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Robin Hood's Bay

Looking up hill at Robin Hood's Bay. What does this little town on the Yorkshire coast tell us about today's arguments over free trade? See below...


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A Personal Note (Archive)

July 24, 2016

During our summer holiday we visited Robin Hood's Bay. The entire town, tumbling down a steep Yorkshire cliff, was once an eighteenth century smuggling machine. To avoid tariffs, goods would be unloaded at night in the bay, either to be clandestinely stored in wall cavities or under floorboards, or carried via a hidden route through the houses and narrow lanes to the clifftop, where carts waited to move them away to market. The rewards were considerable, as would be expected when all wealth ultimately comes from trade. The risks, however, were great. Smuggling was a crime entirely created by governments, for which governments reserved their severest punishments.

Today Robin Hood's Bay is a charming tourist destination and smuggling is not what it was. This is because, until recently, the world has generally supported an international trading system which does not use protective tariffs. A survey of American economists conducted by Robert Whaples in 2006 found that 87.5% believed the general benefits to society of free trade considerably outweighed local disadvantages. The overwhelming opinion of professional economists is that society would have benefited if the people of Robin Hood's Bay had been allowed to carry on their business in peace.

There are dark echoes of the past in the way today's populist politicians are calling for protective economic policies. This is part of a general trend of people wanting to retreat behind the apparent security of various borders. Politicians who support the rational idea of free trade, basing their support on the advice of the world's leading economists, are vilified.  Just as smugglers of Robin Hood's Bay were deemed criminals, one of Hilary Clinton's "crimes" as defined by the recent Republican convention, is her past advocacy of the North American Free Trade Agreement which established open markets in 1994.  Personally I think Robin Hood's Bay works better as a tourist destination that a smuggling operation.  It is somewhere to remember the bad old days, and learn the lessons of history. 

Best wishes


The InfoBritain view of history (with thanks to The Simpsons)


Historical news for August

Vivien Leigh's costume designer lived at Nymans in Sussex, now a National Trust property. To celebrate this link with one of cinema's most glamorous actresses, Nymans is staging a major exhibition dedicated to Vivien Leigh, using over one hundred items loaned from the Victoria and Albert Museum. The exhibition runs 1st June - 4th September. For more information go to

This year is the 300th anniversary of the birth of landscape gardener Capability Brown. The National Trust is celebrating this with events at many of its properties across the country. For more information go to


Anniversaries for August

1st August 1971: James Irwin and David Scott of Apollo 15 during an expedition aboard their lunar rover, discover the "Genesis Rock", thought to be 4500 million years old, dating back to the time when the moon itself was formed.

10th August 2003: Britain's highest temperature - 38.5 degrees - is recorded at Faversham, Kent.

12th August 1786: Captain Francis Light founds the British colony of Penang. This marks the beginning of British involvement in the government of Malaya, which would not end until 1957.

16th August 1819: A public demonstration is held at St Peter's Field, Manchester to demand reform of parliamentary representation. The Manchester and Salford Yeomanry Cavalry charges into the crowd, killing 15 peope and injuring between 400 - 700 others.

27th August 1883: The eruption of Krakatoa is witnessed by a naval engineer on a nearby ship. He writes in his journal:

"Suddenly we saw a gigantic wave of prodigious height advancing from the sea-shore with considerable speed....After a moment, full of anguish, we were lifted up with a dizzy rapidity. The ship made a formidable leap and immediately afterwards we felt as though we had plunged into the abyss... 

Like a high mountain the monstrous wave precipitated its journey towards the land...Before our eyes this terrifying upheaval of the sea in a sweeping transit consumed in one instant the ruin of the town. The lighthouse fell in one piece and all the houses of the town were swept away in one blow like a castle of cards. All was finished. There, where a few moments ago lived the town of Telok Betong, was nothing but the open sea."

31st August 1994: The IRA announce a complete suspension of all operations after 25 years of conflict. British prime minister John Major says "We are beyond the beginning but we are not yet in sight of the end." The IRA would not announce the end of its armed campaign until July 2005.


A preview of my novel - about a girl who discovers that surprisingly she can't find her way to the sort of secret world found in story books. So she searches for an alternative.


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