Ropley House

I have always understood that the young Mr. Duthys of Ropley House, secretly and covertly encouraged the smugglers, and even gave them their assistance. One of these especially was closely connected with them, and used to take his father's horses from the stables at night in order to give help. When Captain Duthy got to know this he was so angry that he turned his son out of the house. His sisters used to befriend him, and give him money, and other things, which they let down at night from a bedroom window.

There has always been something like a mystery in connection with Ropley House (which was built upon the foundation of a very much older house). When my father was enlarging it, I believe there was some story about a flight of steps being discovered "leading down no one knew where," and a man here said that there is "a Mediterranean" (!) passage down from Ropley House to some place near where the old school now stands.

The garden of Ropley House is a very old one - the sun-dial dates from 1652, and bears the inscription :

"As shade doth pass from line to line
By motion of the sun
So doth our age from time to time
Until our race be run."

The grass paths in the kitchen garden with the sun-dial in the centre have no doubt existed there for centuries.

The Smugglers

It has been said that another cause for Mr. Maddock's unpopularity was the fact that he was so strongly opposed to the smuggling "trade," which was carried on largely and with a high hand in Ropley for many years. The whole village was more or less in league to cheat the custom-house and to import the smuggled whisky kegs into the district. These used to be brought up from Portsmouth in carts and wagons, and hidden in the woods, behind high hedges, or in the large cellars belonging to many of the cottages, also in the tithe barn of the old Parsonage. It was afterwards sold to the village people, who flocked, I am told, to Monkwood especially on Sunday evenings, when "it was like a Fair." The custom-house officials seem to have been utterly powerless to intervene.

Only last Saturday evening I was talking to a nice old man (James Smith) who seemed to know "chapter and verse" of all these affairs, probably in great part through his father, for the smuggling could hardly have lasted long after he could remember it. He told me of one man who lived at Monkwood, whose name was Henry Prior, and who was especially daring. He obtained a cart-load of the whisky kegs at Portsmouth, and was about to depart in triumph with these, when the custom-house "got wind of it," and he found he was pursued. He would not be baulked of his prize, and putting his horse to its full speed he galloped the 30 miles from Portsmouth to Ropley, eluded his pursuers, and arrived safely with his kegs, which were hidden in the big beech wood on Monkwood hill.

I believe this man Prior became greatly changed during his last illness. He sent for Mr. Maddock, who prayed with him and consoled him. As a substantial proof of his repentance he destroyed a number of whisky kegs still remaining in his cellar. I understand that he was a great fighter, and generally "a very rough customer," as well as a smuggler.

It was also in this same house that the smuggler of Mrs. Maddock's story resided.

Extract from Letter from Admiral Henderson, dated 7th October, 1928

We were extending our dining room, it was formerly the kitchen, and had a stone floor. The floor was removed and the stones used to floor the Loggia which we built in extension of the dining room.

Under the stone floor we came across some bricks which looked like foundations, but on clearing the rubbish away we saw that the bricks formed part of walls which continued down underground. We finally unearthed a brick lined chamber about 7-ft. deep and 7-ft. square. It had been filled with earth and rubble, nothing else was found in it.

I asked James Hale if he could throw any light on the matter and he asked his old father who replied that he well remembered being told all about it by his granduncle.

His story was as follows :-

At about the end of the 18th century the then owner of this house was a squire who held a very respected position in the county, he was a J.P., a Churchwarden, a subscriber to the Hunt, in fact he was everything that a respectable country squire ought to be. It was not generally known that he was also a leading light in the smuggling fraternity.

One day the Excise Officers arrived and asked him to sign a warrant for searching the cottage at the bottom of Monkwood hill, as they had information that contraband was hidden there. The Squire was very certain indeed that there was contraband there, so as it was about noon he said to the officers that dinner was nearly ready and that they had better have a bite, after which he would sign their warrant and they could proceed with their search.

They were given an exceptionally good dinner and meanwhile the Squire sent his groom posthaste to the cottage to tell them to get rid of the stuff. The stuff was accordingly lowered to the bottom of a 200-ft. well so that by the time the officers got there, there was nothing to be seen but an innocent cottage with its domestic contents.

According to Mr. George Hale, the name of that Squire was Major Lavender, whose family tombstone is at the east end of the north transept of the church.

The brick chamber which we unearthed was the gallant Major's own receptacle for contraband, and the Excise Officers little knew that they were dining right on op of some of the stuff they had come to seize.

A Tale Of Smugglers

Amongst the interesting stories of Old Ropley told by Mrs. Maddock, I give extracts from the following in booklet form, of which one copy alone appears to remain in the village :-

Go with me in imagination to a small cottage in a pretty valley* sheltered by beautiful hills and covered in summer by verdant green and studded with fleecy flocks of sheep. Do not be surprised if we find the door of yonder cottage bolted, and every voice within hushed at the sound of our footsteps. I have often found it so, but we will knock gently at the door, and knock again, and it will be opened by an aged careworn woman, who will greet us with the smile of gratitude bursting through the tears of grief for sorrows quickly coming upon her daughter and her grandchildren.

*Monkwood, Ropley

The old woman will conduct us to a chamber where we shall see the mother of eight children, pale and emaciated, stretched upon a bed of languishing, hoping against hope that her life may yet be spared for the sake of her children. You will hear her earnestly ask to hear the Word of God read to her, and desire that she may be raised up in bed that she may hear it more distinctly. Then she will beg us to kneel down, and her children and aged mother to surround the bed. I think I can never forget the deeply affecting scenes I have witnessed in that cottage. The poor mother with touching affection and maternal concern would express her anxiety and particular wish that each of her children should have provided for them a change of raiment ; and as this was done by degrees so would she request that they should be shown to her. Sometimes she would have them put on her bed, and raise herself up to look at them. At another time she would beg them to be hung on the back of a chair at the foot of her bed that she might see them, and then have them neatly folded and put in a drawer. The tears would trickle down her pale cheeks as she carried her eye from child to child, as if she felt she had performed the last duty she would be permitted to do for them ere she died.

That these traces of her conduct may not be thought too highly wrought I ought to say that both she and her mother were far above the ordinary style of cottagers as respected their general manner of expressing themselves, as well as in the way of manifesting their feelings.

The question may now be asked : Had this poor dying woman no husband ? - Had these children no father ? Yes, but he was a smuggler - rarely to be seen by day, but by lamplight at all hours of the night might he be seen digging into the earth and burying his ill-gotten stores.

The master of our village school* occasionally visited this poor sick woman. Sunday was generally the day when he would go to read and pray with her. On one of these occasions her husband was at home, sitting by the bedside of his wife. As soon as he heard the steps of this good man upon the stairs he slunk into an inner room to avoid seeing him. The wife, half afraid of her husband's anger, pointed to the door. The good schoolmaster gently knocked and invited him to unite with them on that holy day in praying for his wife, to which at last he sullenly and reluctantly consented. He was a very hard-featured man, with a brow as if of brass, and a body of strong muscular power, but for this once his knee was bent, and as the good man prayed, a tear fell, the rugged hand was wiped across the brow, and his stony heart was softened. He arose, and slunk again into his hiding place in the inner room.

* William Faichen

The little remaining strength of this poor woman was evidently lessening, and in less than a week the last struggle was over. It was better for her to be "present with the Lord" than to continue here in the face of events which were to follow.

But a short time elapsed before the man and his eldest son, a boy of fourteen, were suspected of being guilty of sheep stealing. They were watched, and detected in the very act of bringing the sheep into the cot. A warrant was obtained, and the constable was immediately fetched. He did not go into the house at first, but walked round it, and looked in at the back window, through which he saw the son thrusting the skin of a sheep into the fire, and the slaughtered animal hanging up. He then burst open the door, snatched a part of the unconsumed skin from the fire, and seized the man and his son. They were committed to jail, stood their trial, and were sentenced to transportation for life. The son, from the consideration of his youthful age was, by the clemency of the judge, reprieved from perpetual banishment and limited to fourteen years of transportation. The rest of the children were sent to the Workhouse of a distant parish to which they belonged. Since that time I have entirely lost sight of them.

If to some of us it seems at times as if from this earth of ours

"Glory and loveliness have passed away,"

yet we are bound to confess that much that was harsh and cruel has also passed. And it is well to remember this.

As a child I can remember my father telling me of a man here who had just completed his term of imprisonment for sheep stealing. Of course by that time the law had become more lenient. I think this was the last instance of this particular crime in Ropley.

From "The History of Hampshire"

During the 18th century the practice of smuggling possessed attractions for many Hampshire people. After the lapse of many years, during which smuggling has practically been extinct, the tales and traditions of the smugglers of last century still survive in the south of the county and far into its interior. There are many traditions of smuggling adventures, hairbreadth escapes and the capture of contraband goods landed during the last century, with tales of caves, secret cellars beneath cottages, and stores of spirits, tobacco and other smuggled goods as far north as Ropley."

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