Going up in smoke

CORNWALL’S COAST WITH its numerous, sometimes almost inaccessible, coves is perfect for smuggling. It is not by chance that Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera is named “The Pirates of Penzance”, rather than, say, “The Pirates of Suffolk”.  When we visited Falmouth, a Cornish seaport, in May 2022, I noticed a souvenir of an era of smuggling, now long past.

Next to the old customs house (now a pub) on the Town Quay, the old harbour of Falmouth, there is a tall brick structure. On a square base, it is built in four sections, each one slenderer than the one beneath it. The tall object bears a plaque inscribed with an anchor framed by a shield and above it a double-headed eagle. Below these symbols are the words:

“King’s Pipe. Formerly used for the destruction of contraband tobacco.”

According to the website historicengland.org.uk, the King’s Pipe was likely to have been constructed in about 1814, when the customs house was built. The tall chimney stands on a base that contained a furnace that was accessible from the courtyard of the customs house. Overshadowing the town and its harbour, I imagine that many of the townsfolk were far from happy when they saw and smelled the tobacco smoke, which they would have enjoyed creating in their pipes, being emitted from the King’s Pipe.

The double-headed eagle on the plaque affixed to the former chimney interested me. Two major families in Cornwall use this mythical creature in their heraldry: the Godolphins and the Killigrews. It is most likely the latter to which the creature on the plaque refers because in the early 17th century (1613), Sir John Killigrew (1583-1633), helped create the port of Falmouth.

Although we had spent several pleasant days in Falmouth a few years ago, we did not spot the King’s Pipe on that visit. It only goes to show that revisiting places can enhance one’s enjoyment of, and interest in, them.