In 1740 Dr Isaac Rutton, physician and gentleman of Ashford, leased the Seasalter Parsonage Farm. It was a strange purchase given the location:
An obscure out of the way situation, bounded by the sea northward, and a large tract of marshes, as well as the badness of the water, makes it very unhealthy.
This is how Edward Hasted describes Seasalter in his ‘History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 8. 1799’:
“The east and southern parts are mostly coppice wood, and the soil a deep clay. The church stands on the knoll of a hill, nearly in the middle of the parish, below which, westward, it is all marsh land to the sea shore, not far from which the few houses stand which make the village of Seasalter. There are forty-six houses in this parish, most of which are in Whitstaple-street … There is an oyster fishery on the shore here, the grounds of which, called the Pollard, are an appendage to the manor of Seasalter, and as such belong to the dean and chapter of Canterbury, who demise them to seven fishermen or free dredgermen of Seasalter, at a certain yearly rent. In December, 1763, a live whale was driven on shore on Seasalter flats, which was about fifty-six feet long. The manor of Seasalter has the privilege of four fairs yearly, on the four principal feasts in the year; but there have not been any held for some years.”
What Hasted and others didn’t realise was that these were the very conditions needed to establish a successful smuggling operation.
Here was a part of North Kent that was largely forgotten. The seashore of mud and pebbles made it ideal for landing boats without damaging hulls. The marshes and local woodlands were perfect for hiding and running contraband up to Ashford and on to London. (Years later, changes in transportation and the building of Turnpikes would necessitate altering the route.)
So, in 1740, Dr Isaac Rutton founded what was to become one of the most secret and successful of all smuggling organisations in South-East England.
Cargo was brought ashore beside the Blue Anchor Inn and stored at local farms when necessary. There were stories of ditches temporarily filled with tubs, and haystacks which suddenly doubled in size and smelled of tobacco.
At the beginning of this Enterprise for Gentlemen, pack-horse convoys headed for Blue House Farm on the North Downs above Lenham, and the road to London. They used the old byways south of the present main road (A229), and continued up Brogdale Road and through White Hill.
To ensure safe passage, Dr Rutton installed his eldest son first at White Hill and then at Chapel House, Ospringe. His other son was vicar of a local parish.
The need to bring horses to fresh marsh pastures masked the necessary movement of pack animals, and it would have been an easy matter for contraband to be picked up at Lenham and taken on towards London.
Dr Rutton, his sons and associates all benefited handsomely from their activities as the company traded through the 18th century, but it was Mr William Baldock who appears to have reaped the richest rewards.
An industrious and successful gentleman
William Baldock of Petham began life in modest circumstances. According to local accounts he looked after cows. From these humble beginnings he probably spent time working as a shod carrier and builder’s labourer before graduating to manager of a Whitstable inn.
By 1776, he was openly advertising the services of his two hoys which sailed every fortnight from Whitstable to London and back, but no one thought to question what the vessels were doing in-between these sailings. He also began buying parcels of land, stretches of marshland and pockets of forest, ideal hiding places for contraband when necessary.
In 1792 we find William Baldock supposedly living in Canterbury as a Justice of the Peace and owner of St Dunstan’s Brewery.
Records also show Mr Baldock built the barracks at Canterbury in 1804 for infantry and dragoons. He then rented them out to the government at 6d per week for each soldier.
When Dr Rutton died in 1792 his sons assigned the unexpired portion of the lease of Seasalter Parsonage Farm to William Baldock. The changes he brought to the organisation ensured the enterprise’s future success.
An indication of this success was when William Baldock, cow herder and hod carrier, died in 1812 he left a fortune worth £1.1million pounds. Quite how much of this was through free trading is hard to say but it would have been considerable.
The story of ‘The Seasalter Company’, as Wallace Harvey first described it, is about a company of silence, disappearing as quietly as it began. During the 110 and more years that it was in operation the organisation created power, influence and wealth for many family members as well as reaching to high levels of local and London society.