by Ellen Castelow
Between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries the wool produced from the English County of Wiltshire was known and prized all over Europe because of its superb quality.
Dutch and Flemish merchants had permanent headquarters in the Wiltshire town of Swindon, attracted there by the high profit obtained from the wool trade.
But there was a problem!
The merchant’s favourite tipple was Hollands Gin, but that carried a heavy import duty.
The solution for the Wiltshiremen seemed obvious, they would have to smuggle in the barrels of spirit and so avoid the import duty.
By the mid-sixteenth century they had established a smuggling operation that would run for more than 200 years. The barrels of spirit were landed in quiet coves on the Hampshire coast and brought up to Swindon by night.
The barrels were hidden during the day in church crypts or in village ponds. The green weed in the ponds concealed the barrels beautifully.
But one night it all went wrong.
The story is, that in either Bishop Cannings, or All Cannings (two villages reputed to be heavily involved in smuggling), the villagers were raking their kegs out of the village pond when they were surprised by a patrol of Excisemen.
The Wiltshire smugglers, with a flash of inspiration, pretended to be idiots, gibbering and grimacing at the Excisemen.
They pointed to the moon’s reflection in the pond and told the officials that they were trying to rake out a piece of the moon that had fallen from the sky.
They were so persuasive and acted their parts as ‘mental defectives’ so well that the Excisemen just laughed at this example of rustic simplicity and rode on.
But Wiltshiremen are called ‘Moonrakers’ to this day!