Saturday, February 20, 2010

Wild Card Weekend - Tea, Anyone?

Sarah Mallory joins us with a post about hijinks on the high seas!

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…..

This was obviously big business, so I started digging…..

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!

As I was reading all this, my brain was buzzing with ideas for my book. A trip to Rye and Romney Marsh gave me my setting: I stayed at the Mermaid Inn, a famous smugglers haunt, where the dark panelling and uneven floors create just the right atmosphere for adventure! I can just imagine our hero (or the smugglers) walking along this narrow lane in the dead of night.

Wicked Captain, Wayward Wife was a joy to write, so I hope you like it, too!

Sarah Mallory

Wicked Captain, Wayward Wife is published in the UK February 2010 (hardback) and April 2010 (Paperback)


  1. Ooh, I love Rye and Romney Marsh - can't wait for this one to come out. Think I'll pass on the tea though...

  2. Hi,

    Sounds like a fascinating storyline.

    Regards "Smouch" and what it entailed, pretty revolting!

    However infusion of Hawthorn leaves and berries tended to be brewed by the "poor" and even today it's a really refreshing tea. Not the least bit herbal, i.e, watery.

    Hawthorn tea looks and tastes much like quality Shrilankan (bet Ceylon blend).



  3. Thanks for the comments. Francine - I agree that ordinary leaves have been used for centuries, it's the idea of the added ingredients to make it look like Indian/China tea that is so revolting - and it certainly can't have tasted like real tea!