The Story of Moonraker Lane, Bampton
1 July 2021 (Updated 20 September 2022)
The curiously named Moonraker Lane, just off the High Street in Bampton, harks back to a stock joke about unintelligent people that was very popular in the past.
A cheese underwater?
A 'moonraker' was a person who was so dim that when they saw the moon's reflection in a pond they mistook it for a large wheel of cheese floating in the water! The 'raking' refers to their attempts to retrieve it by raking at the water.
Whether or not the name of this particular lane was a dig at the intelligence of the residents is not clear, but there may be another explanation.
Smugglers fool the Excise men
A story from Wiltshire tells of some smugglers who were interrupted by Excise men while retrieving the barrels of contraband brandy that they had hidden in a pond. The quick-witted smugglers claimed that they were only raking to retrieve the cheese they could see in the water, and the Excise men took them for harmless idiots and left them to their work. In this instance, the 'moonrakers' were the smart ones!
As a result, a 'moonraker' could also be a clever smuggler, skilled at evading the hated Excise men and supplying townsfolk with goods that they would otherwise be unable to afford. Could Bampton have a hidden history of smuggling?
- A Dictionary of English Folklore by Jacqueline Simpson & Steve Roud (Oxford University Press, 2000, ISBN: 019210019X)