Branscombe by the sea

Fishermen and farmers

Potato farming on cliff-side plots known as ‘plats’ was one of the things that Branscombe was well-known for in the 19th century. Cliff farming was originally developed to keep the local fisherman occupied within sight of the water when fishing off the coast of Branscombe was too dangerous.

Smugglers and Branscombe

Branscombe was famous for its smugglers who were skilled in landing smuggled goods and hiding them in a unique way. A sloping tunnel was dug leading to the centre of a field with its end hollowed out into a circular pit, some 12 feet under ground. The entrance to this chamber was hidden using earth and turf. Farmers continue to uncover these forgotten storage holes to this day. Smuggling continued in Branscombe until the 1850s and was such a problem that five coastguard cottages were set up to stop this activity in the 19th century.

Jack Rattenbury

The famous smuggler Jack Rattenbury led a Branscombe gang of smugglers. Born in 1778 and finding the life of a fisherman too dull, Rattenbury became a smuggler aged just 15. He rose to fame after publishing Memoirs of a Smuggler, a dramatic retelling of his adventures and escapes from the navy, privateers and customs officers.Information and images used here with the kind permission of Richard Platt. You can find out more the Branscombe smugglers and Jack Rattenbury by visiting Richard Platt’s website.


Shipping disaster

In January 2007, after being damaged in a storm, the MSC Napoli, a 62,000 ton cargo ship, was deliberately beached in Lyme Bay, off Branscombe. Over the next two years the spotlight was on this beached vessel and the complex salvage operation.