In the 18th and early 19th centuries smuggling was rife in England and no more so that on the Romney Marsh. The Rev Dr Christopher Syn is the smuggler hero of a series of novels by Russell Thorndike set in and around Romney Marsh.
The first book, Doctor Syn: A Smuggler Tale of Romney Marsh was published in 1915. The story idea came from smuggling in the 18th century Romney Marsh, where 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 August Gang and the Revenue, supported by the army and local militias in the South, Kent and the West, Sussex.
Posing as a respectable vicar of St.Peter and St.Paul Church in Dymchurch at the turn of the 18th century, Dr Syn is actually the retired pirate Captain Clegg. Clegg, believed hanged in Rye, is no longer being sought by the authorities. However, country life proves too tame for the good " Dr. Syn," and his attention turns to smuggling.
He takes on a secret identity, " The Scarecrow," and leads a gang of smugglers known as the Marsh Men. They travel Romney Marsh by night on horseback, sometimes using mounts painted with phosphorus to give them a spectral appearance, spreading legends of supernatural evil and menace.
Although a criminal, Syn's appeal is almost Robin Hood-like. He uses his ill-gotten gains to help his parish, and the King's Men sent to ferret out him and his men are hardly a sympathetic lot, even though they represent the forces of law. It's little wonder that Doctor Syn proved a hit among readers of its day.
Thorndike had intended his first novel to be a one-off, as the character of Syn had been killed off at the end of the book. Its popularity, however, was so great that Thorndike wrote six “prequel” novels that followed Syn’s earlier years, covering his creation as a Doctor of Divinity at Oxford and his career as Captain Clegg, pirate of the high seas.
Dr Syn Novels
Dymchurch Day of Syn
Every two years Dymchurch celebrates its association with Dr Syn by holding a Day of Syn. The Day of Syn celebrations go back more than 40 years. The first Day of Syn was held in 1964 as a way of raising funds for the renewal of the roof of St Peter & St Paul Parish Church. The then Rector of Dymchurch, Reverend Ronald Meredith, and the Parochial Church Council made the decision to hold a pageant based on the Dr Syn stories and the author, Russell Thorndike gave his permission for the title, Day of Syn, to be used.
The Day of Syn has grown over the years from being a one day event to a weekend and is now held bi-annually, bringing in thousands of visitors from all over the UK and as far afield as the US and Australia. It is the largest free event in Kent so it is perfect for a family day out.