Reverend William Gilpin describing Leap (Lepe) in 1790s

Reverend William Gilpin 1724 to 1804

Reverend William Gilpin was an artist, a headmaster and an author. He developed and wrote about his ideas on the ‘picturesque’ in relation to landscapes in a popular 1768 Essay on Prints as “that kind of beauty which is agreeable in a picture”. He travelled extensively drawing and creating watercolours and writing notes about the landscapes he visited which were subsequently made into etchings by his nephew and which were printed alongside his written observations.

He moved to the New Forest and became the vicar of Boldre c.1777. In 1791 the following book was published, there are several copies at the Christopher Tower reference library in the New Forest Heritage Centre, Lyndhurst.

Remarks On Forest Scenery, And Other Woodland Views : (Relative Chiefly To Picturesque Beauty) Illustrated By The Scenes Of New-Forest In Hampshire; In Three Books. Vol. 2

The following is an extract on his observations of Lepe and nearby area from the book:

To an injudicious person, or one who delights in temples, and Chinese bridges, very little would appear executed in the scenes I have described at Exbury. There is scarce a gravel-walk made: no pavilion raised; nor even a white-seat fixed. And yet in fact, Page  188 more is done, than if all these decorations, and a hundred others, had been added, unaccompanied with what has been done. The greatest difficulty of all is surmounted—that of laying out a judicious plan. The rest, tho the most ostensible, because the most expensive, is only a little mechanical fi∣nishing.

From these pleasing scenes we pursued our journey through part of the beautiful ride we have just described to Leap, along lanes close on the left, but opening to the right in various places, to the river, which assumes a magnificent form. Needsore-point makes here an appearance very different from what it made when we navigated the mouth of Beaulieu-river*. It appears now from the higher grounds, when the tide is low, to run at least a league into the sea; flat, unadorned, and skirted with drifted sand; making a singular feature in all these views; and the more so, as every part of the ground in it’s Page  189 neighbourhood is woody, bold, and prominent. This peninsula, of which Needsore point is the termination, belongs to the manor of Beaulieu. It contains some good land; consisting chiefly of pasturage; and the whole of it is let out in a single farm.

In this remote part, it is supposed, somewhere near Exbury, the Dauphin, after his fruitless expedition to England, embarked privately on the death of king John, for France; burning the country behind him as he fled. His embarkation, from so obscure a place, shews, in a strong light, how much his hopes were humbled.

At Leap we met the sea, where the coast of the isle of Wight, as far as to Spithead on the left, makes nearly the same unpicturesque appearance, which it does from the other shores of the forest. It extends into length, and exhibits neither grandeur, nor variety. When it is seen, as we saw it from Mr. Mitford’s, broken into parts, as it should Page  190 always be, when seen to picturesque advantage*, it afforded several beautiful distances. But here, when the whole coast was displayed at once, it lost it’s picturesque form.— Near Leap however we had one very beautiful coast-view. A rising copse on the left, adorned with a road winding through it, makes a good fore-ground. From thence a promontory, in the second distance, with an easy, sweeping shore, shoots into the sea; and is opposed, on the opposite side, by a point of the island, leaving a proper proportion of water to occupy the middle space.

Leap is one of the port-towns of the forest: and as it lies opposite to Cowes, it is the common place of embarkation, in these parts, to the island. It consists of about half a dozen houses: and shelters perhaps as many fishing-boats. All the coast indeed from St. Helen’s to the Needles, and around the island is in peaceable times, a scene of fishing. In the whiting-season especially, fleets of twenty or thirty boats are often seen lying at anchor on the banks; or a little out at sea.

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Page  191Fowling too is practised, on this coast, as much as fishing. Numerous flocks of wild-fowl frequent it, in the winter; widgeons, geese, and ducks: and in the beginning of the season especially, as they bear a price in the country, they of course attract the notice of the fowler. As the coast between Hampshire and the isle of Wight is a peculiar species of coast, consisting, when the tide ebbs, of vast muddy flats, covered with green sea-weed, it gives the fowler an opportunity of practising arts perhaps practised no where else.

Fowling and fishing, indeed on this coast, are commonly the employments of the same person. He who in summer, with his line, or his net, plies the shores, when they are overflowed by the tide; in winter, with his gun, as evening draws on, runs up, in his boat, among the little creeks, and crannies, which the tide leaves in the mud-lands; and there lies in patient expectation of his prey.

Sea-fowl commonly feed by night, when in all their multitudes they come down to graze on the savannahs of the shore. As the sonorous cloud advances, (for their noise in the air resembles a pack of hounds in full cry) the attentive fowler listens, which way they bend Page  192 their course. Perhaps he has the mortification to hear them alight at too great a distance for his gun (tho of the longest barrel) to reach them. And if he cannot edge his boat a little round some winding creek, which it is not always in his power to do, he despairs of success that night.—Perhaps however he is more fortunate, and has the satisfaction to hear the airy noise approach nearer; till at length, the host settles on some plain, on the edge of which his little boat lies moored. He now, as silently as possible, primes both his pieces anew, (for he is generally double-armed) and listens with all his attention. It is so dark that he can take no aim: for if he could see the birds, they also could see him; and being shy, and timorous in a great degree, would seek some other pasture. Though they march with music, they feed in silence. Some indistinct noises however, if the night be still, issue from so large a host. He directs his piece therefore, as well as he can, towards the sound; gives his fire at a venture; and instantly catching up his other gun, gives a second discharge, where he supposes the flock to rise on the wing.—His gains for the night are now decided; and he has only to gather his harvest. Page  193 He immediately puts on his mud-pattens, ignorant yet of his success, and goes groping about in the dark, happy if he have a little star-light, in quest of his booty, picking up perhaps a dozen, and perhaps not one.—So hardly does the poor fowler earn a few shillings; exposed, in an open boat, during a solitary winter-night, to the weather as it comes, rain, hail, or snow, on a bleak coast, a league perhaps from the beach, and often in danger, without great care, of being fixed in the mud; where he would become an inevitable prey to the returning tide. I have heard one of these poor fellows say, he never takes a dog with him on these expeditions, because no dog could bear the cold, which he is obliged to suffer.—After all, perhaps others enjoy more from his labours, than he himself does; for it often happens, that the tide, next day, throws, on different parts of the shore, many of the birds, which he had killed, but could not find in the night.

I have heard of an unhappy fowler, whom this hazardous occupation led into a case of Page  194 still greater distress. In the day time too it happened, which shews the double danger of such expeditions in the night.—Mounted on his mud-pattens, he was traversing one of these mudland-plains in quest of ducks; and being intent only on his game, he suddenly found the waters, which had been brought forward with uncommon rapidity by some peculiar circumstance of tide, and current, had made an alarming progress around him. Incumbered as his feet were, he could not exert much expedition; but to whatever part he ran, he found himself compleatly invested by the tide. In this uncomfortable situation, a thought struck him, as the only hope of safety. He retired to that part of the plain, which seemed the highest from it’s being yet uncovered by water; and striking the barrel of his gun, (which for the purpose of shooting wild-fowl was very long) deep into the mud, he resolved to hold fast by it, as a support, as well as a security against the waves; and to wait the ebbing of the tide. A common tide, he had reason to believe, would not, in that place, ave reached above his middle: but as this was a spring-tide, and brought in with so strong a current, he durst hardly expect so Page  195 favourable a conclusion.—In the mean time, the water making a rapid advance, had now reached him. It covered the ground, on which he stood—it rippled over his feet—it gained his knees—his waist—button after button was swallowed up—till at length it advanced over his very shoulders. With a palpitating heart, he gave himself up for lost. Still however he held fast by his anchor. His eye was eagerly in search of some boat, which might accidentally take it’s course that way: but none appeared. A solitary head, floating on the water, and that sometimes covered by a wave, was no object to be descried from the shore, at the distance of half a league: nor could he exert any sounds of distress, that could be heard so far.—While he was thus making up his mind, as the exigence would allow, to the terrors of sudden destruction, his attention was called to a new object. He thought he saw the uppermost button of his coat begin to appear. No mariner, floating on a wreck, could behold a cape at sea, with greater transport, than he did the uppermost button of his coat. But the fluctuation of the water was such, and the turn of the tide so slow, that it was yet some time before he durst venture to Page  196 assure himself, that the button was fairly above the level of the flood. At length however a second button appearing at intervals, his sensations may rather be conceived, than described; and his joy gave him spirits and resolution, to support his uneasy situation four or five hours longer, till the waters had fully retired.

A little beyond Leap we were interrupted by a creek, which, when the tide flows high, runs considerably into the land, and forms a large piece of water. At all times it is an extensive marsh. It’s borders are edged with rushes, and sedges, which grow profusely also on various, little rough islands on it’s surface. Here the wild-duck, and the widgeon find many a delightful cover; amidst which they breed, and rear their young, in great abundance.

Near this part of the coast stands Lutterel’s tower; built as the station of a view: but as it is intended for a habitable house likewise, the offices, which it could not contain, Page  197 are constructed of canvas around it. It is finished in the highest stile of expence; and if it were not for the oddness, and singularity of the conception, and contrivance, it is not intirely destitute of some kind of taste. But the building is so whimsical, and the end so inadequate to the expence, that we considered it, on the whole, as a glaring contrast to those pleasing scenes, we had just examined at Exbury; in which true taste had furnished us with a delightful entertainment at a trifling expence*.

The view, which this tower commands over the circumjacent country, is very extensive; but it’s sea-view is most admired, stretching from the bay of Southampton to Portsmouth—form thence to St. Helen’s— and on the other side, all along the range of the isle of Wight, and beyond the Needles to the ocean. The whole together forms the appearance of a magnificent bay; of which Spithead, and St. Helen’s, (where there is commonly a fleet at anchor) make the central part.

Page  198But this view, like the other extensive views we have seen, is by no means picturesque. It might have been supposed, that the isle of Wight (on surveying it’s appearance in a map) would have made such an angle at Cowes-point, which is nearly opposite to this tower, as would have thrown the eastern part of the island into better perspective, than the western assumes from any part of the Hampshire coast. And so indeed in some degree it does. But the eye is at too great a distance to get much advantage from this circumstance. If the spectator were carried nearer Cowes, the coast towards St. Helen’s might then fall away in good perspective. But at this distance all is sea; the coast is a mere thread; and the whole view together is without proportion.

And yet it is not merely the disproportion between land and water, which disqualifies a view of this kind in a picturesque light. A picturesque view may consist intirely of water.—Nor is it distance, which disqualifies it. The most remote distances are happily introduced on canvas. But what chiefly disqualifies it, is the want of fore-ground to balance this vast expanse of distance. Page  199 Unless distances and fore-grounds are in some degree, balanced, no composition can be good. Fore-grounds are essential to landscape: distances are not.

A picturesque view, as was observed, may consist chiefly, indeed intirely, of water: but then, it is supposed, that, as there cannot be a natural fore-ground, an artificial one must be obtained—a group of ships—a few boats with figures—a light-house—or something, that will make a balance between near and distant objects. Such were the sea-pieces of Vandervelt; in which vessels of some kind were always introduced to make an artificial fore-ground. We sometimes indeed meet with amusing views, such as that celebrated one at Hack-fall in Yorkshire*, where there is a gradual proportion among the different parts of the retiring landscape: we can scarce distinguish where the fore-grounds end, and where the distance begins: yet still there are objects nearer the eye, which, in a degree set off the retiring parts, tho they may not be fully proportioned to them. But the most Page  200 advanced parts of water cannot form a fore-ground, if I may so speak. It wants, on it’s nearest parts, that variety of objects, which receiving strong impressions of light, and shade, are necessary to give it consequence, and strength. It turns all into distance. Such is the view before us over the channel, and along the shores of the isle of Wight. To the imagination it is the simple idea of grandeur: to the eye, a mere exhibition of distance.

Besides, there is not only a want of natural proportion and balance between the fore-ground, and the offskip; but a fore-ground here could not even artificially be obtained, because of the loftiness of the point. Take the same view from a lower stand; from the level of the sea for instance, or a little higher, where you may sta

tion a group of ships, the masts and sails of which rise above the horizon; and by thus giving the view a proper, and proportioned fore-ground, you may turn it into one of Vandervelt’s compositions, and give it picturesque beauty.

But tho the view before us is not picturesque; it is certainly, as we observed of Page  [unnumbered]


Page  201those other views over the island*, in a great degree, amusing. The whole area, constantly overspread with vessels of various kinds, is a perpetual moving scene: while the naked eye discovers, in the distance, a thousand objects; and through a telescope a thousand more. Tho the telescopic pleasures of the eye are very little allied to the pleasures of the painter, they still assist the amusement.— The cliff, on which this tower stands, is about forty or fifty feet high; and is formed into a terrace, which runs a considerable way along the beach.

About a mile from this whimsical building stands Calshot-castle; situated like the castle of Hurst, on a tongue of land shooting into the sea. Calshot is another of those ancient coast-castles, which Henry VIII built, out of the spoils of the abbeys. It was originally intended as a safeguard to the bay of Southampton.—The views here are of the same nature as those at Lutterel’s tower.


Stone Point Battery WWI

Extract from the New Forest Magazine published in July 1916 details regiments RA, RGA and 3rd Hampshire Regiment.

Posted at Stone Point/Lepe

Transcribed newspaper reports of Smuggling at Lepe and Stanswood

1821 03 Dec HT BNA

[Lymington, Nov 30] The Edward, at Lepe seized 81 tubs of brandy and Geneva…

1821 10 Dec HT BNA

[Southampton, Saturday, December 8, 1821] In the night of Thursday last, Mr. Watson, the Officer commanding the Preventive-boat stationed at Lepe, succeeded in capturing 72 tubs of brandy and Geneva, which were deposited in his Majesty’s Excise warehouse here. This is the same Officer who last week brought in 81 tubs.

1821 17 Dec HCC BNA

The ridding officer of the Customs at Fawley seized seven tubs of spiritous liquor on Wednesday night, and twenty-one tubs of Geneva and brandy; and a horse and cart were seized by Mr. Watson, commanding the preventive boat at Lepe, and conveyed to the Custom-house at this port.

1822 25 Mar HCC BNA

[Southampton, Saturday, March 23.] Yesterday the preventive boat, stationed at Lepe. Commanded by Mr. Watson, R.N. brought in 60 tubs and one flagon of foreign spirits, seized by that indefatigable officer on the beach, almost at the moment of landing. The smugglers made a precipitate retreat.

1823 06 Oct HC BNA

Yesterday morning, 98 half-ankers and two flagons of foreign spirits, were delivered into the King’s Warehouse here, which had been seized in the West Channel, by Head, Chief of the Lepe Coast Guard Preventive Station.


1825 26 Sep HC BNA

Lymington. – On Tuesday morning last, Lieut. Hodge, R.N. Chief Officer of the Coast Guard Station, at Lepe, seized 43 casks of foreign spirits, and on Tuesday night last Lieut. Sanderson, R.N. Chief Officer of the Coast Guard Station at Pitt’s Deep, crept up 108 casks of foreign brandy, all of which have been deposited in his Majesty’s Customs Warehouse, at Southampton.

1825 24 Oct

.. their circulation through the United Kingdom. half ankers foreign spirits were picked up this week in the West Channel, near Lepe, by Lieutenant Hodge. Christchurch lair, Monday last, was very thinly attended j there were fewer horses, sheep, and swine …

1825 28 Nov HC BNA

Lymington. 0 On Friday the 18th inst, 93 casks of foreign spirits were seized in Stanswood Bay, near Eaglehurst, by the Repulse revenue cutter, Capt. John Williams. On Tuesday morning a galley, containing 109 casks of spirits of brandy and Geneva, was seized, off Lepe, by Lieut. Hodge, R.N. chief officer of the preventive cost guartd station at that place, and delivered into his Majesty’s Customs-store, at Southampton.


1825 28 Nov HT BNA

[Lymington, Nov. 25] On Friday last 93 casks of Foreign spirits were seized in Stanswood Bay, near Eaglehurst, by the Repulse Revenue cutter, Capt. John Williams.

On Tuesday morning last a galley, containing 109 casks of spirits of brandy and Geneva, was seized off Lepe, by Lieut. Hodge, R.N. Chief Officer of the Preventive Coast Guard station at that place, and delivered into the Customs Store at Southampton.

1826 02 Oct HT BNA

A small sloop was brought in here on Tuesday last, which had been seized by the Preventive Boat, at Lepe. She was apparently laden with faggots, and the Master said was bound to Weymouth, but suspicion being excited, she was searched, and under the faggots was found a quantity of the newly invented machinery for making lace, which she was in the act of conveying to France. The vessel and machinery were of course stopped, and will be condemned.

1839 21 Dec HT BNA

Informations were exhibited before the Magistrates, on Tuesday last, against two Englishmen, named Pace and Eastman, and six Frenchmen, crew of the Aristides, of Barfleur, charging them with having 141 kegs of foreign spirits on board, with intent to defraud the revenue. They were captured at the mouth of Southampton Water, by the preventive officers on the Lepe station. – After a patient investigation of the case, they were committed to prison for nine months.

1857 13 Oct HT BNA

Extensive seizure of Brandy at Southampton. – A boat containing 130 kegs of brandy was seized in the Beaulieu river on Thursday morning by the coastguardsmen of the Lepe station. The smugglers had sunk the boat to await the first opportunity that might present itself for them to “run” the goods, but the booty was discovered at low water and taken possession of by the revenue officers. The spirits were deposited in the Queen’s warehouse in the Southampton Docks the same afternoon. The boat was evidently constructed for smuggling purposes, having scarcely any draught of water, so as to enable it to run up shallow streams, and its peculiar shape at the same time adapting it for the reception of a considerable amount of freight.

1857 26 Sep HT BNA

Extensive seizure of Brandy at Southampton. – A boat containing 130 kegs of brandy was seized in the Beaulieu river on Thursday morning by the coastguardsmen of the Lepe station. The smugglers had sunk the boat to await the first opportunity that might present itself for them to “run” the goods, but the booty was discovered at low water and taken possession of by the revenue officers. The spirits were deposited in the Queen’s warehouse in the Southampton Docks the same afternoon. The boat was evidently constructed for smuggling purposes, having scarcely any draught of water, so as to enable it to run up shallow streams, and its peculiar shape at the same time adapting it for the reception of a considerable amount of freight.


1869 13 Oct HA BNA

[Hythe, Oct. 13]

Smuggling at Lepe. – At the Drummond Arms, Hythe, yesterday, (Tuesday), before Mr. H.F.K. Holloway, magistrate, Edward Saunders and William Bubb, belonging to the schooner yacht Myth, were charged with smuggling. – Mr. Knowler, examining officer of Customs at Southampton, appeared to prosecute, and Mr. Guy for the defendants. – William Read, the chief officer of the Coastguard stationed at Lepe, deposed that shortly after midnight on the 8th instant he heard two voices talking on the shore, and they went up over the top of the beach., He followed and asked Bubb, who had a basket on his shoulder, what he had in it, and he replied that he did not know. He tood the basket off his shoulder, and witness found there were packages and a jar. He told the defendants that it looked suspicious, that they must consider themselves prisoners, and go with him to the watch-house. Saunders then ran away, and Bubb went with him to the watch-house, where he found the basket contained one pound of cigars about 100, 11/4lb of Cavendish tobacco, 1lb of foreign manufactured tobacco, and a jar of brandy containing about a liquid gallon. The next morning he went to Saunders’s house, but he was not at home, and afterwards he saw him, when he again ran away. He followed him, and on his telling him that he was his prisoner, and that it would be no use to give any trouble, he gave himself up. – In cross-examination by Mr. Guy, witness said that one of their Coastguardsmen came up from Lymington in the boat, and he had reported the matter, the boat was three tons register, and belonged to Bubb. – Mr. Knowler said that he had reported the matter to the Commissioners of Customs, and no doubt the other man referred to would have to satisfy them that he had nothing to do with the tobacco. – Mr. Read was re-called, and said that he found one pound of cigars and a similar quantity of tobacco in a clothes bag, which Saunders admitted belonged to him. – Mr. Knowler said the single value and duty was £3 0s 6d. – Mr. Guy addressed the bench for the defendants, and said he was instructed that Saunders was the guilty man, and that Bubb was innocent. He asked the magistrates not ot inflict the full penalty. The men were sailors on board Mr. Kennard’s yacht, and he read a letter from that gentleman, in which he said that he hoped, in consideration of the good character Saunders had borne as acting mate of the yacht, the bench would be dispoed to take a lenient view of the case. Mr. Kennard had not said a word about Bubb, who knew nothing of the affair, and he asked the Customs to withdraw the charge against him. – Mr. Knowler replied that he could not do so. They were both found dealing with the tobacco. – Captain Jackman, the commander of the yacht, said Bubb knew nothing about it. 0 Mr. Holloway told defendant he was glad to find they had no resistance and he hoped this was their fist and last offence. They would each be fined £3 0s 6d each and the costs, or one month’s imprisonment with hard labour. – The money was paid, 0 In reply to Mr. Holloway, Mr. Knowler said the goods would be forfeited and also the boat. – Mr Holloway mentioned that he had been a magistrate thirty years, and he never remembered a case of smuggling at that bench before.


1888 15 Dec BNA

LARGE SMUGGLING CUTTER – The port of Cowes was conspicuous for building large cutters in the last century. I have heard both my father and grandfather speak of a Mr. Jelly building cutters side by side here, in the latter part of the last century, both for the Excise and the smugglers, the smuggling business being most extensively carried on at this port. The largest cutter was 400 tons. Built for the Excise. This vessel made but one trip to sea as a cutter. Having fallen in with a French brig (privateer), she beat her off, but was unable to give chase, as she was disabled bu the loss of main gaff. The brig having made off, the cutter returned to Cowes. She was afterwards ship-rigged, and fitted out as a ‘letter of marque’. A celebrated smuggler was named John Susannah, with fourteen guns, well known to my father as being a very smart and efficient cutter, and well manned in every repect. This vessel, having committed some depredation, was reported by the Government to be “outlawed”. The end of it was, H.M.S. gun brig Osprey (Capt Allen), was despatched with the object of capturing her. The two vessels met off Christchurch Head, and the crew of the smuggler, knowing what it meant, immediately cleared for action. The first broadside, Capt. Allen was killed, and. After a most desperate struggle, the smuggler was taken and brought to Cowes. There was one man hung, named Coombs, belonging to Hamble; he was hung upon a gibbet at Stony Point, near Lepe, the body hanging for many months. Coombs was picked out for having fired after the colours were struck. Capt. Allen was buried in Cowes churchyard, the tombstone recording the circumstances of his death.