This part of the Suffolk coast has an intriguing and interesting
history. Both north and south of Sizewell have well documented
local histories with Dunwich being the largest port in Britain
during the 12th and 13th centuries and Aldeburgh being a port
since Roman times. Sizewell, on the other hand has had very little
written about it, though it was once renowned for the smuggling
activities that occurred on its beaches, especially during the
The Hadleigh Gang is a name that gets mentioned throughout
the areas local history books, and their smuggling operations
were enormous. The Vulcan Arms is said to date from those times,
though written documentation has still yet to confirm these rumours;
the earliest reference to the pub so far was from a census in
1844 listing the publican to be Mr Joseph Baxter. For more in-depth
accounts of the local history and the pubs history read on.
a den of smugglers
Though now a quiet village retreat, this certainly doesn’t reflect
the decidedly dodgy history of Sizewell and its immediate surroundings.
This area was once renowned for its trade in illicit goods, of
boats anchoring off the coast in the dead of night and their cargos
of contraband being off-loaded onto horse and cart and then taken
to be stashed in dens and tunnels dug under the soft sandy soils
of the Common that lay between Leiston and Sizewell. These excavations
were then covered with stout planks, and concealed by replacing
the turf together with pieces of gorse.
Among the most notorious of these smugglers was a group of men
known as the Hadleigh Gang, whose exploits during the mid 1700’s
included many a battle with the Dragoons that resulted in bloodshed
and death. With names like Old Blue Nose Fisk, they knew the treacherous
marshes of Sizewell like the back of their hands. The residents
of Sizewell, could , on occasion, see up to 100 carts gathered
on the beach and up to 300 horses such was the enormity of the
smugglers operations, their rewards being tea and spirits from
the clippers that sailed past this coast.
The year of 1745 was a particularly good year for the smugglers,
since the reserve cutters had been called away to strengthen the
fleet as it faced war with France and Spain. Under armed protection
of military proportions the Hadleigh gang made rich pickings:
May 5th – 40 horses loaded with brandy and tea;
May 20th – 70 horses loaded with tea;
June 16th – 80 horses loaded with tea followed by another 54
horses the next morning;
June 22/23rd – 300 half anchors of spirits carried off by 100
25th June 100 horses loaded with spirits.. and the list goes
The Hadleigh gang didn’t have it all their own way though, for
a hoard of tea stored in a cottage at the nearby village of Semer
was discovered by Dragoons, resulting in a pitched battle in which
one soldier was killed and men on both sides were injured.
In 1816, the smuggling was brought under control when a coastal
blockade was established and troops from ships patrolling the
coast were set ashore to patrol the beach. This was finally ended
in 1831 with the establishment of the Preventive men and the coastguard.
Who knows what hidden booty may still lay buried beneath the sandy
soils of Leiston common, or what secret tunnels may link various
hideouts. Just beware that you don’t fall into one!
The Vulcan Arms
The name of the Vulcan Arms bears no relation with the 60’s Sci-Fi
series featuring Kirk, Spock and Scotty. Its name is derived from
the old trade of ironworking that has been practised in Leiston
since the middle ages. Vulcan was the Roman God of fire and patron
of metal workers not some pointy eared alien who sped around the
universe declaring things to be logical. It is somewhat uncanny
that today Sizewell is dominated by a nuclear power station, where
energy is produced from the metal Uranium, thus fire and metal
and Vulcan are still together.
To date, the oldest records found about the pub date back to
1844, when a Mr Joseph Baxter was in charge, though it is believed
that an inn has stood on this site as far back as the middle ages
when it would almost certainly have been a drinking hole for the
smugglers as mentioned above.
Adnams took on the pub at the start of the century and a plaque
on the bar wall gives a listing of all the landlords up until
it was put on the market in 1997. There are many local stories
of drunkenness and wild behaviour from the contractors who built
Sizewell B and drank during the evenings at the Vulcan Arms. Indeed,
the timbers that divide the pubs interior are said to have come
from the construction of the power station.
Unfortunately the pub got stuck with a bad reputation and fell
short of custom once the contractors had left. So since 1997 it
has been a hard struggle to get the pub into the attraction that
it has become today.
Research is currently being undertaken to ascertain further historical
information about the building. ...and yes, the pub is haunted
– by a young lady dressed in black. Who she is, no-one knows,
though she has been reported by a customer who followed her into
the gents toilet, where she promptly disappeared – he refused
to use the loo after the experience. More recently she appeared
to a guest in the lounge upstairs.
If you know more...
If you have any more information relating to the history of the
Vulcan Arms or the local history of Sizewell then e-mail us today