Anne, Church of St Peter and St Paul, Clegg, Disney, Doctor Syn, Doctor Syntax, Dymchurch, Fairfield, French Revolution, George Arliss, George I, George II, George III, inn, Kent, King John, Louis XIV, Louis XV, Louis XVI, Napoleon, Navy, Oxford, Patrick McGoohan, pub, Romney Marsh, Russell Thorndike, Ship Inn, Smuggler, St Tomas a Becket, The Scarecrow, William and Mary, William Combe
Welcome, as always, dear readers.
In our last, we were talking about inns and pubs, both in Middle-earth and in 1930s Oxford and we thought we had finished with the subject until there arrived in the mail/post a book from our good friend, Michael, in England.
Pubs anywhere are, we believe, immediately understandable, but why Kent and smugglers?
Since the royal government, under King John at the beginning of the 1200s, had begun to tax exports and imports, the best way around those taxes was either to smuggle or to deal, at some level, with smugglers.
Although such dealings had gone on for centuries, it appears that things intensified by the late 17th century and France was the reason.
From the late 17th-century, throughout the 18th century, and into the early 19th, England was at war with France, on land and sea. In governmental terms, this meant that this warfare went through the reigns of Louis XIV,
the French Revolution and its multiple governments,
In English terms, this meant William and Mary, Anne, and Georges I, II, and III, basically from 1690 to 1815.
During each one of those wars, there were laws in England about the importation of goods from the enemy. That being the case, if those with the money to pay for such things wanted prohibited goods, they would have to rely upon the same smuggling used in peacetime, which they did.
Although the south coast of England in general had its smugglers, a map will show us why Kent would have been a very good place for such smuggling to go on.
As you can see, Dover, here, is only about 25 miles from the coast of France—a very easy trip and one not requiring large merchant ships to do it.
Smaller local boats, called luggers, could do the job and were also handy for offloading goods from larger English or foreign vessels, as well.
The government, seeing not only its laws violated, but revenue lost to the treasury from all the taxes not collected, tried to stop smuggling, using the navy
and occasional army units.
Success was very uncertain, however, as the officers of the law and their assistants were usually vastly outnumbered by the locals, whether smugglers or the many people in the area somehow complicit in smuggling operations. Because pubs were social meeting places, they were obviously useful as headquarters for smugglers.
In 1915, Russell Thorndike (1885-1972),
an English actor and writer, published the first of a series of books about the adventures of a leader of one gang of smugglers, “Dr Syn”, in Doctor Syn, A Smuggling Tale of the Romney March.
(If you’d like to read a first edition, here’s a LINK.)
“Dr. Syn” looks like an easy joke on “sin”, but it may also be inspired by a figure from early-19th-century English comic literature, “Dr. Syntax”, a clergyman whose rhymed adventures, began with The Tour of Dr. Syntax: In Search of the Picturesque, published in 1812 and written by William Combe.
The smuggler, “Dr. Syn” is actually a retired pirate, named Clegg, who masquerades as an Anglican priest, which is what “Dr. Syntax” actually is. As well, we might imagine that “Dr. Syn” the smuggler, finds it a sin to pay the import taxes the government charges and has therefore joined the local smugglers.
If Clegg is masquerading as a clergyman by day, by night he takes on another mask: as the leader of the gang which is based in Dymchurch, he becomes “The Scarecrow”. Dymchurch is at the edge of Romney Marsh. Here’s a map of the Marsh to give you an idea of its location and extent.
And, to give you an idea of the Marsh itself, here’s an image of a church on the Marsh, St. Thomas a Becket, which was originally in the village of Fairfield. The village has disappeared, but the church remains. (You can see it depicted on the left-hand side of the map of the Marsh.)
Thorndike’s character has appeared several times in films, the first time in 1937, where Dr. Syn was played by a famous character actor of the time, George Arliss.
If you would like to see this film, here are two links. The first LINK is to the Internet Archive version.
The second LINK is to that on YouTube.
In 1963, the Walt Disney studio released their own version, Dr. Syn,
starring Patrick McGoohan as “The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh” and we think he’s pretty creepy in his mask.
Both movies are worth seeing, the Disney, in color, is full of Marsh and red coated dragoons, but the earlier film has a Dr. Syn who has the original pirate just below the surface—not so much hero, perhaps, as trickster.
But, you may be asking by this point, what about the pub? To which we answer, here it is—the Ship Inn, in Dymchurch, headquarters for “The Scarecrow” and his gang.
And, right across the way, is the Church of St Peter and St Paul, where, in his other disguise, the ex-pirate, Clegg, appeared each Sunday as “Dr. Syn”.
Thanks, as ever, for reading and