Good reads for Camber, Rye and Romney Marsh
Holiday reading has an added relevance when the book you are enjoying is set in the place you are visiting.
Even better if the author has a local connection.
In Camber, Rye, Winchelsea and the Romney Marsh you are in luck, because not only are many books set here, there are also a number of great authors who made their homes in the area.
The literary big-hitters are Henry James and E F Benson, who lived (at different times, of course) in West Street’s Lamb House (above), the now-National Trust owned property perched in the Citadel in Rye. Plus E Nesbit, of Railway Children fame, who lived at St Mary-in-the-Marsh.
There are others, who we’ll cover in the run-down below. Rye Museum has a comprehensive listing here http://www.ryemuseum.co.uk/index.php/2011/03/
But if you want a current best-seller with Rye, Winchelsea and Camber locations, pick up a copy of William Boyd’s Waiting for Sunrise. It’s a tale of spying, psychology and love, and is pitched at the literary end of the thriller scale. It is set in the early years of the last century, and features several chapters set in Winchelsea and Rye, with descriptions of long walks to Camber and the marsh.
Anyway, here’s that run-down:
E F Benson
Benson wrote the Mapp and Lucia series of six comic novels in the 1920s and 30s. All are set in Rye and, despite coming from such a different age, feature characters that are still-recognisable archetypes of Rye’s unique mix of arty, slightly arch, bohemian, shabby-chic inhabitants.
You’ll find a two-volume omnibus edition of the Mapp and Lucia books in the living room at Dunescape, and some slightly-foxed individual volumes in the book exchange on the top floor (take any titles you like the look of, but please replace each selection with a donation of your own). If these have been snaffled, the Martello Bookshop in Rye High Street will probably have copies. The Martello is also a great resource for other local books, and for bookish chats.
E F Benson was also mayor of Rye, and donated a wonderful stained glass window to St Mary’s Church. He has a plaque in the lookout, where you can gaze towards Rye Harbour and Camber, that you’ll find up the slope from the Landgate, just before the road turns into the High Street.
The Mapp and Lucia series are currently out of fashion, but were filmed successfully for Channel 4 in the mid-80s, and deserve to be read.
I know, I know, he’s a jumbo-jockey in literary circles, but I can’t read him. If you can, hats off to you. Anyway, he loved Rye, partly because the flat countryside that surrounds it was excellent for easy cycling, of which he was a fan.
If, like me, you can’t digest him, you might still like Author Author by David Lodge, which is a very entertaining fictionalised biography of the great man. There’s a copy in the bookcase.
Lamb House celebrates him, and he adored it. Simon Jenkins, writing in his England’s Thousand Best Houses, says: “To Henry James, Lamb House was more than a spirit. It was a passion”.
James initially took a lease on the property for two years and in 1899 bought the house for £2,000. When he moved in he was 55 years old and already an established literary figure on both sides of the Atlantic. He was to spend most of the last 18 years of his life at the house.
While in residence he wrote What Maisie Knew (1897), In The Cage (1898), The Awkward Age (1899), The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Beast in the Jungle (1903), The Golden Bowl (1904), Italian Hours (1909), and The Outcry (1911).
Find out more here http://www.ryeeye.co.uk/henry_james.htm
The author of the Jungle Book lived at Batemans in Burwash, which is now owned by the National Trust. This wonderful 17th house and 10 acre garden are much as he left them, as is his Rolls Royce. More here http://www.ryeeye.co.uk/kipling.htm
Milligan was a comedian who later became a very successful writer of nonsense-verse books for children and a hilarious seven-volume autobiography. He settled in Rye– he had a house in theUdimore Road– in later life and shambled about the town, attending Mass at Catholic St Anthony’s in Watchbell Street. He died in 2002, but was buried at the Anglican St Thomas’s in Winchelsea, which he could see from his house.
A wide path of flattened grass will take you to his grave, which is in the northern quarter of the churchyard, and bears a Gaellic inscription which translates as: “I told you I was ill.”
The author of The Railway Children weekended at St-Mary-in-the-Marsh, and is buried in the churchyard. This hamlet, isolated under a big-big sky in the heart of Romney Marsh, is well worth a visit.
The website of the hamlet’s pub, the Star, says of Nesbit: “In 1917 she married her second husband, a bearded, nautical man named Thomas Tucker, known as The Skipper. The couple set up home close to St. Mary-in-the-Marsh, but nearer to the shore known today as St. Mary’s Bay. Back then and still today by the locals it is known as Jesson, which was only a tiny hamlet.
”Edith’s final years brought her a new refreshing peace and contentment thanks to The Skipper, who was devoted to her. Friends old and new visited often, many famous, others not so. Amongst her newest friends was the young Noel Coward who was living in the little cottage next to The Star Inn here at St. Mary-in-the-Marsh, opposite the church. …Edith was laid to rest in this peaceful, quiet country churchyard under the protective stretched out branches of the majestic elm tree. The large elm has now gone but Edith lives on through her writing …Her grave is marked by a simple wooden structure; the original being carved lovingly by “The Skipper” himself, Edith wanted no memorial stone.”
You’ll find a copy of The Railway Children in the bookcase.
More here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._Nesbit
H G Wells
The author of War of the Worlds lived across the marsh in Space House, Sandgate from 1901 to 1909. Henry James often cycled over to visit him. Wells wrote several of his best-known works here, including Kipps. More here http://www.ryeeye.co.uk/literary_rye.htm
The author of Heart of Darkness lived at Capel House, Orlestone, on Romney Marsh and wrote many novels including Lord Jim.
She lived in Rye between 1928 and 1943 and wrote The Well of Loneliness, a now little-read hymn to lesbianism. She scandalised Rye when she set up home here in the Thirties with her lover Mabel Batten, a former mistress of Edward VII. Despite that, she attended mass at Catholic St Anthony’s and bequeathed to the church its impressive rood cross.
G. K. Chesterton
Chesterton visited but was not universally popular. When lodging at the Mermaid Inn, just around the corner from Henry James’s Lamb House, James had a chambermaid posted by the window to warn him when “that unspeakable man” was approaching.
Undeterred, Chesteron rented the house next door to Lamb House in the summer of 1908.
Chesterton references Rye in this poem about the Rolling English Road http://www.poetryatlas.com/poetry/poem/26/the-rolling-english-road.html
Ford Madox Ford
He lived in Winchelsea and wrote, among other things, The Good Soldier. According to Winchelsea.Net he “Came to Winchelsea in 1891 to visit his sweetheart, Elsie Martindale, daughter of the local doctor (and original author of The Extra Pharmacopoeia, a list of new drugs still being published today and known colloquially by doctors as the “Martindale”). He eloped with her in 1894, but returned to live in Winchelsea in 1901 once relations with her family had been repaired. While in Winchelsea, Ford wrote A History of the Cinque Ports (1899), which included two chapters on Winchelsea.
Not everyone would class the creator of the cartoon character Captain Pugwash as a literary giant, but this is no place for snobbery. Ryan was a prominent and much-respected local figure who died in 2009. Read more at http://www.ryeeye.co.uk/ryan.htm
Dame Sybil’s lesser-known actor and novelist brother wrote the Dr Syn of Romney Marsh series of novels about a clergyman-cum-smuggler set in Dymchurch, published from 1915. Residents of Dymchurch hold a Day of Syn Festival during the August Bank Holiday of even-numbered years.
I loved the books when they were read to me as a child, but haven’t looked at them since. They’re still in print though
Never heard of him, but apparently he’s the author of the Lone Pine adventure series, some of which are set in Rye.
We’re getting into pretty ancient literary history now, but if you do Jacobean playwrights, Fletcher is yer Rye man. He followed William Shakespeare as house playwright for the King’s Men, and was among the most prolific and influential dramatists of his day.
He was born in Rye in 1579 in what is now Fletcher’s House, a tea shop alongside St Mary’s Church. He died of the plague in 1625.
Pop in to the teashop and raise a muffin to the great man. And, indeed, to any of tthe literary figures who may have struck a chord.