The Wiltshire Moonrakers

the swell of Roundway Hill, on the other - Pewsey - side of the A361, is the village of Bishop Cannings.

The view from here is - cosier. There's the feeling of being in a great bowl - in amongst these sturdy, red-brick homes.

Bishop Cannings has a story.

It seems the villagers were wont to dealing in illicit spirits - the alcoholic kind, not the witchy stuff. This was in the days when most of rural England seemed to be doing the same - smuggling in French brandy to the coves of Devon and Dorset, trundling it in farmers' carts past dim-witted Excisemen, hiding it in the most unlikely places before selling it to foppish aristos who served it to the local magistrate. We've all seen the films.

It seems the Smugglers of Bishops Cannings had hidden their barrels in the village pond.

(Why, for God's sake? Couldn't they find a haystack? Or a secret passage to the crypt of the church?)

So, they hid the barrels in the village pond. Then, by the light of a full, Westcountry moon, they set out to retrieve the contraband. At this point, the Excisemen turned up, wanting to know what they were up to at such an ungodly hour.

Thinking quickly, the smugglers played dumb.

"Arrr - we be raking for that girt big cheese"
The revenue men saw that they were looking at the reflection of the full moon, and burst out laughing. Dismissing the miscreants as thick-as-two-short-plank yokels, they left the villagers to their "cheese".

So, that's why Wiltshiremen are known as "Moonrakers".

And, if you believe that story.....

Mike Caswell of Wiltshire berates me for my cynicism:- "Thee bisn't givin'g uz a fayur crack on yur paige! Thick ztorey 'bowt moonrakers iz true!! Tain't no myth!!"

Well, quite. Who am I to argue with him. After all, he does run the Wiltshire Genealogy website - dedicated to Moonrakers, everywhere.

It turns out there's even some controversy about the location of this fabled pond. Bishops Cannings doesn't actually have one at the moment, so Urchfont (a village on the other side of Etchilhampton Hill) has claimed that the events took place there. (The Moonrakers were from Bishops Cannings, but they weren't in Bishops Cannings, y'see.)

Meanwhile, Devizes town council are planning to put up a plaque, claiming that a pond in the town, known as the "Crammer" is the Moonrakers' pond.

There'll be tears before bedtime. I'll warrant.

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