNLI spokesman said: “If anyone finds themselves trapped on Cramond Island by the incoming tide, dial 999 and ask for the coastguard.

“The coastguard will alert the lifeboat. Never attempt to wade or swim ashore. We advise to check the tide tables for safe crossing times before attempting to cross to Cramond Island.”“-


Falmouth Coastguard is warning people to beware of fast, incoming tides after six people were trapped in two incidents in Cornwall on Saturday night (30 March).
Falmouth Coastguard has issued this statement:
We have spring tides at the moment that come in faster and further than usual. For this reason people out and about enjoying the Cornish coastline need to be especially careful to plan their trip.    Always check the weather and tide timetable before you set out on your walk and wear appropriate clothing for the unseasonably cold weather. If you do get cut off call 999 Coastguard.– Coastguard Watch Officer Richard Williams

BBC Weather : Tide Tables

Tide Times (from


UK Search & Rescue helicopters to be cut by nearly 50% – 300313 1650z

Search and Rescue sell-off

The government is set to announce that Britains Search and Rescue service is to be sold off to an American firm.

(Scroll down for latest updates)

Duke of Cambridges base could be shut down

The Duke of Cambridge shows his father one of the RAF's distinctive yellow Sea King helicopters at RAF Valley on Anglesey
The Duke of Cambridge shows his father one of the RAFs distinctive yellow Sea King helicopters at RAF Valley on Anglesey Credit: Chris Jackson/PA Wire

Among the 12 bases from where search and rescue operations are launched is RAF Valley on Anglesey, where the Duke of Cambridge is based.

Under the contracts due to be unveiled tomorrow, the total number of bases is expected to be cut from 12 to10 although it is not clear which bases will be closed.

Assurances have already been given that the Duke will be moved to another part of the military rather than being employed by the firm that is awarded the search and rescue contracts.

For more: Privatisation of the Coastguard Service HasArrived


Press release

Government contract to deliver faster, state of the art search and rescue fleet

Department for Transport has signed a contract with Bristow Helicopters Ltd to provide search and rescue helicopter services in the UK.

A new 1.6 billion contract for search and rescue helicopter services will see the UK benefit from improved flying times and better coverage of high-risk areas.

The Department for Transport has today signed a contract with Bristow Helicopters Ltd to provide search and rescue helicopter services in the UK. Helicopters will be able to reach a larger area of the UK search and rescue region within one hour of take off than is currently possible, and based on historic incident data it is estimated that there will be an overall improvement in flying times to incidents of around 20% (from 23 to 19 minutes). Presently, approximately 70% of high and very high risk areas within the UK search and rescue region are reachable by helicopter within 30 minutes. Under the new contract, approximately 85% of the same area would be reached within this timeframe.

Todays announcement represents a major investment by the government in providing a search and rescue helicopter service using the most up to date helicopters and meeting the highest professional standards.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said:

Our search and rescue helicopter service plays a crucial role, saving lives and providing assistance to people in distress on both land and on sea.

With 24 years of experience providing search and rescue helicopter services in the UK, the public can have great confidence in Bristow and their ability to deliver a first class service with state-of-the-art helicopters.

Under the new contract, 22 state of the art helicopters will operate from 10 locations around the UK.

  • Ten Sikorsky S92s will be based, 2 per site, at Stornoway and Sumburgh, and at new bases at Newquay, Caernarfon and Humberside airports
  • Ten AgustaWestland AW189s will operate, 2 per site, from Lee on Solent and a new hangar at Prestwick airport, and new bases which will be established at St Athan, Inverness and Manston airports

All bases will be operational 24 hours a day.

Press enquiries: 020 7944 3118
Out of hours: 020 7944 4292
Public enquiries: 0300 330 3000


News Reports

3:21PM GMT 29 Mar 2013

Britains search and rescue helicopters to be cut by nearly 50pc in new deal

“Britain’s fleet of search and rescue helicopters will be cut by nearly 50 per cent as a result of the privatisation deal announced by the Government this week.

The Ministry of Defence will retire its 40-strong fleet of Sea King helicopters from 2016, with the search and rescue aircraft being replaced with newer models provided by Texas-based firm Bristow in a 1.6 billion contract with the Department for Transport announced on Tuesday.

However, The Telegraph understands that only 22 new helicopters have been commissioned under the new contract a shortfall of 45 per cent.

Ten of the new helicopters are believed to be AgustaWestland AW189s models and another 10 are thought to be Sikorsky S-92s, both four-bladed twin-engined crafts.

The new craft are expected to be 20 per cent faster than the existing Sea Kings and will be introduced from 2015 in a 10-year deal ending 70 years of search and rescue being run by the RAF and Royal Navy.

Richard Drax, Conservative MP for South Dorset, who has campaigned to prevent a search and rescue base in Portland from closing, condemned the cuts saying it would have a severe impact on safety.

However fast it is, one helicopter can only be in one place at one time,” he said.

I dont care how fast they are, if they are tasked elsewhere, and you have less helicopters, what helicopter is going to come and do the job? So by cutting the number of helicopters, thats a risk.

The less helicopters and bases you have, the more likely a rescue helicopter will be on another task and will not be able to get where its needed, were there more helicopters and more bases.

He added: The integrity of search and rescue, by removing Portland, will be harmed, and my fear is and I dont want to be alarmist that lives will be lost.

Helicopters are notorious for breaking down, because there are so many working parts.

The Ministry of Defence said front line services would not be impacted by the cut as only 16 of the existing Sea King fleet are deployed for search and rescue missions, with the rest undergoing maintenance or used for training.

Four of the 16 Sea Kings always in deployment are operated by the Royal Navy, while the RAF operates 12, with two helicopters on each base.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) operates another seven helicopters, bringing the number of front line search and rescue aircraft to 23. Those seven, however, are in addition to the 40 aircraft run by the Ministry of Defence.

It was unclear whether those craft will be retired.

A MoD spokesperson said: It is wrong to suggest the MoD operates 40 Search and Rescue helicopters at any one time. There are 16 operational Royal Navy and RAF Sea Kings – 2 at each of the 8 bases – which deliver the UKs search and rescue service. The rest of the fleet are either in deep maintenance, used as part of training programmes or based overseas. These aircraft are not available for operations.

From 2015, search and rescue services will be provided by 22 Bristow helicopters, under a contract awarded by the Department for Transport.

A spokesperson for Bristow Helicopters admitted there would be no additional aircraft to replace any that are taken out of service but said the helicopters will all be kept fully-maintained and ready to fly, with spare parts always available if an aircraft needs to be serviced.

The company added that it expects 20 of the new helicopters to be used for frontline rescue operations, with two used for training or maintenance at any one time.

The Department for Transport insisted the new service would be better than the current one.

It said: “There will be an overall improvement in flying times to incidents of around 20 per cent (from 23 to 19 minutes).

Presently, approximately 70 per cent of high and very high-risk areas within the UK search and rescue region are reachable by helicopter within 30 minutes. Under the new contract, approximately 85 per cent of the same area would be reached within this time frame.” ” – Melanie Hall and Amy Willis


UK Government plan to close 50% of UK Coastguard Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centres Updated 07 Feb 2013 0001Z: Privatising Search and Rescue: Could this be the coalition governments biggest cock-up yet?: Support flaring for Clyde Coastguard, Scotland Published 03 Sept 2012 1440Z:

UK Helicopter Search And Rescue Ops ‘Sold’ – 250313 2320z

(Scroll down for latest)

Sunday Times suggests SAR contract win for Bristow

Submitted by Waypoint on Tue, 03/19/2013 – 11:55
Rescue 169 Brecon Beacons

“In an article published on 17 March, the Sunday Times newspaper announced that Bristow Helicopters is set to win a 3bn contract to take over Britains search and rescue service. On 18 March, the Financial Times repeated the claim that Bristow had won out, but valued the contract at 3.1 billion. First announced in November 2011, the process is aimed at replacing the UKs current mix of military and contract civilian search and rescue (SAR) helicopter cover with either one or two civilian providers. Bidders were invited to bid for Lot 1, covering northern bases, Lot 2, covering southern bases, or Lot 3, covering all bases. The field has narrowed progressively throughout the bidding process, leaving just Bristow Helicopters and Bond Offshore Helicopters in the running; most recently, CHC left the process in January. Sunday Times journalist Karl West, who broke the news, would not reveal the source of the information, and also declined to comment on whether the win referred to Lot 1, 2 or 3. However, the Department for Transport has previously valued Lot 3 at between 2 and 3 billion, which matches the figure quoted by West. A spokesperson for Bristow Helicopters was not able to confirm or deny the suggestion. Neither was Bond able to comment. The Department for Transports timescale to announce the winner has been officially stated as spring 2013. Asked whether a winner had been chosen, a spokesperson said: All information surrounding this procurement is commercially confidential. An announcement will be made in due course. – Waypoint Tags:

Update 25 Apr 2013:

A selection of press reports….

UK Helicopter Search And Rescue Ops ‘Sold’

The sale to a US company brings to an end 70 years of Sea King search operations by the RAF and the Royal Navy.

Emergency service volunteers are winched on to an RAF search and rescue Sea King helicopter from Lake Bala during an exercise in north Wales

RAF Sea King helicopters have been running rescue operations for 70 years

By Alistair Bunkall, Defence Correspondent

The Government is selling off UK helicopter search and rescue operations to a US-based company, according to Sky sources.

The Bristow Group, which is headquartered in Texas, has won the contract to run the service from 2015 to 2026.

The exact value of the deal has not been confirmed, but it is expected to be in the region of 3bn.

An official announcement by the Government will be made at 7am on Tuesday before the stock market opens.

It marks the end of 70 years of search and rescue operations by the RAF and Navy.

The distinct yellow RAF Sea King helicopters and grey and red Navy versions were already due to retire from service in 2016.

Upkeep costs and the cost of extending their life has been deemed too expensive.

The move is also in keeping with a wider re-shaping of the military in the face of budget cuts and the 2014 withdrawal from Afganistan.

But the Sea King has been the work-horse of the skies, both in a combat and peacetime capacity, and whatever the merits of this decision, it will be missed by many.

Few other aircraft have so many memorable moments associated with them but the Sea King will long be remembered for its part in the Falklands conflict and the Fastnet race in 1979 when it helped rescue sailors from ferocious seas.

Bristow will operate the service using Sikorsky S-92 and Augusta Westland 189 helicopters.

It is understood that the technology they will introduce is so advanced that the US State Department had to give its approval for it to be used in the UK.

Bristow already provides transport services in the UK to ferry oil-rig workers to and from North Sea platforms.

The company has had a presence in Europe for more than 50 years and also operates in Australia, West Africa, Russia and Malaysia in addition to North America.

Govt to announce sell-off of Search and Rescue service

“The government is set to announce that Britain’s Search and Rescue service is to be sold off to an American firm.

Up until now, the operation has been run by the RAF, Navy and Coastguard Agency.

The firm will actually be awarded two contracts, because the service has been separated into two parts operating different types of helicopter.

An announcement is expected just before the stock market opens in the morning.” – by – Deputy Political Editor

Britain’s Helicopter Search And Rescue To Be Sold To US Company, Bristow Group

PA | Posted: 25/03/2013 22:14 GMT|Updated: 25/03/2013 22:16 GMT PA

“A US-based company is to take over Britain’s helicopter search and rescue operations, it has been reported.

The government has awarded the contract to run the service to the Bristow Group, which has its headquarters in Texas, Sky News reported.

raf search and rescue

Bristow is expected to replace the current RAF and Navy helicoptersThe broadcaster said an announcement – ending 70 years of search and rescue operations by the RAF and Royal Navy – would be made before the stock market opens on Tuesday.

The contract – which runs from 2015 to 2026 – is reported to be worth in the region of Ł3 billion.

Bristow is said to be planning replace the ageing RAF and Navy Sea King helicopters with faster, more efficient Sikorsky S-92s and AgustaWestland 189s.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We are due to make an announcement soon.”” – Huffpost



UK Government plan to close 50% of UK Coastguard Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centres Updated 07 Feb 2013 0001Z: Privatising Search and Rescue: Could this be the coalition governments biggest cock-up yet?: Support flaring for Clyde Coastguard, Scotland Published 03 Sept 2012 1440Z:

The Big Picture

American firm to operate Portland Coastguard helicopter

I have warned about this before.

Her Majesty’s Coastguard Service has warned of this many, many times.

Now it is here.

Apparently American company Bristow is due to be announced as the winning bidder in the fight to take over the Coastguard Helicopter at Portland with a bid worth £3 Billion.

The rescue service is currently run jointly by the RAF, the Royal Navy and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. The Portland Coastguard helicopter faces the axe in 2017 under government cost-cutting plans to relocate it to Lee-on-Solent.

More than 18,000 people have signed an e-petition to Save Portland Helicopter.

This is the thin end of a very thick wedge. Be under no illusions. Private companies exist to serve their shareholders. Their primary objective is to make a profit.

Public sector services do not work like that and it’s about time the…

View original post 258 more words

The armed forces Independence Payment explained

RAF Families Federation

PAYMENTThe MoD, in conjunction with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), will introduce a new benefit called the Armed Forces Independence Payment (AFIP) on Mon 8 Apr 13. AFIP is a simplification of the financial support available for members of the Armed Forces who have been seriously injured as a result of military service since 6 Apri 05. AFIP will provide… More information

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HMS Illustrious seaman rescued by RAF Valley helicopter

Wales Air Forum

Royal Air Force Sea King (1)An injured seaman has been rescued by helicopter from a Royal Navy aircraft carrier in the Irish Sea off Anglesey.

The Sea King helicopter from RAF Valley was scrambled at 10:00 GMT on Wednesday and headed for the light aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious around 18 miles (30km) south west of South Stack.

The crew picked up the casualty and flew him to Ysbyty Gwynedd, Bangor.

The condition of the seaman or how he came to be injured is not known.

Sourced by BBC News Wales

View original post

Privatising Search and Rescue

The Airdrie Rambler


The UK Government is currently looking to replace the existing Search and Rescue (SAR) service, run by a combination of RAF, Royal Navy and Coastguard helicopters, with a privatised version. At the moment the UK Government is seeking companies to tender for the contract. As taxpayers we already pay for the existing SAR service, and if privatised we will pay for the new one as well, albeit the work will be carried out by a private contractor. To me it is a dangerous and unnecessary move. Unfortunately, as this was proposed by Labour and is now being pursued by the Tories, I’d say it was likely that this will be implemented, unless there is a real uproar caused amongst voters themselves, as happened with the proposals to sell off woodlands in England and Wales.

One thing that is stopping that is, in my view, that many people are mixing up…

View original post 630 more words

Smuggling and North Devon – 151212 2045z

Smuggling and North Devon

At the start of the eighteenth century Bideford was a booming and nationally eminent port. The trade with the colonies, Western Europe and more locally with South Wales and Ireland was thriving. However, as we may expect, there was a black underside to the Little White Town’ and the Golden Bay ‘ it superintended. There were those opportunists who exploited this and sought to maximise their own profits through evading customs duties: Smuggling.

On top of the usual problems of loosing evidence and records over several centuries as an illicit activity there is obviously not a plethora of factual evidence to provide neat and tidy stories and answers to the multitude of questions which smuggling triggers.- What was the extent and what was smuggled? What were their methods? Who were the smugglers and what was their nature: opportunists, self justified free traders or violent criminals?

As such it means that the start of investigations begins with preventative laws, seizures of smuggled goods (so failed attempts) or with the local romanticised legends or folk stories that the south west coast is famous for accompanying those of piracy and wrecking.

This further raises the fact that smugglers have long been prone to the Robin Hood effect’; seen as the only honest thief. rob[bing] nothing but the revenue(Lamb p.698). These images have often veiled the reality of smuggling to later generations but also provided both shields and justification to contemporaries. This defence was especially strong when import taxes were imposed by a faceless government in order to raise revenue for a series of unpopular wars. This in turn makes attempting to assess the true volume of smuggling and the number direct and indirect (those who bought the prohibited goods or aided the smugglers) participants practically impossible. Were we a nation of smugglers? (Gaydon p.65)

Thomas Benson

The most famous of the Bideford based smugglers. Despite his story displaying him as being selfish and ruthless his infamy stands as testament to how subsequent generations have regarded his daring and sheer audacity against the British government. Ironically it was the governmental laws and systems of patronage enabled his career as a merchant- privateer, which in turn facilitated his felonies. He was eventually exposed and his tale highlights key points and themes in smuggling and how his Bideford setting enabled it. [Link to longer Benson article]

Thomas Benson inherited the large family fortune, estate (Knapp House, Northam) and business valued at an estimated 40 000 in 1743 aged 36. From this juncture his ambitious and daring personality led him to increase his wealth and influence to become Sheriff of Devon in 1746 and MP for Barnstaple in 1747, the same year he began a lease of Lundy.

The position of Lundy, made it ideal for his purposes, 13 miles of Hartland point, it was away from prying eyes, whilst still being conveniently located for the local and international trade that used the Bristol Channel . Benson unloaded many of the convicts he was supposed to be transporting to America on Lundy. At this point he then used them to hide his other smuggled goods, largely tobacco from the colonies.

His eventual downfall came after he scuttled’ an old, barely seaworthy boat the Nightingale in order to gain the insurance for both the boat and the contents he had supposedly lost. In fact he had unloaded these on Lundy the day previously. Benson and his crew thought they had pulled off the ingenious scam, but instead they met their downfall after the inebriated boasting of one of the crew James Bather to one of Benson’s rivals Matthew Reeder.

This was the catalyst which served to expose a whole plethora of Benson’s crimes over the preceding two years, which included smuggling 99 000lb of British Colonial tobacco and a debt to the Crown of 8229. When Benson realised that he could not evade punishment he used his mercantile contacts and fled to Oporto in Portugal , then Viga in Spain where he comfortably lived out his life.

Of the others involved, only a few served gaol time and it was only Lancey received a sentence. This may seem more surprising given the number of witnesses bought into Lancey’s trial who were not part of the Nightingale Crew but who worked for Benson and give themselves away as being aware of what Benson was up to on Lundy. This may have been affected by the 1746 Indemnity Act which pardoned those who gave information which led to the capture of other smugglers. Further given the scandal caused- a corrupt Mp and County Sherrif acting in total disregard to the law it could well be that Lancey’s harsh punishment was indeed to be an example of him.

The Heyday of Smuggling

Who were the smugglers up against?

As we can see from Benson’s case smuggling was able to occur under the guise of legal trading in the eighteenth century. This was not necessarily on the scale of Benson, but Customs records are littered with small scale seizures as well as mistakes’ and discrepancies in the ships papers, suggesting that low volume smuggling was indeed widespread and common. This was largely enabled through the inefficiency and potential corruption of Customs.

Firstly, customs were based in Bideford itself yet were required to monitor a huge estuarial and coastal area. In the eighteenth century the port of Bideford also superintended Appledore, so subsequently the entire estuary and all the small creeks and inlets (including several which ran to Benson’s property). On top of this the jurisdiction also stretched all the way out to Hartland, including the harbour of Clovelly and the multitude of secluded grey pebbled beaches, where one would assume a level of smuggling could have been sustained, untraced and unrecorded for years.

Secondly, Customs was made up from a hodge-podge of posts and often with inadequate personnel. [Unfortunately, Bideford’s customs records were lost in a fire in the nineteenth century, but in looking at our neighbours Barnstaple’s customs records we can gage what the situation would most likely have been like and often there is an overlap between the two ports, so we can find evidence related to the Port of Bideford within them.] Barnstaple ‘s Custom records clearly show that its staff were often not up to the task throughout the eighteenth century:

In 1727 two tidewaiters in were suspended for absence from the ship they were supposed to be watching. Went on Appledore Quay for a cupp of beer’.

1799- the acting collector called all officers to the custom house for a collective charge of neglect.

From these types of charges, which frequently crop up it is evident that even if the customs officers were not actively and deliberately aiding smugglers, through neglect they certainly passively helped the free traders’. Moreover we see (and can often infer) from the customs records that the officers were not averse themselves to taking advantage of contraband and unaccustomed goods:

In 1804 the Betsey was seized just off Appledore (it was hotly contested between Bideford and Barnstaple as to who had rights over it). On seizing the vessel the Barnstaple Collector and Controller dealt out the wine and spirits as he chose’. The next day one of the officers, the tidewaiter Perryman had been found dead alongside the boat. Matthews then asserted that he had died by falling overboard in a state on intoxication’ and further insisted that as only 2 out of 100 large casks and 16 out of 442 of the small easily moveable casks’ were missing, that this was a small enough discrepancy to prove no embezzlement’ on their behalf.

However this case takes on a more sinister and puzzling turn as the Bideford Collector (who had also sought the prize) claimed that Perryman was found floating dead with wound in neck and face and eyes much bruised and further a Boat came alongside the Prize and was laden with part of the cargo, which was carried into the port of Bidefordno doubt the officer.lost his life by not acceding to the measure.

Quite what the real truth of this event was, we will probably never know but it does clearly illustrate a high level of ineffectiveness and fraud within the institution which was meant to prevent smuggling and clearly does not show them to be figures of respect within their communities.

However to explain the rise of the heyday’ of smuggling and what propelled the more traditional image of the smuggler, he who worked by moonlight in deserted beaches, we need to look at national changes and how they manifested themselves in Bideford. Ultimately it boiled down to war.

War and smuggling had an antagonistic relationship. For the most part war was unpopular, damaging trade, draining resources and press gangs forcing men into service. Press gangs were particularly prominent in Bideford and the surrounding area due to the large number of seafaring men, one only needs to look at the Beaver Inn, Appledore which stands as testament. Trade and resources diminished increased demand for goods and the government raised customs and revenue taxes in order to fund increasingly expensive wars. This high taxation of course increased incentive (and the potential profits) to smuggle and also heightened resentment towards the increasingly centralised, bureaucratic government. This is particularly prevalent to Bideford who by the mid 17 th century had lost much of its input in the national government. This as a mercantile class were starting to supplant the traditional aristocracy and Bideford was had been losing its relative national importance as a centre of trade. On the flipside it was this very distance from authority which also helped to facilitate smuggling and the wars helped masked much smuggling and privateering.

The government of course tried to prevent smuggling as it obviously drained the government’s revenue and resources and we see more and more draconian measures and Acts passed during the eighteenth century. This included a Hovering Act in 1718 to deter small vessels from hovering near the coast, waiting to pick up contraband goods and Indemnity Acts in 1736 and 1746 which made smuggling a capital punishment, though pardoned those who provided further information on fellow smugglers. These proved to have limited success and instead began a vicious cycle: the stakes were raised, so the smugglers responded with more cunning, daring and violence. This cycle escalated, fuelled by other factors such as an increase in consumerism: those goods which had once been luxuries were now perceived as necessities, such as Tea.

For the government smuggling was not only an economic drain but also perceived as an attack against the government and the country itself, an internal war raging alongside those externally. This image of a fight against a monolithic government was only to become more potent as in the mid eighteenth century, outside of war time the government employed naval vessels to defend against smuggling. Furthermore was the introduction of Excise Officers, who were far more regulated and centrally controlled than the Customs officers and one can imagine the kind of reception a governmental stranger would have had in relatively small and close knit communities. They were more successful and on capturing a smuggling vessel it would then be taken as a revenue vessel or broken up, visualising the destruction of the smugglers’ trade. However, again these officers had huge distances to patrol, so despite an increased efficiency their total success was limited and a cat and mouse game ensued.

This whole situation was exacerbated during the American war of Independence . Economically, as the colonies were Britain ‘s biggest trading partner (indeed it had made Bideford’s fortune a century before) and consequently by the early 1780’s it was estimated that two thirds of the tea drunk in England was smuggled. Also it was ideologically damaging as the Colonies were fighting against their centralised control in Britain . This heightened fears of smuggling and caused the image of the smuggler to become more politicised, illustrated by Lord Pembroke in 1781, Will Washington take America or the Smugglers England first?. With this in mind it is not surprising that the next law against smuggling, The Act of Oblivion’ in 1782 entailed that a smuggler could clear his name if he served in the Royal Navy.

Following defeat, defeat more preventative measures were taken and duties were slashed in 1784, most importantly on tea, from 119% to 12%. This was clever move as due to teas’ light bulky nature it was often used to hide other smuggled goods within the ballast or hold. Correspondingly, although it had been a small proportion of the seized goods, there are no more seizures of tea during the period in the North Devon Customs records after 1784, but this does not apply to other items.

By this point smuggling has for some years been increasingand carried on at present on the Coasts of Devon and Cornwall to such an alarming Extent and in such a systematic manner’. The evidence available corresponds with the imagery that the southwest remains famous for, utilising isolated areas, stealth and violence when necessary. The Customs records in 1804 give us a wealth of circumstances:

In summer these goods were landed in summer along the coasts of north Cornwall and North West Devon whereas in winter, further east in safer water. Further, on landing these goods they are conveyed into the interior, by Land, after night, on horsesin a body of 20 or 30, very strongly guarded’.

Smugglers were using vessels, being of the description of vessels employed in the limestone trade[with]..limestones on deck’. -The bulky cargo was used to hide goods, whilst the chemical composition of limestone itself required to be unloaded by the limekilns which were numerous around Bideford and in isolated locations.

There have been reports of smugglers conveying Goods by Land after night, to cross the River in Various places with their Horses in low water to avoid entering town over the bridges


Running parallel to the legends of smuggling are those more sinisterly of wrecking. This is a grey area of smuggling as the goods had, escaped the degradation of the gauger’s brand’. A good wreck season was seen much like a good mackerel season, God given to alleviate the harsh and meagre existence of the dwellers along the coast’. If there were no survivors it was believed that the cargo was no one’s property and eerily a local superstition was that a life saved from the sea brought no one any luck’ (Smith p. 65) Recorded events and acts do indeed imply a malevolent picture and not necessarily just cases of salvage:

In January of 1737 the Golden Mary of Bristol , stranded at Saunton Sands and all men lost’. Some of the cargo was salvaged by the Customs but over the next five months there are reports of Customs finding and confiscating more of these goods in the hands of local merchants.

In February 1802 the Hope of Penryn, laden with Portuguese oranges, had become a total wreck every person on board perished’ leaving goods to be salvaged. The officers concerned only reported the incident several hours after it had happened by which time much of the cargo had been stolen. More sinisterly, the reports add that with help, rather than the immediate plunder of the vessel, she could have been put ashore inside the bar and probably saved’

An Act of 1753 made it a non clergyable felony to kill or impede anyone trying to escape a wreck and a capital offence to put a light on rocks and draw a ship to danger.

The Legacy

The proliferation of smuggling did indeed decrease, especially after the Napoleonic Wars, and increase in prevention and decrease in taxation. However the romantic idea of the smuggler has indeed lived on in and around Bideford, as elsewhere in the Southwest by still having a hold over peoples’ imaginations. This is perhaps hardly surprising given both the strong sense of local identity still present and the physical setting. The beautiful awe inspiring coast that surround Bideford and the area under its jurisdiction: the isolated coves and creeks and the majestic, yet threatening cliffs and reefs.

The locally infamous, eccentric Reverand Hawker claimed that on arrival to Morwenstow in 1834 he found a small, poor congregation, whose wretched condition pained him’. They lived alongside the remnants of smuggling daysthe love for it still smouldered in their veins’. Further it was claimed the vicarage, which was nearly in ruins was being used as a store for smuggled goods. The extent of truth here is debateable but it is an image which has been handed down. Most notably as Hawker published The Ballad of Cruel Coppinger’, a dastardly smuggler who formed an organised band of desperadoes, smugglers, wreckers and poachers’ after being washed up at Masland Mouth. The common view is that this is an elaborated tale based on an amalgamation of D.H Coppinger who was washed up in Welcombe 23 rd December 1792 and perhaps the mid eighteenth century merchant John Coppinger.

As long as there are restrictions people will smuggle; be it bringing home an extra packet of cigarettes from holiday or a much bigger illicit operation. We cannot generalise or bracket together all smugglers, but certainly in the idea of the honest thief’ is in no danger of dying out, holding particular resonance in this difficult economic time.

Select Bibliography

Barnstaple Customs Records

The Trial of John Lancy in Select Trials in the Sessions- House at the Old Bailey’, Vol III ( London 1764) Eighteenth Century Collections Online , pp. 29-48.

Anon, Journal of the time I spent on the Island of Lundy in the years 1752 and 1787′, North Devon Magazine (1824)

Brewer. J, The Sinews of Power (Unwin Hyman: London 1989)

Drake. D, Members of Parliament for Barnstaple 1689-1832′, Transactions of the Devonshire Association, 73, p. 185Fielder Duncan , A History of Bideford (Philimore & Co Ltd.: Chichester 1985)

Gaydon. T, North Devon Smugglers’ in The North Devon Magazine (Masland Printers:Tiverton 1989), pp.65-67.

Hawker. Rev. R.J, Cruel Coppinger’ in Complete Prose Works of Rev R.W. Hawker (1893), pp. 95-107.

Lamb, Charles, Old Margate Hoy’, in The Last Essays of Elia. from Hutchinson . T (ed.), The Works of Charles Lamb (Oxford University Press: Oxford 1924), pp. 692-99.

Smith. G, Shipwrecks of the Bristol Channel (Countryside Books: Newbury 1991)

Tenstrom. M, The Ownership of Lundy by Sir Richard Grenville and his Descendants, 1577-1775′, Transactions of the Devonshire Association , 130 (1998), pp.65-80.

Thomas. S, The Nightingale Scandal: The Story of Thomas Benson and Lundy (Myrtle Tenstrom: Cheltenham 2001)

Rowen McKenzie

This work by Bideford 500 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 UK: England & Wales License

Goaty’s News is grateful to Bideford 500 for making this work Creative Commons

More about Parson Hawker

File:St Morwenna, Morwenstow.jpg

(Photo: Bob Parkes – Creative Commons)
Parson Hawker’s church – St Morwenna, Morwenstow

“Down the centuries the rugged and unforgiving north Cornwall coastline as taken a terrible toll on sea vessels. And the iron shore of the parish itself as seen a number of tragedies, not least one on the 7th Sept. 1843. The 200 ton brig Caledonia from Arbroath, sailing from Constantinople to Bristol, via Falmouth, with a cargo of grain foundered at Vicarage Cliffs with the lose of all but one of its nine hands. Before Hawkers day corpses that washed ashore had been interred in situ, without ceremony. But Hawker knew it was his Christian duty to give a proper burial to all who had perished within the bounds of the parish. The warrior figurehead of the ship – prominent inside the churchyard marks the collective grave of its crew. “

Extract fromParson Hawker: The Universal Priest Poet of Morwenstow by Stewart Beer

“Hawker was a legendary eccentric. He is known to have dressed up as a mermaid and excommunicated his cat for mousing on Sundays. He dressed in claret-coloured coat, blue fisherman’s jersey, long sea-boots, a pink brimless hat and a poncho made from a yellow horse blanket, which he claimed was the ancient habit of St Pardarn. He talked to birds, invited his nine cats into church. He kept a huge pig as a pet.

Hawker is believed to be the person who brought back the mediaeval custom of the Harvest Festival into the church. He also ensured that sailors drowned in shipwrecks received a Christian burial.

He was concerned that the bodies of drowned men received a Christian burial, and would scramble down the cliffs, and carry back the bodies for a church grave. Until Hawker they were often buried on the beach where they were found, without Christian rites, as the belief was that it was not possible to tell if they were Christian or not.” – Extract from

Hawker’s Hut

This driftwood hut on the cliffs near Morwenstow is the National Trust’s smallest property. It was built by the eccentric Reverend Hawker, who was vicar of Morwenstow from 1834 until his death in 1875. Hawker would sit in his hut and write poetry and it was here that he penned ‘The Song of the Western Men’, which has become a Cornish anthem.

Reward to catch cat killer now £1,800; Cat skewered with 1m long bamboo cane – 101112 1940z

Rewards totalling £1,800 have been offered to find the criminals responsible for killing a cat by skewering it with a metre-long bamboo cane.

“The attack on two-year-old tabby cat, Jack, left him with horrific fatal injuries.

Jack the cat killed


Jack was found by the owner’s neighbour on October 19 in Weston Mill, Plymouth in Devon.

Following the incident an anonymous donor came forward to offer up a £300 reward, then last week, another £500 was offered up by another anonymous donor for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.

The anonymous donor said: “I’m sickened by this.

“I wanted to match what the other donor was offering and I’d pay £500 to have these people caught.

“I can’t understand how anyone could do this to an animal – it’s outrageous.

“Reading the story made my blood run cold to think what that poor cat went through.”

Yesterday another £1,000 was offered from charities Crimestoppers and the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

The reward is being offered by PETA through independent charity Crimestoppers for information being passed on to the crime-fighting charity’s 0800 555 111 number that leads to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.

Stephen Pearce, chairman for Devon and Cornwall Crimestoppers, said: “This is a cruel and cowardly attack that has been carried out on a defenceless animal, and we are horrified by the injuries inflicted on Jack.

“The person or persons responsible for this crime need to be brought to justice and should not be allowed to get away with their actions.

“We are appealing to the public to pass on any information they might have to Crimestoppers anonymously and help us find those responsible.”

PETA spokesperson, Ben Williamson, added: “It is imperative that any community faced with such horrific abuse of animals take measures to find the culprit or culprits and stop the violence. Animal abusers are a danger to everyone – they take their issues out on whomever is available to them, human or non-human.”

Alex Harris, the owner of two-year-old Jack, spoke to The Herald about the incident last month.

A bamboo cane was forced diagonally through the tabby cat’s body and after extensive surgery the cat passed away from his injuries.

Alex is currently in the Falklands with the Royal Navy.

Police say the attack was so sickening they are concerned about the kind of person who was behind it.

The investigation is currently ongoing and anyone with information can contact the police, in confidence, on 101, quoting crime reference number ED/12/5858.

Alternatively call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or through the secure online form at”

CLAIRE JONES Plymouth Herald Reporter

Copied from Plymouth Herald

Full story and comments here

UK and Commonwealth: HM The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – Updated 3 June 2012

The official website of The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

Queen's Diamond Jubilee logo

The Central Weekend 2 – 5 June 2012

The Central Weekend to celebrate The Queens Diamond Jubilee takes place from Saturday 2 June to Tuesday 5 June 2012, with celebratory activities throughout the UK and across the Commonwealth

If you are considering visiting central London to join in with the celebrations, you may find it useful to visit the Transport for London website

Alternatively, you may wish to consider watching events on one of the many BBC Big Screens around the UK.

For information about the Official Diamond Jubilee Souvenir Programme click here.

Here is our run-down of events over the Diamond Jubilee weekend, including approximate timings:

Saturday 2 June, 2012
The Queen will attend the Epsom Derby.

Sunday 3 June, 2012
The Big Jubilee Lunch: Building on the already popular Big Lunch initiative, people will be encouraged to share lunch with neighbours and friends as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. This may take the form of a traditional street party or a picnic lunch in small or larger groups. This event is being organised by the Big Lunch. Find out more.

The Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant: This event will take place on the Thames and consist of up to 1,000 boats assembled from across the UK, the Commonwealth and around the world. The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh will travel in the Royal Barge which will form the centrepiece of the flotilla.Find out more

Approximate timings are as follows:

14:30BST The Queen embarks the Royal barge, the Spirit of Chartwell, near Albert Bridge

16:15BST The Royal Barge comes alongside HMS President (Royal Naval Reserve Unit), near Tower Bridge

Monday 4 June, 2012
BBC Concert at Buckingham Palace: There will be a televised Diamond Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace with tickets being available to UK residents by public ballot. The musical programme for the concert is still being planned and is expected to feature British and Commonwealth musicians. Details on how to apply for the concert will be available in due course. This event is being organised by the BBC. Find out more

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Beacons: A network of 2,012 Beacons will be lit by communities and individuals throughout the United Kingdom, as well as the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and the Commonwealth. As in 2002, The Queen will light the National Beacon. Find out more

Approximate timings are as follows:

19:30BST Diamond Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace begins

After 22:30BST The Queen lights the National Beacon outside Buckingham Palace

Tuesday 5 June, 2012
On Tuesday 5 June, the Diamond Jubilee weekend will culminate with a day of celebrations in central London, including a service at St Pauls Cathedral followed by two receptions, a lunch at Westminster Hall, a Carriage Procession to Buckingham Palace and finally a Balcony appearance, Flypast, and Feu de Joie. Find out more.

Download the Order of Service

Approximate timings are as follows:

10:15BST The Queen leaves Buckingham Palace by car

10:30-11.30BST Service of Thanksgiving at St Pauls

12.30BST The Queen travels by car from Mansion House to the Palace of Westminster

14:20BST Carriage Procession from Westminster Hall to Buckingham Palace commences

Approximately 15:25BST Royal Family appear on the Balcony at Buckingham Palace

Members of theMedia seeking accreditation for these events should visit:

RAF SAR crew criticised for beach landing ‘so the pilot can buy ice cream’

(Photo: � Crown Copyright/MOD 2012)
RAF Sea King Rescue Helicopter

“The UK�s media have gleefully reported on the landing by a search and rescue helicopter crew on a beach, �so the pilot can buy ice cream�, to quote the Telegraph newspaper.

After the Royal Air Force (RAF) Sea King landed on the sand at Winterton-on-Sea, onlookers watched (and photographed) a crew member exit the aircraft and enter a beachside caf�, before emerging with ice creams.”

Goaty says:� SAR ops often involve beach landings, it is important for crews to regularly practise this skill. Considering the great service these crews give the public, to begrudge them from taking the opportunity for a little cool refreshment on a hot day, is quite petty. If a crew made a flight, or diverted from an emergency call, especially to buy ice-cream (wouldn’t happen), that, would be worth criticism. Leave these guys alone, they deserve respect, not this….

Last year the same Daily Telegraph (29 Nov 2011) was saying

“Britain�s highly respected Royal Navy and RAF search and rescue teams are to be privatised despite objections from the Duke of Cambridge.”


“By 2016 the country�s coastline and mountains will be patrolled by civilians replacing 90 RAF and Royal Navy pilots, the Government announced. The move will mean the end to 60 years of military search and rescue by servicemen who have saved thousands of lives both at sea and off mountain tops.”

Apart from the RAF and the RN, our current SAR providers include the Coastguard, who have their own rescue helicopters. They are already facing planned cuts -� 50% of Coastguard Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centres (MRCC�s) are to be axed.

(Photo: MCA)
Coastguard Rescue Helicopter

I doubt whether SAR ops run by private companies (presumably for profit) would ever be able to match the very high standards the public have enjoyed for the last three decades.

Both the future privatisation of SAR & the Coastguard cuts could result in a loss of vital expertise and local knowledge, perhaps then the ‘hue and cry’ will be not be so much about ice creams as lives lost.

Full story here:

UK: Search for fishing boat and 3 crew off Dorset Coast called off – Updated 1820BST 19th May 2012

(Search called off see update below)

RNLI lifeboats have been searching for a missing fishing boat and its three-man crew off the coast of Dorset for over 36 hours and another volunteer crew are to join the search (As of Saturday May 19, 0800BST).

A body believed to be that of one of the three missing fishermen was recovered from the sea by the Coastguard at around 5:30pm on Friday, according to a statement issued by Dorset Police. The families of the men have been informed.

The fishing boat, the Purbeck Isle, which is from Weymouth, was reported missing around 6pm on Thursday May 17 after it failed to return to port at its expected time.

Weymouth all weather lifeboat, the Ernest and Mabel, launched at 7:15pm on Thursday to search, along with HM Coastguard helicopters and the Royal Navy Warship, the HMS York. The Lyme Regis inshore lifeboat, the Spirit of Loch Fyne, launched just after 11pm to carry out an additional shoreline search of the coast to the west of Weymouth, along Chesil Beach, towards Bridport.

(Photo: RNLI)

The Weymouth lifeboat returned to station at 3:40am on Friday and a new volunteer crew went onboard to replace those who had been out searching for nearly nine hours. The lifeboat then headed back out to sea at 4:20am. The Lyme Regis lifeboat returned to station at around 3am.

The Weymouth lifeboat returned to the lifeboat station for another change of crew at around 2pm Friday and continued to search until 10.15pm, when it once again returned to the station.

The Exmouth all weather lifeboat, the Margaret Jean, is due to join the search for the two other fishermen at first light, around 4am, on Saturday morning.


Update 1820BST 19/05/2012

Search for 2 remaining fishermen from F/V Purbeck Isle which sank off the Dorset coast called off – Sky News

UK: Hunt for fishing boat and 3 crew reveals wreckage off Dorset Coast

The search for a fishing boat and three crew missing off the Dorset coast has revealed a vessel on the seabed.

(Photo: BBC)
RNLI lifeboats, the Coastguard helicopter and a Royal Navy warship are searching for the vessel
(Click on photo to see full story)

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said an uncharted wreck of similar size to the missing fishing boat, Purbeck Isle had been located.

It was discovered by a survey ship with sonar equipment involved in the search for the Weymouth-based boat.

Coastguards began an extensive search overnight after the crabber was reported missing at about 18:00 BST.

The crew were named locally as David MacFarland, Robert Prowse and Jack Craig

The crew of the boat was rescued in January 2011 after the vessel began taking on water off Chesil Beach, west of Portland. – BBC

(Photo: BBC)
The crew was rescued last year after the fishing vessel took on water
(Click on photo to see full story 3 January 2011)

Related: Search for missing fishing boat crew off Dorset