Saturday, February 20, 2010
Wild Card Weekend - Tea, Anyone?
When we read historical novels involving smugglers we think of dashing, heroic free-traders bringing ashore kegs of brandy and thwarting the dastardly Revenue Men. While this is a lovely image, and probably true in some cases, there was a much more sinister side to the trade as I discovered when I was researching for my latest novel, Wayward Captain, Wicked Wife.
There was a roaring trade in something intriguingly called “smouch” in the 1780’s. I first came across the term in the Bath Chronicle, a single item for 9th May 1782. It reads:-
"smouch" manufacture in Westbury - Excise officers seized 793 lbs at mill, house & bakehouse occupd by Daniel Tanner (giving him £50/week). (Smouch consisted of bran mixed with animal dung & dyed). Penalty £5 per lb…..
During the late eighteenth century the British government pushed up the tax on tea so much that it was too expensive for most people, so the trade in smuggled tea from the Continent exploded and of course there were unscrupulous gangs who exploited this by making “English tea” or “smouch”. This was a combination of ingredients such as ash and blackthorn leaves mixed with sheep’s dung and “chamber lye” (the contents of the chamber pot!) and even green vitriol (Ferrous sulphate).
Apparently when this was baked and ground up it resembled the black Bohea tea that was so fashionable. I can’t think that it tasted anything like tea, though!
Wicked Captain, Wayward Wife was a joy to write, so I hope you like it, too!
Wicked Captain, Wayward Wife is published in the UK February 2010 (hardback) and April 2010 (Paperback)