The success of the Seasalter Company depended on creating a safe, secure and invisible distribution system for contraband. It probably had to work in two directions – importing and distributing goods to London, Canterbury and other destinations (citation) and exporting to France, Holland and other ports and cities in continental Europe (citation).
The export side of the business involved the lucrative trade of reuniting prisoners-of-war with their families in Europe. Many of these prisoners had escaped or bribed their way out of the desperately over-populated prison ships cluttering the Thames estuary.(citation)
The organisation may also have been involved in the owling trade for a time. (citation)
The emphasis on secrecy and silence distinguished this organisation from other Kent and Sussex ‘smuggling gangs’ who were notorious for their brute force and violence. A gang they weren’t, but rather a silent fraternity of like-minded gentlemen.
The intelligence system was so effective that as a detachment of Dragoons left Canterbury, they would have known about it in Whitstable and Seasalter before the detachment had even reached the city boundaries.
Dr Rutton had designed his operation to be forewarned. He initiated a unique intelligence system that William Baldock would later build upon. The sheer audacity and scale of this network ensured the Seasalter Company’s fortunes and reassured investors.
Baldock exerted his influence as an influential gentleman to ensure that his brother, Richard Hobday Baldock, was appointed as coastwaiter and riding officer to the area. The local excise weren’t simply bought off, they were family.
William also owned the barracks at Canterbury:
‘Around 1793 William Baldock of Petham, builder, bought the estate known as St Gregory’s priory from Stephen Bradley and Henry Irons for £1175. By September 1804 he had built barracks and other extensive buildings called St Gregory’s Barracks on the site comprising 5 acres 1 rod 16 perches, which he had enclosed with a brick wall, and which for several years had been occupied by HM troops.
Just before he died in December 1812 he sold the barracks to HM Commissioners for the Affairs of Barracks for £25,500. He left his estate in the hands of trustees, Richard Knatchbull and Nicholas Roundell Toke for the use of his nephew William Henry Baldock.’
The organisation’s intelligence system worked at every level. It depended on ‘connections’ and having the right person in the right place. There was a signalling system involving homes stretching from Canterbury to Whitstable.
The invisibility of the organisation is evidence for the success of the Seasalter Company
The Seasalter Company only becomes apparent through evidence involving the purchase of land, property and the appointment of officials. (Very little is known or reported about actual smuggling activities.)
The base for the organisation was Seasalter Parsonage Farm but unlike other smuggling gangs it was not used as a gathering place or headquarters in the conventional sense. (Typically, they would not risk such visibility.) Dr Isaac Rutton of Ashford, first leases the farm in 1740 and the lease is renewed every 21 years on Lady Day. It will be home to various family members and associates who leave the farm as rich and influential people. They depart and take up key positions around the area – Canterbury, Ashford and Dover. It seems that the Parsonage Farm was used to serve an apprenticeship. (citation)
In the early years, the contraband was brought ashore beside the Blue Anchor Inn and stored at local farms if necessary. Pink Farm in Seasalter Lane was one of these. Ditches and haystacks were also used. In later years, there is some evidence that landing the merchandise was done along the battery, Whitstable.
During Dr Rutton’s tenure, the 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.
Another key appointment was the vicar to the Seasalter parish. He had a reputation for preaching too long and describing his ‘flock’ in the most unflattering ways with little evidence of christian love. The vicar was the eyes and ears of a stretch of coast stretching from Reculver to Faversham. From his parsonage at Blue Anchor Corner he could see across to the Isle of Sheppey.
The need to bring horses to fresh marsh pastures masked the necessary movement of pack animals, and it was a straightforward exercise to arrange for contraband to be picked up at Lenham and taken on towards London.
Dr Rutton, his sons and associates all benefited handsomely from their unspecified activities at Seasalter, as the company continued trading through the 18th century, but it was Mr William Baldock who reaped the richest rewards.
Everything about the organisation was designed for invisible trading.
So far, there is no record or report of an unidentified gang operating around the Seasalter area except through hearsay and folk stories. The Seasalter Company had no name until Wallace Harvey wrote about the organisation in 1983.
What we do know is that the scale of the operation would have been large. Investors in the Seasalter Company were looking for ambitious returns and typically, 100 – 150 horses was a good sized cargo and there is a report of a string this long being split in two and sent off in different directions. (citation)
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