Sunday, 22 June 2008

Graham's History Lesson #1 ~ The Moonrakers

One of the many things take makes the British Isles such a special place, is that it is stooped in so much history. So I have decided to add another prong to my substantial lack of talent and try my hand at explaining a little of this history to you, as I go on my travels. I apologise in!

Today's history lesson came to my mind whilst I was contemplating a suitable photograph for this months "Moon" photo challenge. It takes us back around 500 years and is based in my very own county of Wiltshire.

Before I go any further, I would like to formally introduce you to Wiltshire, by showing you where it is situated. The main image on the map below is the United Kingdom and the smaller map on the top right hand corner highlights the county of Wiltshire.

The Moonrakers

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 (my home town), attracted there by the high profit obtained from the wool trade.

But there was a problem!

The merchants had a reputation of being rather partial to a regular drink of Brandy and Holland's Gin, but this came with a high duty tax. The local folk came up with a solution and began to smuggle the barrels of spirit into the county to avoid paying 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 and hidden within church crypts, fields and cellars throughout the surrounding villages.

But one night it all went wrong. A group of smugglers were forced to hide their loot in a pond, the Crammer, when they were tipped off that the Revenue men were waiting in ambush. They returned on the night of a full moon to the Crammer with rakes. This again attracted the attention of the Revenue men. When asked what they were about they pretended that they were raking a cheese, the moons reflection, from the water. No doubt the Revenue men walked away shaking their heads at the stupidity of the ‘simple’ Wiltshire folk leaving them to recover their contraband at their leisure.

This legend has become firmly embedded in the folklore of Wiltshire and the natives of Wiltshire were known. The name "Moonrakers" has spread throughout Wiltshire with pubs, clubs, hotels and even learned societies named after them.

Below is a photograph that I took this afternoon, of the plaque on the bank of the Crammer pond.

The plaque reads:


The origin of the Crammer is not known and neither is its name, which was probably derived from Cranmere. Meaning Crane Pond. However it has often been associated with the famous Wiltshire Moonraker legend, bestowing this nickmane on the county's inhabitants.

The story goes that some Wiltshire smugglers who had concealed kegs of brandy in the pond were observed by excise men in the moonlight in the act of trying to retrieve the kegs. The moon was reflected on the water and the smugglers said they were trying to rake out "Thik gurt yaller cheese." Convulsed with laughter, the excise men rode on. While the smugglers chortled, "We were too vly for they. There baint no vlies on we."

The pond is owned by Devizes Town Council.

This plaque was the gift of Mr John Drake, Mayor of Devizes in 1972/73. Who was made an honorary freeman of the town in March 1996."

You may be familiar with another usage of the term "Moonraker". Moonraker was the third novel by the British author Ian Flemming, based on the fictional British Secret Service agent Commander James Bond (007). Set completely in England, it follows Bond's mission to stop an industrialist Hugo Drax from destroying London with a nuclear weapon. The novel's name was used in 1979 for the eleventh official film and the fourth to star Roger Moore as James Bond. However, the film was significantly modified so as to include outer space.

It poses no surprise that Ian Flemming used the term "Moonraker" in his work, as he lived and died in the village of Sevenhampton, just outside my hometown of Swindon.

And here endith my history lesson.

Best wishes

Graham xx


pussreboots said...

I loved your history lesson. I had never heard of the origin of the term "Moonraker" beyond of course the Fleming novel.

Zhu said...

I like the Mao's quotation on the sidebar, just noticed it ;-)

English history is fascinating. I had to study it when I researched the Chinese opium war and the beginning of colonization.

Thanks for the lesson!

I'm posting my photohunt entry tomorrow... ;)

Ineke said...

Welcome back and belated happy birthday!

come and join us in our Funny Caption Competition if you please!

Daszzle said...

I like it, very nice Graham.

By the way, I'm so happy we're facebook friends now. You, dear friend, have joined a very elite and small group of people that know both my blogging identity and true identity. Very big deal sir. Now guard it like a government secret ;). haha

Liss said...

The most ridiculous lies are always the best, good to see that time does not change some things. The moon has not been my friend this month and no amount of stalking it has made it want to make a presence in the sky. But like any good stalker I still got a photo of it. You will just have to wait and see how, when I post.

Max said...

Hey Graham,

I absolutely loved the history lesson!
I laughed at the "Moonraker" legend, Revenue men have been fooled for a long time now, eh? LOL...

Thanks for having shared this with us, darling!


Ingrid said...

Thanks for sharing that bit of history. When I was a kid I loved the movie Moonraker and never quite understood where the title came from.

RainforestRobin said...

What a delightful history lesson! I chuckled over this. If I'd been taught history like this in school, I'd never have forgotten it. Thank God for people like you or I'd be history-less because I do not remember ANY history from school. History starts for me when I became aware of LIFE in the rainforest and eventually the world around me! LOL

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