Writers in Rye

There have been many writers in Rye over the centuries but it was from the late nineteenth century onwards that writers came to live in the town. By then it was more accessible because of the railway and it was seen as an unspoilt place of great charm. Henry James’ decision to live in Rye enhanced its already fashionable status amongst those wanting a rural retreat.

All the writers listed below lived in Rye and the immediate area — at least for a while. There were many more—some living only slightly further afield– who visited Rye, often as guests of writers listed below, and these are the subject of  separate articles on Writers who lived in or near Rye as is another on Stories Set in and Around Rye  — you might be surprised to discover how many there are, for all ages, and how good they are.

If someone you think should be here is not, please let us know.

AIKEN, Conrad (1889 – 1973) American novelist , poet, editor and critic who lived at Jeake’s House, Mermaid Street, between 1923 and 1939. His works include Great Circle, King Coffin and the ‘autobiographical narrative’ Ushant. He edited the poems of Emily Dickinson, won the Pulitzer Prize with his Selected Poems as well as many other awards and is regarded as an important influence on modern poetry. He was a lifelong friend of T.S. Eliot and also a friend of Ezra Pound. His three children also became well-regarded authors and together wrote a biography of their father.

AIKEN, Joan (1924 -2004) Born in Rye and a prolific writer like her older sister, Jane Aiken Hodge. Joan Aiken produced countless short stories and more than 30 books for adults (she was an expert on Jane Austen) and over 60 for children and teenagers. The best known of these are the twelve linked fantasy books beginning with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (begun 1962). These are set in the author’s version of the 19th century, when wolves have crossed through the Channel Tunnel to roam the land and the rulers are a line of good Stuart kings. For younger readers a favourite is A Necklace of Raindrops (1973) with its eight delightful read aloud stories featuring a flying apple pie, a cat that’s bigger than an elephant, a house that lays an egg, storybook animals that leap out of their books at night. . She was awarded the MBE for her services to children’s literature. See also the article on Jeake’s House

ATTWELL, Mabel Lucie  (1879 – 1964) lived, wrote and illustrated at Robin Hill on Mermaid Street during the 1920s.  Her ‘cute’ drawings of cuddly small children (based on her daughter Peggy) were featured not only in a number of her own books but also on many postcards, advertisements, posters, calendars and greeting cards as well as pottery and dolls.  She illustrated children’s classics such as Mother Goose (1910), Alice in Wonderland (1911), Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales (1914), The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley (1915), and Peter Pan and Wendy by J.M. Barrie. She also  contributed illustrations to popular periodicals and produced advertising illustrations for e.g. Vim (the scouring powder),

One of her many literary guests, E F Benson, famous for his creation of the Mapp and Lucia books, gave Robin Hill  its name. This house was the origin of the ballad ‘There’s an old-fashioned house in an old-fashioned street’. Another guest was Beatrix Potter who used the house as the  basis and front-cover design of her Tale of the Faithful Dove.

BATSFORD, Sir Brian Cooke (1910-1991), publisher, illustrator, painter and politician, lived at 10 Watchbell Street, then Lamb House, 1980 – 1987. He is best known as Brian Cook, the illustrator/designer of the dust jackets of the highly-collectable Batsford books from the 1930s to the 1950s.

BAYLEY, Viola (1911-1997), children’s author of mystery thriller and adventure books set in many locations around the world, lived at Rother Cliff, overlooking Rye and Romney Marsh, and in late years on West Street. One of her especially successful books was Storm on the Marsh (1953) whose inspiration and setting was Rother Cliff. The story involves the Halland family—said to be modelled on Viola Bayley’s own children, especially Buster, based on her youngest son, Julian with his ‘cheerful untidy self’, many ‘grazes to bandage’ and ‘whose appetite had never known defeat except in the throes of severe measles’. Also featured are a mysterious housekeeper and Camber Castle and its environs.

BENSON, A.C. (1862 – 1925) Biographer and one of the most prolific and popular essayists of the Edwardian period. Son of an archbishop of Canterbury he was editor of the selected letters of Queen Victoria, and wrote the words for  Land of Hope and Glory. Lived at Lamb House 1919-1925. Works include The Trefoil, Maggie Benson, From a College Window and Rossetti. He sometimes shared Lamb House with his brother E.F. Benson.

BENSON, E.F. (1867 – 1940) Prolific novelist, autobiographer and biographer and now more famous brother of A.C.Benson. who lived at Lamb House 19-17-1940 Unlike Henry James, he took an active part in Rye’s politival and social life and served as Mayor 1935-37. Yet while living in Rye he wrote over 40 books. He is best remembered for his Tilling novels, social comedies set in Rye in the 1920’s and 30’s and featuring the rivalry between Mapp and Lucia. Other works include Dodo, Our Family Affairs, Charlotte Bronte, Secret Lives and Final Edition. There is an E.F. Benson Society which organizes events and exhibitions and meets annually in Rye. Its secretary offers walks around Rye looking at the houses and places associated with Mapp and Lucia and their creator. For details of these, and much else, go to the Society’s website: E F Benson Society.  To see an example of Benson’s humour see this recipe from the book Cargo of Recipes.

BRADLEY, Arthur G (1850 – 1943). Biographer and travel writer who lived at The Red House (Tillingham Avenue before all the new houses were built) then at West Watch, Traders Passage. Of most interest to Ryers is An Old Gate of England: Rye, Romney Marsh and the Western Cinque Ports (1918), with delightful line drawings by Marion E.G. Bradley. The 77 pages specifically on Rye are especially rewarding with its picture of the town 100 years ago but he goes on to cover Winchelsea, Northiam, Romney Marsh villages and the lands between. Excerpts on Rye are available here. His other books include The Story of the Kentish Cinque Ports, the Highways and Byways series (Lake District, Scotland, Wilthire, The March and Borders, Land of Wales ….), Canada and Life of Wolfe.  In our Literary Rye section you can read some extracts from Bradley .

CLARK, Edmund John, M.D (1799 – 1836) Son of John Clark, Weslyan minister in Rye, he studied medicine at Edinburgh University and was well-travelled. He was an enterprising traveller and one of the few to climb to the summit of Europe’s highest mountain, Mont Blanc. He published The Ascent of Mont Blanc in 1825. William Holloway reports that on his return from this hazardous expedition he gave a very interesting lecture in Rye, giving details of his journey and exhibiting specimens. He died at the early age of 37 and is buried in Cranbrook where he had been practicing as a doctor.

CHRISTOPHER, John (b 1922 -2012) , chief pseudonym of prolific Rye author Samuel Youd. An award-winning writer of science fiction, much of it for teenagers, he wrote some 70 books. The best known are The Death of Grass , The Guardians and The Tripods trilogy (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, and The Pool of Fire). He is considered the successor to H.G. Wells and John Wyndham in that his characters are confronted with a major disaster which has huge implications for society and the world. The Death of Grass, popular in the 1950s and 1960s is considered the definitive novel of its genre and has been on GCSE reading lists while the award winning trilogy The Tripods was the basis for a 1980s British television series filmed in Rye near the author’s home at that time. Empty World , set in Winchelsea, is still avidly read and recommended (e.g. in Germany) despite its bleak theme: the main character is one of the world’s few survivors of a deadly virus. The books are still being reissued.

DARWIN, Bernard (1876-1961). Writer, authority on Dickens and excellent golfer. Grandson of Charles and Emma Darwin, he was raised by his grandparents at Down House (Downe, Kent, English Heritage) where his widower botanist father collaborated with the great naturalist on botanical experiments and publications. He wrote for The Times for 45 years, often writing one of its leaders, also for Country Life, and he wrote a much anthologised piece on W G Grace’s birth centenary. Twice he was Captain of Rye Golf Club, in 1906 and 1956, a gap of 50 years! He lived at the Dormy House by the Landgate in the 1950’s.

Of his book of essays On Golf It has been said that “Nobody ever knew more about golf than Darwin or wrote about it so intuitively.” In 2005, Darwin was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in the Lifetime Achievement category. One of several collectors’ item children’s books is The Tale of Tootleoo (Nonesuch Press 1925) for which he wrote the verses, accompanied by22 full page colour lithographs by his wife, the engraver Elinor Monsell. His brother-in-law J R Monsell illustrated other children’s books by Darwin. (Monsell was the husband of Margaret Irwin, see below. Connections among Rye authors abound!)

DICKINSON, Patric (1914 – 1994). Poet, playwright, broadcaster, classicist, golfing blue and above all, a lyric poet. As a radio editor and producer of distinction for the BBC (1942-48) he and the popular Home Service programme Time for Verse did much to bring poetry to a wider audience. Once described as a ‘poet impressario’, he was known for his beautifully crafted poems, in the tradition of Housman, de la Mare and Geoffrey Grigson.  From the time of his marriage to Sheila Shannon in 1945, he and the family lived at 38 Church Square so it is only natural that many of his poems have Rye associations. This is particularly true of Sketches of Rye and Poems from Rye, read at the Rye Festival 1979. He also translated the complete Plays of Aristophanes and Virgil’s Aeneid. and wrote an autobiography The Good Minute: Autobiography of a Poet-Golfer (1965) Rye golfers can still enjoy A Round of Golf (1950, recently reissued as a paperback classic) in which he wrapped his descriptions of what he regarded as the best 18 golf courses in England in much history and anecdote. Other titles include This Cold Universe, Rift in Time, Not Hereafter, Durable Fire, More Than Time, A Wintering Trree, The Bearing Beast and A Living John.

EDWARDS, Monica (1912–1998). Children’s author whose fifteen Romney Marsh novels are still widely read. Her family moved to Rye Harbour in the early 1920’s when her father became Vicar. She loved the area, and came to know the fishermen and the marsh farmers well (e.g. at Castle Farm). She also explored the marshes beyond her front door and the coast path leading by the Martello Tower. Like Malcolm Saville (see below) , she used these real places in her books. All but Castle Farm, destroyed in WWII, exist in their correct places and can be visited today although she renamed them: Rye is Dunsford, Rye Harbour Westling, Winchelsea Winklesea and Camber Castle Cloudesley Castle. Specific titles are mentioned in the article Stories Set in and Around Rye on this website. The financial freedom gained from the success of her writing enabled the family to buy an old farmhouse and land in Surrey in November 1947. Punchbowl Farm was to provide the background and setting for many of her subsequent books, Information about Monica Edwards, her books, the Monica Edwards Appreciation Society and its magazine Martello, as well as events and visits to places in the books can be found on the Monica Edwards website.

FABES, Gilbert (1894 – 1973) Antiquarian bookseller in Rye and writer on first editions. He published Autobiography of a Book in 1926, Romance of a Bookshop 1904-1929 in 1929, and Modern First Editions: Points and Values (3rd ed.) in 1932 . All three are still sought after by collectors. He went on to publish journal articles and bibliographies of specific authors, among them D. H. Lawrence, John Galswrothy and Ralph Hale Mottram, in each case concentrating on first editions, bibliographic points and values. His daughter Alma Fabes wrote The Meryons of Rye (Adams of Rye, 1985), an account of a Huguenot family who fled from persecution by King Louis XIV in the late 17th century and became prominent citizens of Rye.

FLETCHER, John (1579-1625) Born in Rye, John Fletcher became one of the most prolific and influential dramatists of his day, his fame rivalling Shakespeare’s. He collaborated with Shakespeare, Beaumont and others, and followed Shakespeare as house playwright for the King’s Men. Some believe his birth house was what is now Fletcher’s House, a popular Rye tearoom, but stronger evidence points to a former vicarage on the site of what Ryers know as The Old Vicarage. Whichever is the case, Richard Fletcher, his Anglican minister father, was at the time serving in Rye and subsequently became Dean of Peterborough, Bishop of Bristol, Bishop or Worcester, then Bishop of London and chaplain to Queen Elizabeth in which capacity he was chaplain at the execution of Queen Mary.

We know that Fletcher had to fend for himself from the age of 17 when his father died and that he died of the plague at age 46 (a good age at the time). Within those 29 years he achieved much. In 1606 he met the writer Francis Beaumont and began a creative partnership that was to produce 15 plays before Beamont’s untimely death from plague in 1616. Fletcher went on to write another 16 plays under his own name, as well as collaborating with many of the prominent writers/actors of the day, Shakespeare being only one of them . Wit, humour and romanticism are the essence of Fletcher’s writing and some plays still stand the test of time.

There is an active Fletcher’s Theatre group in Rye , promoting theatrical productions by Fletcher and his contemporaries. For more information about Fletcher, his work and the Fletcher Theatre, go to Friends of Fletcher Theatre.

GODDEN, Rumer (1907 – 1998) Lived at Lamb House 1968-73 and at Hartshorne House 1973 to 1978 when she left to be nearer a daughter in Scotland. One of the foremost English language authors of the 20th century, she wrote novels, biographies, children’s books, poetry, memoirs of her childhood in a part of India that is now Bangladesh: Two Under the Indian Sun (1966 with her sister Jon) and two further volumes of autobiography: A Time to Dance, No Time To Weep (1987) and A House with Four Rooms (1949) — some 70 works altogether. several made into films. Her work has been translated into 17 languages.

She excelled at writing about children. Of special interest to Ryers is A Kindle of Kittens (1978) a Picturemac for the very young. Its illustrations by Lynne Byrnes put the streets, roofs, cats and townspeople of Rye between the covers. (For more details go to Stories Set in Rye.) Other books for children include The Doll’s House (1947), The Mousewife (1951), and Miss Happiness and Miss Flower (1961). In 1972 she won the Whitbread Award for The Diddakoi which has also been adapted for television. Other books for teenagers which have been filmed are The Greengage Summer (1958) wherein four children in France are rudely thrust into the adult world and The Peacock Spring (1978), an Anglo-Indian coming of age story (televised 1995).

She also excelled at nuns. Black Narcissus (1938) deals with the struggle of a group of nuns to maintain their convent in a disused Indian palace. it was made into a popular film and has never been out of print. While living in Rye she wrote another book about nuns, This House of Brede (1969), also filmed. Despite the local name, the Benedictine convent in the story is modelled on Stanbrook Abbey in Worcestershire.

In Two Under the Indian Sun, a memoir co-authored with her sister Jon in 1966, she wrote “Our house was streaked with Indian or Indian streaked with English.” The same can be said of her books — such as The River (1949) one of her most acclaimed novels which was made into a film by Jean Renoir in 1951–and of her life. For twenty years she ran a dance school for English and Indian children in Calcutta. She returned to England to stay in 1945 and in 1968 took the tenancy of Lamb House with her second husband. She was appointed OBE in 1993 and at age 90 published her 21st novel, Cromartie vs. the God Shiva (1997). She died the following year.

HALL, Radclyffe (1880 – 1943). Novelist and poet who lived in Rye with her great friend, Lady Una Troubridge between 1928 and 1943; she is the subject of at least four biographies and is included in Iain Finlayson’s Writers in Romney Marsh (London: Severn House 1986). Besides the Mermaid Inn, she lived in various houses including Santa Maria in West Street, 8 Watchbell Street, Black Boy (later Charles II Guest House) in the High Street, and finally The Forecastle in Hucksteps Row, off Church Square, her longest residence. Her best-known book is the lesbian classic The Well of Loneliness (1928). Although the story of her main character was intended as a plea for more tolerant understanding of ‘inverts’ like herself, its only sex scene consists of the words ‘and that night, they were not divided’ . Although she had the support of leading writers of the day, the book was suppressed for obscenity in the UK when it was first published — and has been famous ever since; it has been translated into at least 14 languages. Other critically acclaimed works include Adam’s Breed, prize winner and bestseller about an Italian headwaiter’s search for identity and meaning (he is a bastard child), amidst an immigrant community and delicious food; and Unlit Lamp, about a young girl who dreams of becoming a doctor but is trapped by a manipulative mother.

For Ryers, however, the most interesting of her books by far is The Sixth Beatitude, about life on Hucksteps Row (named Crofts Lane in the book). ‘John’ ( as Radclyffe Hall called herself) and Una had first stayed in the cottage at the end of the row in 1928 and in 1934 were able to move into it, now become a large and picturesque four bedroom period cottage which John renamed Forecastle. (Paul McCartney owns it now.) At the time Hucksteps Row was a clutter of some dozen slum cottages –typical rent 2s.6d a week, lived in by fisherfolk including 28 children, often two families to a cottage, with shared outside toilets and no gardens. The lives, attitudes and tragedies of dwellers on the row are sensitively depicted in the book and characters — such as ‘the happy-go-lucky landlord’ — based on real persons; Forecastle becomes The Look-Out. See Stories set in and around Rye.

The character Quaint Irene in E F Benson’s Mapp and Lucia novels is based on Radclyffe Hall.

HOLLOWAY, William (1786-1870) was one of Rye’s most remarkable inhabitants, a voluminous writer on Rye matters. He moved to Rye at age 35 and became a leader in Rye’s reform movement in the 1820s and later a freeman and jurat. On the death of his father-in-law he joined the Meryon family brewery — his wife was Sarah Meryon — but seemed to have no flair for business. However he did prove to be an indefatigable town historian. In 1847 he published The History and Antiquities of the Ancient Town and Port of Rye in the County of Sussex with Incidental Notices of the Cinque Ports compiled from manuscripts and original authorities — a tome of over 600 pages. It is still an invaluable source on Rye’s history.

He was interested in anything to do with the environment (e.g. he was a keen ornithologist) and the welfare of the Rye community. It was Holloway who undertook to rename Rye streets and number the houses in 1859–to bring order to postal deliveries and town records,  On the reverse pages of his brother-in-law’s two volumes of Rye history Some Account of Rye and its Municipal Government [See Charles MERYON above] he kept what has been published as A Casual Diary where he copied or stuck in materials from newspapers, journals and book-news, everyday occurrences, thoughts — anything which caught his interest — all of which add up to incomparable social history. During the same period he published two series of Antiquarian Rambles through Rye (1863 and 1866). His contemporary, the printer Henry Pocock Clark, asserted that ‘in this town of 5000 inhabitants’ Holloway was ‘the only star of any magnitude shining in [Rye’s] hemisphere’.

HYDE, H. Montgomery (1907 – 1989) was a barrister, politician, biographer and historian specialising in the 1890’s. A distant cousin of Henry James, he lived at Lamb House 1963 – 1969. Oxford educated, he worked as an Intelligence Officer in WWII, travelled widely, was Unionist MP for Belfast North 1950-59 and UK Delegate at the Council of Europe 1952-55. He strenuously opposed the death penalty and censorship laws and paid for his efforts for homosexual law reform within Parliament in the 1950s with the loss of his political career; the vote was so close it was felt by some he might have carried the day had he been present for the vote. (Decriminalisation took another ten years.) He held the chair of History and Political science at the University of the Punjab, Lahore 1959-62 and wrote over 50 works on biographical, legal Irish and espionage subjects. For example, he wrote extensively on Oscar Wilde and his circle, edited Wilde’s works and published accounts of the trials of Oscar Wilde, Roger Casement and Lady Chatterley’s Lover. He also wrote The Love that Dared Not Speak Its Name (1970) and Henry James at Home (1969) about James at Lamb House, where Hyde was living at the time.

IRWIN, Margaret ( d. 1969) Historical novelist and noted authority on Elizabethan and early Stuart England. She and her husband John Monsell lived at Fir Crest (now Arling House) in Hilly Fields, Rye Hill in the 1940’s. Her fifteen novels were esteemed for the accuracy of their historical research and the first in a trilogy on Queen Elizabeth, Young Bess, was made into a film starring Jean Simmons. She wrote passionately about the English Civil War, causing generations to fall in love with the ill-fated but charismatic Earl of Montrose; The Proud Servant (1949) is a biographical novel about Montrose, and The Bride, the story of his ill-fated romance with Louise Marie of the Palatinate (1939). Another favourite with readers is The Gay Galliard (later simply The Galliard): the story of Mary Queen of Scots (1941).

The dust covers of most of her books were provided by her husband, J R Monsell, whom she married in 1929. He was regarded as one of the best humorous illustrators (and authors) for children of the Edwardian period; his edition of Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring was hugely successful, for example and he created a musical version of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 18th-century comedy The Rivals. His sister married Bernard Darwin, see above.)

JAMES, Henry (1843 – 1916) American born prodigious writer of fiction as well as travel, biography, plays, criticism , hundreds of essays and reviews and regarded as a key figure of literary realism. Son of a wealthy intellectual connected with the leading American thinkers and authors of the day (Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Longfellow) and tutored in languages and literature during extensive family travels throughout Europe, he spent the last 40 years of his life in Britain, nearly half of these based in Rye. He aspired to own Lamb House from 1895, achieved his aim in 1898 and made it his home until the year he died (1916). He enjoyed showing off the house to his many visitors who included H.G. Wells, Joseph Conrad, Stephen Crane, Rudyard Kipling, Ford Maddox (Hueffer) Ford, G. K. Chesterton Hilaire Belloc — all of whom lived nearby –as well as Mrs Humphrey Ward and, a particularly good friend, Edith Wharton, to name but a few. Lamb House is recognisable in The Awkward Age (1898) as the home of Mr. London.

Many of his works explore the differences between the old and the new worlds, in particular his early masterpieces Daisy Miller (1879) and The Portrait of a Lady (1881), a psychological novel which is his most popular work of long fiction. After the failure of his play Guy Domville in 1895 James began to probe his characters’ consciousness ever more deeply, as in The Spoils of Poynton (1897) and What Maisie Knew (also 1897), an unflinching account of a dysfunctional family. His most famous short story is the Turn of the Screw (1898), a ghost story full of sexual and psychological ambiguity in which a governess becomes obsessed with the question of childhood corruption.

Three of the novels written in Rye during the third period of his career are considered his most significant achievements, namely The Wings of the Dove (1902), whose main character is based on a much-loved cousin who died young of TB, The Ambassadors (1903), a dark comedy which James considered his most perfect book, and The Golden Bowl (1904) a complex study of marriage and adultery. All of these, which earned him the title ‘The Master’, have been the subject of innumerable critical works.

Despite some hostility (in America because he took out British citizenship) and complaints about his complex language, there is no letup in the enormous volume of writing about the man and his works; his books have remained continuously in print, edited, annotated, and studied in schools, colleges and universities around the world, a major influence on aspiring novelists. Film versions of his novels and stories — for example The Golden Bowl (2000). The Wings of the Dove (1997), The Turn of the Screw (1964) and Washington Square (1947) have been commercially successful and won prestigious awards. Benjamin Britten’s operatic version of The Turn of the Screw (1954) has become one of the composer’s most popular works.

Beyond his fiction, James was one of the more important literary critics in the history of the novel; in his classic essay The Art of Fiction (1884), he argued that a novelist should be allowed the widest possible freedom in content and approach. James was also one of the great letter-writers of any era. More than ten thousand of his personal letters are extant, and over three thousand have been. He was acquainted with many notable literary figures of the day. In addition to  those already mentioned as visitors to Rye, these included Robert Browning, Ivan Turgenev, Emile Zola, Lord Alfred Tennyson, and Gustave Flaubert and Robert Louis Stevenson.

The year 2004 has been called ‘the year of Henry James’ because he was at the centre of two major biographical novels (Author, Author by David Lodge and the Booker shortlisted The Master by Colm Toibin), both featuring the aftermath of his disappointing effort to conquer the stage in the 1890s – which included his settling in Rye. The hero of the actual Booker winner, The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollingshurst, is writing a thesis on James.  One wonders what James would think if he knew how well he is regarded today and that millions of people all over the world have encountered his stories not only on the printed page but in theatrical, cinematic and television adaptations?

JEAKE, Samuel (1623 – 1690), called the Elder to distinguish him from his son Samuel Jeake the Younger,  he was the grandson of Huguenot immigrants fleeing persecution in France. He became a freeman of Rye and its Town Clerk. He bought the entire collection of borough statutes (for a guinea) and used these to produce The Charters of the Cinque Ports, Two Ancient Towns and their Members. He was a staunch Presbyterian, or Dissenter, which led to the threat of prosecution in 1682 for ‘holding forth’ under the Act of Uniformity introduced after the Restoration of Charles II. Jeake also wrote on mathematics, and made the first recorded use of the terms addend and proper fraction. The four volumes of his principal mathematical work Logisticelogia, or Arithmetick Surveighed were edited by his son.

JEAKE, Samuel II (1652–1699), writer, astrologer and polymath was as firm a Presbyterian as his father and he too became a freeman. However he is more famous for his remarkable and extensive Diaries which are today highly valued as an historical resource. Though he displayed hardheadedness as a merchant in wool and hops and as a money-lender and shrewd investor, somewhat incongruously he used the stars for guidance in such matters as subscribing to the new Bank of England or choosing a wife. At the age of 29 he married the 13 year old Elizabeth Hartsheorn, daughter of the late headmaster of the High Street Grammar School, receiving Hartshorne House on Mermaid Street (later known as the Old Hospital) as part of her dowry. What is now known as Jeake’s House was in fact his wool store., built in 1689 to serve the Romney Marsh sheep trade.

Jeake’s Diaries contain day-by-day accounts of his business dealings and local events, each entry preceded by the astrological symbol for the day. It was not until the 20th century that his shorthand camouflage when recording personal matters such as his marital relations and quarrels were solved and transcribed.

in 1682, Jeake fled to London, where he was joined in hiding by his son and daughter-in-law the following year. The son returned warily to Rye in 1684, but his father did not risk it until James II introduced a more tolerant regime, followed by further relaxation under William and Mary. ( Samuel III was derided locally as ‘a Conjuror’. He was reputed to have built a flying machine which unfortunately failed to fly. Rye’s most revered historian, William Holloway, records in the mid 19th century that he had known men who had seen the remains of the machine in the attic of the Grammar School.)

In 1699, at the age of 47 and at the end of his life, Samuel II planned to erect a Nonconformist meeting-house next door to his wool store. After his death his widow remarried, and through her daughter Philadelphia their family home, Hartshorne House, descended eventually to the Frewen family, a respected name in Rye. Elizabeth completed the task of building the meetinghouse, and licence for its opening was granted in 1703.  When Conrad Aiken (later resident of the former Woolstore/present Jeake’s House) was a London correspondent for the New Yorker, he used Samuel Jeake the Younger as his pseudonym.

MERYON, Dr. Charles Lewis (1783 – 1877).  Doctor Meryon accompanied Lady Hester Stanhope, niece of William Pitt the Younger,  on her travels in the Middle East and published The Travels of Lady Hester Stanhope in 1846. The Meryon family lived in what is now known as The White Vine, later the home of William Holloway, town historian, and his wife Sarah Meryon who was Charles’ sister. Charles Lewis Meryon researched the history of Rye and his manuscript became the foundation for Holloway’s History of the Town and Port of Rye (1847). ( This Charles is not to be confused with Charles Pix Meryon who was his nephew and nine times Mayor of Rye.)

MERYON, Dr Edward (1807 – 1880) was the natural son of John Meryon (one time mayor) and nephew of Charles Meryon (above). He became a distinguished and respected doctor, a Vice President of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society and a Council member of the Royal College of Physicians. He did extensive research on muscular dystrophy in the early 1850’s . It has been argued that the disease should be known as Meryon’s Disease rather than Duchenne’s Disease as his was the earlier work and more significant; the reason given for the lack of recognition is that Duchenne’s work was published in a more prominent journal and thus more widely read. Other works included The Constitution of Man and History of Medicine (1862).

MILLIGAN, Spike (Terence Alan Patrick Seán Milligan) KBE ( 1918–2002), was an Irish comedian, writer, musician, poet, playwright and actor. Born in India, he spent most of the last two decades of his life in Rye. During his teens and early twenties he performed as a Jazz musician and was already starting to write comedy sketches–a skill he developed during Word War II when despite being wounded in action he entertained the troops. His big break into the world of radio as writer and performer came with the now famous Goon Show (1951-1972). From radio he progressed to numerous TV shows such as The Q Series which is credited as a major influence on the members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

He is also noted as a popular writer of comical verse; much of his poetry was written for children, including Silly Verse for Kids (1959). and is still taught in schools. His celebrated war memoirs Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall were taken to the stage very successfully. Milligan was also a respected actor, a keen painter and environmentalist and contributed cartoons to Private Eye. Though he suffered from depression, in a 1999 BBC poll he was voted the “funniest person of the last 1000 years”.

Spike Milligan is buried in the churchyard of St Thomas Church Winchelsea. The parish authorities refused permission to use his chosen epitaph but a compromise was reached : ‘I told you I was ill ‘ appears on his tombstone in Gaelic.   The Milligan Theatre at Rye College is named after him.

RYAN, John (1922-2009), author, illustrator and animator was the creator of Captain Pugwash and other well-loved characters of book and TV. He lived at Gungarden Cottage near the Ypres Tower with his artist wife Priscilla Blomfield Ryan, a staunch Rye Museum supporter. Captain Pugwash animated shorts became a long-running BBC series and the Captain Pugwash books are still popular. There is a Captain Pugwash display in the Rye Museum where some of his books are for sale. More background to the man and his work is available elsewhere on this site.

SAVILLE, Malcolm (1901 – 1982) grew up in and around Rye and later lived at Chelsea Cottage, Winchelsea. Although he wrote over 90 books, he is best known as an author of children’s series fiction, in particular the 20 Lone Pine adventures which have been read by millions of children and gone through many revisions and reprints. The Gay Dolphin Adventure (1945) and Rye Royal (1969) are set at the Gay Dolphin Hotel on Trader’s Street,, recognisable as the Hope Anchor Hotel on Watchbell Street. Two others, The Elusive Grasshopper (1951) and Treasure at Amorys (1964) take place near Rye. A fifth, Saucers over the Moor (1955) , begins in Rye then moves to Shropshire and several others refer to Rye. The Gay Dolphin was recently voted by the thousand + members of the very active Malcolm Saville Society as the best of the entire series. A characteristic of Saville’s fiction for young people is the authenticity of the settings, whether Shropshire, Dartmoor, Suffolk – or East Sussex. One can take the same walks as his characters (who move around to the different settings) did. Several of his books were serialised for BBC Radio as well as ITV Children’s drama series.

Among his other books are A Portrait of Rye (2nd ed. 1999) which has been described as ‘the consummation of a long love affair’. evoking Rye’s history on a series of walks through its streets and venturing also to nearby towns and villages of interest. A guidebook, The Story of Winchelsea Church is still available in the church. Mark O’Hanlon’s biography of Saville, Beyond the Lone Pine was published in 2001 to coincide with the centenary of Saville’s birth while The Complete Lone Pine – a guide to the entire series published in 1996 was reprinted in an extended hardback edition in 2005. Lone Pine and other Saville titles, once available in Rye’s Martello Bookshop, can still be obtained from the Malcolm Saville Society which for the 4th time held  its AGM in Rye in April 2011. The Society publishes four magazines each year and arranges regular events.   A nostalgic evening of film, pictures and talks featuring Malcolm Saville and Monica Edward is being held at St Mary’s Centre in Rye on November 9, 2014.

TODHUNTER, Isaac (1820-1884). Son of the first minister of Rye’s Non-Conformist church (now The Studio) on Watchbell Street, Todhunter became a Cambridge mathematics don. He was also a Latin and Greek scholar, familiar with at least 8 other languages, and knowledgeable in other fields. He was a prolific writer of textbooks on mathematical subjects which were widely translated (e.g. into Urdu) and thought to be the most widely used in the world. He is considered one of the great mathematicians of the 19th century because of his many works on the history of mathematics.

VIDLER, Alec (1899 – 1990). Born in Rye, son of Leopold Vidler (below), he became a clergyman, later Dean of King’s College, Cambridge and after retirement, Mayor of Rye. He wrote on many books on aspects of religion, including Marriage and Religion, God’s Judgement of Europe, A Variety of Catholic Modernists aas well as the autobiographical Scenes from a Clerical Life.

VIDLER, Leopold (1870 – 1954) was born in Rye, became Mayor of Rye and a Freeman, and was also the founder and first Curator of Rye Museum. He lived at The Friars of the Sack in Church Square, owned by the family since 1801. He was the father of Alec Vidler, also a Mayor (see above). Leopold Vidler wrote A New History of Rye, still the most thorough history of the town.

WARRENDER, Lady Maud (1870 – 1945). Socialite who lived at Leasam on Rye Hill and entertained Edward VII, Edward Elgar, Henry James,  E.F.Benson and his brother A, C Benson. (The latter collaborated with Edward Elgar to produce the patriotic song ‘Land of Hope and Glory’.) She wrote an autobiography, My First Sixty Years. 

WHELPTON, Eric (1894 – 1981). Writer of nearly 30 travel books and guides popular in the 1950’s and ’60’s. He lived at West Watch in Traders Passage. At Oxford he had became a close friend of Dorothy Sayers who based her character of Lord Peter Whimsey on him and who later became his literary secretary. During WWII he was a BBC news correspondent in Europe. His last two books, The Making of a European (1974) and The Making of an Englishman (1977), are largely autobiographical. His wife, the painter Barbara Crocker, illustrated some of his books.

First posted in Literary and Artistic Rye on 2nd November 2010
Last updated: 20th October 2014
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