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Sowley - the Forge Hammer Inn and Sowley Smugglers

Sowley lies close to the Solent and around 3 kilometres (2 miles) from Beaulieu village. It is in the south-western corner of the parish and until 1958, when Sowley House and the Sowley Estate were sold off, was also at the south-western edge of the Beaulieu Estate.

(1) The Forge Hammer Inn

England still boasts a number of inns called the Forge Hammer - this sign is from Lower Lydbrook, in the Forest of Dean
England still boasts a number of inns called the Forge Hammer - this sign is from Lower Lydbrook, in the Forest of Dean

Pond House, a late 18th century property close to Sowley House and the site of the old Sowley Ironworks, was once an inn known as the Forge Hammer which, according to Historic England, ceased to operate in the 20th century.

(Errm - not sure about this particularly as the same entry records Sowley as a major ironworks from 1800).

Emma Page in a presentation to the Beaulieu History Society is probably closer to the mark. She noted that the first mention of an innkeeper - who was living in the Sowley Hammer - was in the 1851 census, whilst in 1861 there is mention of an innkeeper living at an unnamed public house in Sowley Lane.

There was no mention of an innkeeper in the 1871, 1881 and 1891 censuses so perhaps the days of the Forge Hammer / the Sowley Hammer were short-lived.

(2) Sowley Smugglers

An early 19th century etching showing smugglers at work (John Atkinson)
An early 19th century etching showing smugglers at work (John Atkinson)

Following the creation of a national customs collection system, smuggling was rife along much of the south coast from at least the 13th century until the middle of the 19th century.

And smuggling tales are just as common as were the smugglers themselves.

Geoffrey Morley in 'Smuggling in Hampshire and Dorset 1700 - 1850' tells of local Sowley smugglers who landed their goods at nearby Pitts Deep and used Sowley Pond as the site of an underwater cache, and the Forge Hammer Inn for the more conventional storage of illicit goods.

Apparently, the inn was on one occasion approached by a group of coastguards, whilst inside the smuggled goods were hidden in the huge inn chimney.

Alert to the dangers of discovery, the landlady came out and harangued one of the guards, loudly accusing him of not paying his bar bill. A pre-arranged signal, given when the smugglers inside the inn had safely removed the contraband and made off with it out of harms way, told the landlady that the coast was clear and so she cease her tirade and let the coastguards into the inn where, of course, they found nothing untoward.

Find out more about Sowley's fascinating history

References:
Presentation to the Beaulieu History Society: Catharina van der Vorm and Emma Page
An Album of Old Beaulieu: Susan Tomkins
Smuggling in Hampshire and Dorset 1700 - 1850: Geoffrey Morley
Various Wikipedia pages


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Content produced by Andrew Walmsley
Content produced by Andrew Walmsley