Sam Taylor discovers that some girls are determined to marry a pirate
In the 18th century, Hastings was a smugglers' paradise. The shingle foreshore allowed for easy beaching of their booty-laden boats under the cover of darkness and with minimum intervention from the customs officers, who could be relied on to swing their oil lamp in the other direction. The gangs were ruthless, making the current crop of amusement-arcade hoodies look like panto actors. I doubt the infamous 'Ruxey's Crew' would have needed weapon dogs.
The Ruxey's would board ships in the Channel under the pretence of doing legitimate business. Once on board they would lock up the crew, kill anyone who resisted, remove the cargo and scupper the boat with all hands. At the time, this bloodthirsty behaviour was indirectly encouraged by the government, from whom it was possible to buy a licence permitting attacks on foreign vessels – in essence, the basis of privateering.
But piracy is a short-term career choice. Their drunken bragging about how a Dutch captain had wriggled when they chopped him down the back with an axe caused public outrage among the town's burghers. A near riot ensued when they tried to have them arrested, and eventually 200 dragoons were sent in to restore order. The gang were tried in London (no local jury dared convict), and four of the crew were hanged at Execution Dock.
Despite their fall from grace, these godless creatures continue to occupy a sentimental corner of the Hastings consciousness – and this summer, 14,231 residents crammed on to the beach dressed as pirates to regain the world record for, um, pirates on a beach. It was a matter of honour; last year, the pirates of Penzance had mustered 8,734 and stolen the title off their rivals.
But the prospect of regaining back the title wasn't enough for one local girl. What Emma Drury really wanted was to marry a pirate, and her fiancé Jim Ward was happy to oblige. So, it seems, were the deputy superintendent registrar, the deputy registrar and the attending staff at the town hall, who turned up for the ceremony in full pirate gear. And should anyone be in any doubt that this is the pirate capital of the world, the skull and crossbones was proudly flown from the town hall flagpole. Not a good sign for house prices.
Next week: Is it too early for a new relationship?
Picture: Tony Coombes
Daily tip from the lady archive
“A GRACEFUL walk is a great asset, for sometimes it can create an illusion of beauty where little exists.”The Lady. Pleasant Exercises for Grace. 2nd April 1931