Rye in Literature

Captain PugwashThere are various mentions of the town by famous travel writers between the 16th and 18th centuries, although not all mentions were good. Sir Robert Naunton (1563–1635) mentions it in his book Travels in England, published sometime between 1628 and 1632: he calls Rye a “small English seaport”; shortly after his arrival he takes post-horses for London, travelling via Flimwell. Daniel Defoe (1660–1731) describes the state of the harbour and its approaches, saying that “Rye would flourish again, if her harbour, which was once able to receive the royal navy, cou’d be restor’d … ” but that he thought it very doubtful that large ships would be able to use the port again. William Cobbett (1763–1835) simply mentions it in passing, saying that this area (that including the Romney Marsh) would be most likely to be where the French invaders might land. According to Norman Wright’s book “The Famous Five: Everything you ever wanted to know”, it was Rye and the Romney Marsh that inspired Enid Blyton to write “Five go to Smuggler’s Top” (1945). In 1969 Malcolm Saville published an entry in his Lone Pine series of children’s adventure novels titled Rye Royal set largely in Rye.

Lamb House

E F BensonRye has produced and attracted many fiction writers, some of whom lived at Lamb House, one of the town’s historic residences and now owned by the National Trust. They include Henry James (1843–1916), the American novelist, who was resident between 1898 and 1916; Rumer Godden (1907–98), the Anglo-Indian novelist; and E.F. Benson (1867–1940), the English novelist. Both the House and the town feature prominently in Benson’s Mapp and Lucia novels, as Mallards House and Tilling respectively. In the mid 1980s, Rye was used as a filming location by LWT for its adaptation of the Mapp and Lucia novels. A BBC adaptation of Mapp and Lucia will be filmed in Rye in the summer of 2014. The post-Monty Python film Yellowbeard also had a few scenes filmed on the cobbled street. The feature film Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. was filmed in Mermaid Street. It starred Gregory Peck and was made in 1951. Mermaid Street serves as Hornblower’s wife and mother’s house in Portsmouth.

People of Rye

  • Conrad Aiken (1889–1973), American writer. Aiken’s former home, Jeake’s House, is now a guest house.
  • Joan Aiken (1924–2004), children’s author, daughter of Conrad Aiken
  • Tom Baker (1934–), British actor, best known for playing the Doctor in Doctor Who between 1974-1981.
  • Edward Burra (1905–1976), painter, draughtsman and printmaker, born near Rye and lived in the town from time to time in the 1920s and 1930s
  • Paul Nash (1889–1946), WWI artist, lived in East Street in the 1930s
  • John Christopher (1922–2012), science fiction author. The 1980s British television series based on his trilogy, The Tripods, was filmed near his house.
  • Tom Chaplin singer of the band Keane
  • Monica Edwards (1912–1998), children’s author who lived at Rye Harbour and set her Romney Marsh novels in the area, renaming Rye Dunsford.
  • John Fletcher (1579–1625), Jacobean playwright and solicitor.
  • Radclyffe Hall (1880–1943), seminal lesbian writer.
  • Monica and Gabriela Irimia (1982–)
  • The Cheeky Girls who live in cheeky towers in the town.
  • Sir Paul McCartney (1942–), musician and former Beatle. McCartney’s children attended the local schools in Rye. Spike Milligan (1918–2002), comedian, writer, musician, poet, playwright and vice-president of the Rye Rugby Club.
  • John Ryan (1921–2009), Although born in Edinburgh, this British Author/Cartoonist famed for his TV cartoon Captain Pugwash, was a resident of Rye.
  • Malcolm Saville (1901–82), author of nearly 80 children’s books, largely thrillers and adventure stories. Saville was the creator of the Lone Pine series of books, a number of which were set in Rye, including The Gay Dolphin Adventure and Rye Royal.
  • Russell Thorndike (1885–1972), who set his Dr Syn novels about smuggling on the marshes.
  • Philippa Urquhart (1940–), British actress. Sir Anthony van Dyck did several drawings of the town, unusually detailed for him, and probably done to pass the time until a ship to the continent arrived.
  • The ancestors of Jamaican reggae artist Bob Marley reportedly hail from Rye; his most recent ancestor, great-grandfather Frederick, was born in the town in 1820.
  • Geoffrey Bagley (1901–1992) Canadian war artist who settled in Rye post war & then worked to preserve the town’s historic mementos and places.