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From smugglers to people traffickers - 

old activity,  new phase

Smuggling contraband across the sea has been an active business for centuries. Until recently, it involved bringing in goods such as spirits and tobacco. Today, smuggling into Britain is more about drugs and human beings. "People trafficking" is the modern face of smuggling, and as always it is a lucrative business for criminal gangs
Smugglers on Romney Marsh       March 28th 1690. It is dead of night; in the small creek near Dymchurch, a village on Romney Marsh, a dark boat ap­proaches a well-hidden landing stage. It moves noiselessly across the water, slows down, and ties up. Immediately, but without a sound, some thirty figures emerge from the bushes and approach the water. A horse and cart appear from nowhere, and the work begins. In the space of quarter of an hour, the boat's cargo is totally unload­ed, carried up the bank and loaded onto the cart, and onto another one that follows it. Twenty minutes later, the boat, with dark­ened sail, is turning round and heading back out to sea whence it had come. Its cargo, a hundred barrels of finest cognac, is on its way to a hiding place, for later dispatch to London.
      The smugglers have succeeded again; as they usually do. For in this part of south east England, smuggling is a lucrat­ive business, and has been so for centur­ies. In fact, in the seventeenth century, it is one of the most profitable professions in the region.
     From the eleventh to the eigh­teenth century, cross-Channel smuggling was a busy activity, providing a living for hundreds of people round the English coast. It began in serious shortly after the Norman conquest of England in 1066, when William the Conqueror brought over thousands of his men from France. They brought with them a taste for French wine and other continental products, and these tastes soon spread among the English population.   
    To supply their own tables and those of their courts, the Norman kings im­posed a duty on imported products, taking a percentage of everything that came in. It was to avoid this loss that smuggling first developed.    
Long before the seventeenth century, smuggling had become a major industry; and indeed, until this period, there was virtually nothing that could be done to effectively stop it. Tax collectors, or re­venue men, were not generally well res­pected people in those days, and whole communities, from the local priest to the ordinary folk, would work together to outwit any officials who came along
     The eighteenth century saw the climax of the smuggling trade; it also saw its worst horrors. During this century, when Britain really began to expand as an inter-national trading nation, the rise in imported goods was spectacular; so too was the rise in the number of different products on which the government imposed taxes. Tea,  coffee, silk, spices, tobacco, and other luxuries from round the world; all became subjected to sometimes very high dues.
    With so much at stake, it was not surprising therefore that smugglers went to great lengths to ensure that their oper­ations ran smoothly. Armed gangs of men were paid to keep the King's officers well away from what they were looking for. They did not hesitate to beat up, or even torture or kill those who tried to get in their way; and customs officers soon realised that it was not in their interest to intervene, unless they wanted to come to a sticky end.
    It is estimated that three quarters of the tea imported into England at one stage was brought in by smugglers.
    It was Napoleon, in the end, who brought the great age of English smuggling to an end. Fear of invasion from France led the government to establish a permanent watch round the south east coast of Eng­land, a watch which later developed into the Coast Guard service. Confronted with this alert and respected force, smugglers were no longer able to go on ruling the roost as they had done for so long; and subterfuge and cunning came to replace force and threats. From then on, organised smuggling became a minor activity, per­ceived more and more as a criminal activity like any other.
    Of course, smuggling has never stopped, and today there are still active smugglers in operation; their methods, how­ever, have changed. From time to time, the odd small boat still comes in furtively to a small English harbour, to discharge a cargo of brandy, or more likely drugs or arms; but most contraband now comes in hidden in personal luggage, or in legally imported consignments of goods; contain­ers from Columbia, or trailers from Turkey, for instance

The people traffickers

    In the event, the worst form of modern smuggling across the Channel is the smuggling of human contraband – "people trafficking" as it is often called.  The last twenty years have seen a massive increase in the number of people from distant countries trying to enter Britain illegally. They come from Africa, from Iraq, from China, from Afghanistan, from all over the world.... some speak a couple of words of English, others speak good English, and they all imagine that a life in Britain will be their Eldorado.
   But the dream is usually just that: a dream, nothing more, and the reality that follows can come as a shock.
   The people who are trafficked into Britain have no visa and have paid large sums of money to criminal gangs to bring them over. Some reach Britain hidden in the backs of lorries; many more come across the English Channel from France, piled into flimsy rubber zodiacs.  Sometimes they make it across to the English coastline; but for  many of the would-be immigrants, even those who manage to enter Britain without being caught, the life that awaits them in Britain may be dangerous and miserable.
  Most "illegal immigrants" are picked up and taken to detention centres. While some may get accepted as political refugees, many can only hope to live a life in the shadows, hiding from the authorities, hoping that no-one will discover them. At worst, they will end up in a life of misery, exploited as virtual slaves by the gangs that brought them to England in the first place. Many men are used as cheap labour, little paid, and living and  working in bad conditions. Some young women get forced to work as prostitutes. At best, illegal immigrants face a life in temporary accommodation while they await news about their application to remain in the UK.
    While the nature of smuggling has changed,   the cust­oms men still remain vigilant. So do the coast guards. The fight against smugglers may not be the same as it once was; but if the coast guards ceased to exist, the door would be open to the new age of smuggling. It is certain that th criminal gangs who make millions from people trafficking would quickly make the most of it!


to traffic, trafficking: to transport illegally - lucrative: profitable smuggle: to import/export contraband -landing stage: small jetty, place where people can get out of a boat - unload: discharge - whence - from where - dispatch: send - lu­crative: profitable - supply: provide - duty: tax - climax: highest point - stage: point - watch: guard - cunning: clever, astute - the odd: the occasional  - in the event : in reality  -Eldorado : land of gold - would-be: hopeful, wanting-to-be - flimsy: light-weight and not very strong - labour: workers

Updated from an article originally published in Spectrum magazine.  

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Explain the meaning of the italicized expressions in the article; then  make up sentences reusing the same expressions in entirely different contexts.

Descriptive narrative writing:
Imagine that you are a customs officer in 1700 ; you are watching the scene shown in the picture. Write a report next day, as a first person preterite narrative, describing what happened, what was being smuggled, and what you did.

Interactive: Text correction:
Correct the mistakes in this badly copied extract from the article.
The copy below is editable, i.e. you can make changes to it directly on your computer screen.
Do this exercise with or without consulting the original article. If you compare the two texts, this is an exercise in careful reading (a highly useful exercise!); if you look at the text below without looking at the original article, it will be an exercise in  grammar, memory and logic. The second variant of this exercise can usefully done by students working in pairs; you will need to argue with each other in order to reach agreement over what is wrong, and what the original text actually said.

March 28th 1960. It is death of night; in the small stream near Dymchurch, a city on Romney March, a black ship approaches a well-built landing strip. It moves noisily across the fields, speeds up, and ties down. Immediately, but without a pound, some thirteen figures converge from the bar and approach the waiter. A horse and car appear from somewhere, and the walk begins. In the place of quarter of an hour, the boat's captain is totally undone, carried into the bank and loaded into the car, and onto another one that follows him. Twenty seconds later, the goat, with opened sail, is turning round and driving back out to see whence it had come. Its captain, with a hundred bottles of finest cognac, is on his way to a hiding place, for latest dispatch to London.


Interactive: Prepositions and adverbs:
Replace the missing prepositions and adverbs in the following extract from the article. In particular attention to the word as which is used as used as a preposition four times in this extract.

 Most "illegal immigrants" are picked and taken  detention centres. While some may get accepted  political refugees, many can only hope  live a life  the shadows, hiding  the authorities, hoping that no-one will discover them.  worst, they will end   a life  misery, exploited  virtual slaves  the gangs that brought them  England  the first place. Many men are used  cheap labour, little paid, and living and  working  bad conditions. Some young women get forced  work  prostitutes.  best, illegal immigrants face a life  temporary accommodation while they await news  their application  remain  the UK.



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Advanced level English resource

CEF level B2
IELTS level 6

Flesch-Kincaid  scores
Reading ease level:
58   Fairly Difficult
Grade level: 11

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