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Smugglers Ahoy! Tea for Sale


The period of the Bloody Code is full of interesting detail and crimes but it can be one darn crime after another. This activity offers a chance to get away from the textbook by recreating the paths by which tea reached drinkers in London and asking students to think about why smuggling was both accepted and very successful.

The details of this activity are based on Source 1, p.88 of the SHP book, Crime and Punishment through Time.

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This activity is based on the ’Simulation’ style of model; for more examples of this model, click here.

Setting Up

Space for smuggling!

Thinking of the room from front to back you need

  • The English Channel
  • The English coast
  • A large space for movement to London
  • And - at the back of the room – London with shops.

You also need something to smuggle – tea! Using tea bags will add a sense of reality but your colleagues in the staff room may not relish you borrowing tea bags for use with Y10 and then replacing them before tea break. Empty tea boxes would be the obvious alternative – with pieces of paper or card to represent consignments of tea that can be passed on to duffers and hawkers. You need plenty to get across the idea that there is a lot of smuggling and to supply all the shopkeepers and drinkers in London. The key thing is – be inventive!

You also need some money – Monopoly or other money, ideally coins. This money is crucial – ideally it needs to be in ones for buying and selling tea.

The Prime Minister needs a scroll which says:

We need more money to win the war. We will raise this money with a tax on tea. A tax of 4p will go onto every pound of tea, increasing the price from 2p to 6p.

Divide your class in proportion as follows:

  • 2 French smugglers
  • 8 English smugglers on the English coast (need money to pay French)
  • 4 duffers (need to wear coats to hide tea underneath)
  • 4 hawkers
  • 2 London shopkeepers (need money to pay smugglers)
  • 6 tea drinkers in London (need money to buy tea)
  • 2 excise men (they need to be heavily outnumbered by the smugglers)
  • 1 Prime Minister (someone popular as they’ll be unpopular in this activity)

The Activity

1. Give everyone a role and place the class in the right places in the room.

Duffers need to be near the English coast and the hawkers in London.

Excise men need to be near coast so they can see what is happening.

The French smugglers need the supplies of tea to be smuggled.

2. Begin with the Prime Minister. Get him or her to make the announcement about the tax on tea. Explain that there was no income tax at this time so most taxes were on foods and other goods.

Ask the tea drinkers in London what they think about this tax.

Ask the shopkeepers how this might affect their businesses.

3. Move down to the south coast and tell the English smugglers that the French smugglers are happy to bring tea into England for 1p a pound.

Ask English smugglers – will you buy tea from the French and why (make sure they do, otherwise the activity comes to a rapid halt!)

4. Bring the French smugglers across the Channel (add sounds of the waves, French oaths to taste) where they meet the English smugglers – swap tea for money. French smugglers return home.

Ask the excise men – you can see all this – what are you going to do to stop it?

Their answer should be – we’re heavily outnumbered so can’t do much.

Suggest to them that they might be able to intercept it later.

Now ask the English smugglers – if you take tea up to London how much will you sell it for per pound? Expect answer of 2p or 3p to undercut taxed tea.

5. Time to move the tea to London.

Half the tea is passed onto the duffers who hide it under their coats – be as melodramatic as you like. Their task is to take it to London and pass it on to the hawkers who will sell it for the price agreed by the smugglers. They get a coin from the smugglers as pay.

The other half of the tea is taken direct to London by some of the smugglers.

So – get the duffers and smugglers to walk slowly towards London, glancing over their shoulders surreptitiously and creeping on tip-toe.

Ask excise men – what are you going to do? Suggest they could arrest a couple of the individuals and send them to do this – but it should be clear that most of the tea reaches London.

6. In London

– smugglers deliver their consignments of tea to the shopkeepers and get paid (2p or 3p) – ask the smugglers if they’ve done well. Ask shopkeepers what price they will sell tea for – increase of 1p at most.

- duffers pass tea onto hawkers for sale in streets.

7. Time to sell the tea. Ask tea drinkers again – what they think of the price of 6p a pound. Then ask them if they would prefer to pay the less for their tea.

Now get hawkers to approach tea drinkers with consignments and tell them prices – tea 2p a pound. Get some tea drinkers to go into shops and ask for tea – at ‘special prices’.

8. Ask groups whether they are happy with events:

Ask tea drinkers what they have paid for their tea – is it less than the official price?

Who do they blame for the problem – smugglers or Prime Minister? Do they think smuggling’s a serious crime?

Ask smugglers, duffers, hawkers – have they made money? [bring in that smugglers could earn six times what they’d earn as a farm labourer and the duffers and hawkers twice a labourer’s wage]

Ask shopkeepers – why do they buy tea from smugglers? [remind them of their fears of losing business]

Ask excise men – have they been effective – why not? What do they need to be effective?

Ask Prime Minister – how is smuggling affecting amount of tax collected?

What does government need to do to stop smuggling? (remember – no police force) – would need to use army.

What kind of punishment would do most to stop smuggling – death penalty? What are the alternatives?

How else could smuggling be reduced or stopped? – cut tax and think of a different kind of tax.

Overall question – who is responsible for the growth in smuggling and it being a serious crime? This links to other crimes in this period where the attitude of the authorities and landowners was the major reasons for crimes being ‘promoted’ to serious crimes.


Ask students to draw a plan showing the sequence of smuggling and annotate it with attitudes of the different groups.

Use sources from p. 89 of the SHP book, Crime and Punishment through Time – ask students to relate sources to the activity. Do they think the activity illustrated these contemporary comments effectively?

Use digital or phone camera to record key moments in the activity and make these available to students to caption as part of a revision exercise.

Ask students to create a podcast from the viewpoint of one of the participants - different groups in the class could present different views so all perspectives covered.

User Feedback

From Jo Philpott

I thought I would let you know that I used the Smuggling role play last term with two very different groups in year 10 and 11.

Year 10 are a very bright and active group and love their history. They responded fantastically to the task and became very corrupt and devious in their actions. The tea drinkers were the only characters the customs officers were brave enough to arrest and the smugglers were delighted by their gains though split into two groups early in the task as some were unprepared to use the hawkers. This was their first introduction to smuggling and we followed it up with a source based activity about public attitudes to smuggling. Their questioning and contextual grasp of the topic was superb.

Year 11 used the role play as a revision activity and had to think really hard about their reactions and responses to questions and events. I think I worked harder than them to begin with but interestingly they were able to put smuggling in context and use a lot of ideas from across the unit to help their thinking, (perfect revision). The London shop keepers and tea drinkers took a lot of motivating and probably were least interested by the task. Next time I may introduce some 'gossip' of what is happening at the coast to keep them more involved. Similarly I may ask the PM and an opposition MP to respond to events on a more frequent basis to show the political agenda more. The majority really enjoyed the lesson and the follow up work was very personal and in places very passionate.

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Constructive feedback is always welcome, particularly anything that will help other teachers.

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Setting Up

The Activity


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