History of West Porlock


The road from Porlock to the sea passes through West Porlock, a hamlet containing the modern manor House. The cottages are whitewashed, and mostly thatched and have the round bake-ovens and huge chimneys which are characteristic of the district.  It is thought that the latter were built facing the street in order to foil the curiosity of spies prying during the Civil War. The gardens are so sheltered and luxuriant that roses bloom out of doors until Christmas. The clangour ‘of the anvil rings all day from the forge, where the smith is busy shoeing hunters and cart-horses’. The “ Live and Let Live ” Inn is now a cottage  its name being a reminder of the smuggling which used to flourish in spite of the resident Customs officer at the Weir.

Kegs of rum used to  be floated ashore, slung on poles with a flag tied atop. When the villagers seized them, they knocked up the hoops, “ spiled ” them, drew out half  the contents, plugged them again, replaced the hoops, and. sent them to the Customs, by which means they made about a hundred pounds on each cargo. Up to 50 years ago the trade flourished. One former landlord, who was also the local cooper, was asked to help the smugglers. Preventive men were Watching the Weir, where they wanted to land a cargo from the ketch  Mabel so the landlord ran down to the marshes below West Porlock and pretended to rake the “ rhines ” with a long pole, as though fishing for kegs. The Customs men saw him and gave chase. He doubled back to Porlock, entered the back door of the Royal Oak Inn, changed his clothes, and met the Customs officer in the porch, denying having seen any fugitive. Meanwhile the smugglers ran their cargo from the “ Mabel.“

Beyond West Porlock lies Porlock  Ford, a modern house built on an old site, where Whyte-Melville wrote his ilocal novel, “ Katerfelto.” The ford was bridged during the 19th century, and bears the initials of its mason, a  brother to Lucas, the smuggler and fisherman. He  was a powerful man who carried arms on his vessel, and was prepared to fight the Customs. One day, when returning from France with a cargo of brandy, he blew away his sails during a gale, and took refuge in a port on the south coast. As luck would have it, he tied up alongside the Customs cutter. He went aboard, and  made friends with her captain over a glass of legitimate spirits. The respective cabin-boys fell into conversation ,and the lugger’s boy told the other that they were ‘carrying a lot of little barrels’. The news spread and Lucas was arrested. He managed to send word to his wife at Porlock, who hurried to lay information against him and claim the reward before his capture became known.