The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh

Clockwise from top-left: Author Russell Thorndike; aerial photo of south-east England from Google Maps; Henry James in front of his house; Patrick McGoohan as The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (1964, Walt Disney Studios)

From a web site called Romney Marsh – The Fifth Quarter:

The novel Doctor Syn was published in 1915. It is set around the turn of the 18th century and tells the story of the Vicar of Dymchurch, who was once the notorious pirate Captain Clegg and now leads a secret life as the Scarecrow, head of a gang of smugglers.  The author was the actor and writer Russell Thorndike, brother of the actress Dame Sybil Thorndike.

Such was the popularity of the original novel that Thorndike went on to write six others, which recount Doctor Syn’s earlier life.

And from Wikipedia:

The Romney Marsh is a sparsely populated wetland area in the counties of Kent and East Sussex in the south-east of England. It covers about 100 square miles (260 km²).

The flat, almost empty landscape made for asmuggler’s paradise throughout the 17th, 18th and into the 19th centuries. Brandy and tobacco were brought in at night by boat from France to avoid high tax. Minor battles were fought, sometimes at night, between gangs of smugglers, such as the Hawkhurst Gang and the Revenue, supported by the army and localmilitias in the South, Kent and the West, Sussex.The traffic was two-way, since wool was also smuggled to the Continent.

The Victorians made smugglers into romantic anti-heroes; in truth they were unscrupulous villains. The main gangs on the Marsh were the Hawkhurst Gang, the Mayfield Gang and the Aldington Gang, known also as the Blues.

Romney Marsh has a distinguished literary history. Three authors who specifically used the marsh as settings for their works were E.F. Benson, author of the Mapp and Lucia novels; Russell Thorndike, author of the Doctor Syn novels; and the children’s writer Monica Edwards, author of the Romney Marsh books in which Rye Harbour becomes “Westling”, Rye is renamed “Dunsford”, and Winchelsea is known as “Winklesea”.

Many other well-known writers have been associated with the area: Henry James, who lived in Rye; H.G. Wells, Joseph Conrad, Stephen Crane, Radclyffe Hall, Noel Coward, Edith Nesbit, Rumer Godden, and Conrad Aiken. Rudyard Kipling and his Smugglers’ Song are famous.

Films about the Scarecrow include Dr. Syn (1937, London Films); Captain Clegg,  known as Night Creatures in the U.S. (1962, Hammer Films); and The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (1962, Walt Disney Studios). The Walt Disney production revised the character of Scarecrow into a kind of Robin Hood-type hero. Patrick McGoohan, who later created and starred in the original TV series, The Prisoner, starred as Dr. Syn, alias The Scarecrow.

Dig the cool theme song:

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