Back to History, Theories & Facts

Back to Shelvey Homepage

Were the Shelveys of Kent involved in smuggling Alcohol?

Does the Name Shelvey mean rocky or sandy part ot a harbour or sea?

Below is a theory that David Robert Shelvey (from Tacoma, WA, USA) has regarding where the name Shelvey might originate. It's an interesting smuggling story too.

I have added some thoughts below this, and have included an 1877 map so you can see the area being discussed...


From an email by David Robert Shelvey....

(Displayed here with Davids permission. This is only a theory, all comments welcome.)

My dad tells me he thinks he heard Shelvey was a fisherman term of some sort. The old English word Shelv'y refers to the rocky/sandy part of the harbour that was dangerous to boats. Fishermen would avoid this area and as we read in the Bible in Jude since we were children going to church; v12 "These are hidden rocks [of the water] in your spiritual love feasts..." and v13 "Wild waves of the sea tossing refuse ashore of the shameful deeds of themselves..." The word Shelvey may be a term that means, "one should be smart enough to avoid danger when in danger" or in a religious sense, "protected by God when in danger." If you read the next story and think of what I just said I think my dad just told me where the word "shelvey" comes from. I know what Jude wrote about describes what happens when a boat goes into a shelv'y but I think it means a person that is smart enough and is cautious to avoid danger when in danger. This would account of Shelvey for a first, middle, and last name. Either parent thought it was a cool word or has some meaning to it. I think both.

Before you read the next paragraph first go to http://www.digiserve.com/peter/d_boat.htm My dad has never seen this page as I have just found it. Knowledge by memory is important (any court would uphold memory over written notes).

There was a duty tax placed on rum and spirits in the 1700s to the 1900s in Kent, England. So the Shelveys, being fishermen (ha), had to supply their pubs. Dad said they owned a fishing fleet of around 20 boats. They'd go out fishing and unload their nets while one or two ships headed to France and buy the rum and spirits. Then leave in the evening when it was foggy and dark and be back in Kent after about five hours with the other boats. The rowman coming ashore would go through the shelv'y to get to shore. Only the skilled would make it. They would then unload barrels of spirits into row boats and bring them up to the shore and then go back to the fleet and get some baskets of fish from the other boats and then the fleet would head into the harbour and unload the fish. Customs would watch them at the harbour unloading nothing but baskets of fish and from the longest time never caught on. The Shelveys made a lot of money doing this. At the seashore more Shelvey's were waiting on the beach and would take the barrels of spirits through tunnels to a pub. There are many tunnels in the area and rumor is one went up a pub a Shelvey owned.

This tunnel leads up to the Inn where they would sell it at the pub or distribute it to the other pubs owned by Shelveys. Like going to an Indian Reservation here in America and buying cigarettes for $3 a pack rather then $4.50. Dad says one day in about mid 1800s customs got tipped off about this a met them on the beach and that's why they dispersed as if they were caught they would be killed. Chris Shelvey mentions that he knows Shelveys were also brick makers. This might (totally on assumption) be how they got the spirits on the road. Mr. Shelvey and his sons would show up with his brick loaded trailer and have a pint or two while Uncle is around back loading a few barrels in the middle and head off to build houses, making a few stops on the way. Dad said this went on for about 100 years before they got caught and wanted them to pay a lot of restitution for avoiding the monarchy and their taxes. If they didn't reuse the barrels to get rid of them they would fill them with dirt and stick them out front of the pub and put flowers in them.

So it might be the people rowing their boats to shore was threw this dangerous seashore, knowing that boat could sink with one wrong turn, became known as shelveys. Customs didn't even dream that any boat would make it to shore in this area because of how dangerous it was. The only way we can verify this is find out if there is an area in Deal. My dad is telling me he thinks granddad mentioned this was going on in Northbourne. Now my dad hasn't seen Chris' family tree yet so what he is telling me is from memory and it all seems to be right as James was born in Northbourne and my dad doesn't know about James. He doesn't know who Daniel Williams father was or would know his birthplace. So if there is a place in Northbourne that has a shore that is dangerous I'd like to know. More information about this is at http://www.digiserve.com/peter/smug.htm. Mind you my dad hasn't seen or read this so either he heard about smuggling elsewhere and making this all up or granddad was telling him some really big fishing stories (20lb. bass and the Loch Ness Monster).


Additional notes by Rob Shelvey.

The above story sounds very feasible to me. The notorious Goodwin Sands lies just off the coast of Deal & Sandwich. This is an extremely dangerous area for shipping. The old English translation of Shelv'y meaning rock/sandy part of the harbour may perhaps mean just rocky or sandy stretch in the sea? This may then describe the Goodwin Sands, which is a 10 mile stretch of shifting sand about 6 miles from the coast. It is partly exposed during low tide, and many ships have wrecked there. I did a search for "Old English meaning shelv" on google.com and it took me to site about the name Shelvock, this site breaks down the name as Shelv coming from the Old English 'scelf' meaning shelf of level ground, or flat topped hill, and the ock part in this name means Oak. Again I guess a sandbank like the Goodwin Sands could be described as a shelf?

I have lived in South East Kent for all my life and I'm aware of the smuggling that went on in this area. There are many tunnels, which are known to have been used for this, and I will try and dig up some information on exactly where they are.

People currently living in England, especially in South East England will know that alcohol smuggling from France to the UK still goes on today although this is through the use of driving your car or van over the channel and filling it up with booze, the bizarre duty rules today allow you to bring back almost unlimited amounts of alcohol as long as you can prove it's for personal consumption. That is difficult to prove either way so some is incorrectly confiscated when it should have been let through for use at a party or other gathering and others are let through incorrectly to be sold on the black market throughout Kent and the rest of England. It must be a tough job being a customs officer with these "grey" rules ;-)

Below is a map from 1877 Which Shows the land from Northbourne to the coast at Deal.

This is a distance of about 2.5 miles.

Click image below for a larger image (It's huge)

 

Image produced from the www.old-maps.co.uk service with permission of Landmark Information Group Ltd. and Ordnance Survey

Copyright Landmark Information Group Ltd and Crown Copyright 2001. All rights reserved.

Back to History, Theories & Facts

Back to Shelvey Homepage