Recording: Privateers, the press gang and service in the Sea Fencibles: the pressures on Blakeney and Cley’s seafarers c.1800

Margaret Bird

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We are all too familiar with the natural hazards facing the merchant fleet in the days of sail when storms and stranding claimed their lives. Records in the National Archives provide a detailed picture of further pressures facing not only the seamen but the customs officers based in the Norfolk ports. Capture by enemy privateers or by the press gang at home posed a constant threat.

The Sea Fencibles, who guarded the creeks and estuaries, have gone almost unnoticed by historians. Yet Blakeney, Cley and other Norfolk coastal villages had thousands of men in this new ‘Home Guard’ force in the French wars 1793-1815. Trained weekly by serving officers in the Royal Navy, many of great distinction, these volunteers deserve to be better known.