Fairfield July 1940

The inspiration for this poem came from a number of things. Firstly I realised that early September 2019 marked the 80th anniversary of the start of the Second World War, secondly  the sound of a lone plane in the sky over Romney Marsh reminded me of the Battle of Britain and the fact that much of the action of that battle took place above the Marsh. Thirdly I remembered that my father was 17 years old at the time of the Battle of Britain and was working at Fairfield. Inspiration also came from a short section from Sheila Kaye-Smith’s novel Tambourine, Trumpet and Drum – the third section of the novel – where she records the encounter between German and British aircraft in the skies above her home in rural East Sussex. This poem tries to capture the fracture and disturbance that was brought to everyday rural life and to the natural world by the battle that raged overhead.

Fairfield July 1940

He stood rolled sleeved, khaki drills,
Dusty boots, blue eyed, shock of hair.
Crook in hand he strode the field,

Sewer reeds rustlingly whispered,
Sheep safely grazed.
Lone seagull gliding on the breeze,
Heron statuesquely still.
St Thomas’s lone and hunkered,
Amidst a timeless quiet calm.

Droning bees in a box
Shattered the silence,
Drawing his eyes to seaward.
Swarming raven specks
Stippled the crystal skyline.
Closer, cruciform, dark as night,
A phalanx of fear
Thundering, roaring above.

Dropping to the ground,
Crawling to the ditch edge,
He watched.

Out of the wide blue yonder
They came.
Swooping, diving, rolling,
Supreme elegance, spitting fire.
Dwarf against giant.
Dogfighting dances of death.

He watched awestruck.
Fearful but fascinated,
Engulfed by barraging blasts,
Screaming and shrieking.
He watched until it was over.



Sounds of the Past

As I walk the land and lanes
A man made cacophony disturbs the peace.
Scouring the sky, thunder rumbling planes
With criss-crossing trails carve the air.
Across the fields clattering trains
Pierce the tranquil calm
With whistles screeching.
I care not where they are bound
Nor from whence they have appeared.
I want to hear the sounds of the past.
Those that ancestors heard.
Slight and gentle, hardly discernible;
Whispering winds rustling reeds,
Footfalls on dusty ground,
Hedgerow feathered flutters,
Yaffling gallybirds from churchyard trees,
Raucous rasping magpie laughter,
And distant bleating of sheep.

At ditches margin steel grey
Jack Heron sentinel stands.
Disturbed he levers aloft
With soft sibilant sound of wings
Brushing through the gentle breeze.

Silent flights of flitting butterflies
Flock around bramble flowers
Along the shaded track.
Iridescent damselflies,
Weightless, electric blue,
Mutely move and momentarily
Settle on watery stem.

These they would have known,
These they would have heard,
These they would have seen.


(Gallybird is a Sussex dialect name for a Green Woodpecker)

Summer nights

Blood orange moon, gunmetal streaked
With menacing cloud.
Lightening flashes cut the curtains
Momentarily illuminating the room.
Ordinance crashing thunder groans,
Explodes and roars.
Blustery gusts of wind whistle while
Rain, nail sharp, torrential, brutal,
Beats relentlessly on window and roof.
I can’t sleep.

As time passes
Rumbles turn to distant muffled drums,
Moon cloud cloaked,
Deepest darkness envelops my world.
Somnolent silence returns
Until fingers of opalescent dawn
Crawl across the fields
Banishing the morning star.
I awake to a hushed new day.

Another night; calm, quiet.
Liquid limpid moonlight
Washes waving barley.
Sloughing, sighing, rippling
Silvered fields billow and surge.
A silent spectral owl glides
Above whispering reeds
As sheep silent, ghostly,
Lie beneath star pricked ancient skies.
Jack and his wagon eternally
Ride the darkness
Until nascent dawn
Brings the light.

Father’s Leavings

It has been a fair while since I have posted anything on my site – in mitigation I have been attacking a rather over grown garden and have tidied up my garage. This necessitated several trip to the local tip!!

However this tidy up inspired the poem I have posted here. Over ten years ago I removed a number of items from my father’s home after his death and I have never been able to bring myself to throw them out. They have little monetary value but as you will see in the poem they have a far greater value for me.

Father’s leavings

Useful things, tools and the like,
Things of little monetary worth.
Things that speak of their work,
Left long since by those sleeping in earth.

The hop digging spud that he used;
As old as the hills,
Blacksmith made, but the best for the job.
Not only his but theirs;
Father and grandfather before him.

Plunge into the soil
Foot on the lug.
Lever back towards you
Turn the sod and plant the set.

The scythe stood against the hedge,
Russet rusted, pitted, blunt.
Wind, rain, sun bleached handle
Whisper grey, worn but solid.
Used by him and those before,
Standing in my garage
The greatest treasure of all.
Once held by firm sinewed hands,
Leather tanned by sun and wind,
Gnarled and calloused,
Large as hams, skilled and strong.

The handbill clutching the chopping block
With razor sharp blade.
Handle worn; smoothed by human hold.
I use it still, keep the blade keen.
“You need to do that, sharp it well,
Use a rubber or whetston’ if you can,
Then it will see you through
All you need to do”.
Used for chopping wood now,
Once, laying hedges, brisching bushes.

The hop pocket lines the car boot,
Folded carefully.
Their names are hidden from view
Along with the Martlets
And the name of the farm.
Coarse, strong hessian,
Rough to the touch,
Stitched with string,
But full of memory.

Hidden in the box,
Under the bench.
Bound and gagged
With old twine
Just as he left them.
His sheep shears.
Black, oily, dulled by age,
Spider nests in globed handle,
Gossamer cobweb engulfed.
I pick them up,
Brush off the webs,
Slip off the string.
Hear his voice.
“They won’t cut anything.
Give them an edge.
Cack handed and a’k’ard you be
Move over and pass them to me”

I remember his skill.
I remember his hands.
Contoured with veins,
Nicked and scratched,
Lined and mapped,
By the years of work.

*Hop digging spud is a small purpose made spade.

* A set is a hop plant

*A rubber is a hand held sharpening device used for sharpening a scythe or sickle etc.

Sheila Kaye-Smith

It has been a little while since I posted anything on this blog, particularly any articles on Sheila Kaye-Smith’s fiction. However,  I have now decided to write a sort of conclusion to the articles I have previously posted on her work. In this article I aim to provide an overview of the work I have discussed on this blog and place that fiction within a context of Kaye-Smith’s life, the times within she lived and her place in the writing of the first half of the twentieth century.
Since the second half of the twentieth century, Sheila Kaye-Smith’s fiction has suffered the fate that she ascribed to those novelists of her youth who had fallen from favour with the readership of the 1950s. She felt that no injustice had been done to those whose work had been forgotten because they had “provided a past generation with entertainment and had received in return their meed of praise” (ABML124). Nevertheless in the articles posted on this blog I have aimed to make it apparent, through this retrieval and reappraisal of Kaye-Smith’s fiction, that among her prolific output there is much that is of interest and relevance for a modern readership. From the publication of her first novel, The Tramping Methodist, she marked her work as regional with the use of the Sussex/Kent border countryside as her setting. She was never to veer away from this regionality, not least because from her earliest childhood, it represented all that was her “heart’s delight”, “always had been . . . and always would be” (TWH 3). Apart from her strong emotional attachment to this area, in later life she turned that love of the land into a physical bond by living on a small-holding in the Sussex countryside. A more pragmatic reason for her regionality is signposted in her own assertion that she was a regional novelist by reason of necessity. She “felt at home in that country” and saw herself as a child of Sussex. She needed to write about that area of land that she knew intimately, for a sense of place was essential to her novels. All her work demonstrates this primacy and spirit of place, so much so that in many of her earlier novels, most notably Sussex Gorse and Joanna Godden, the landscape is of greater importance, or is “at least as important as the people” (TWH 174). Nevertheless in most of Kaye-Smith’s fiction the regionality of the narrative is applied with a light touch. The place names that she uses can be found on a map, but Kaye-Smith tampers with the geography of her chosen region and relocates farms and villages to suit the purposes of her storytelling. Her characters often have the names of people who actually lived in and around her chosen location but their lives bear little resemblance to lives that Kaye-Smith attributes to them. Her descriptions of landscape are those of a gentle south country, but the only real anchors in a specific area come from her references to the Downs, Romney Marsh and a countryside dotted with oast-houses and hop fields. Not all her novels incorporate dialectal idioms and the manners of speech peculiar to Sussex, but those that do, most notably Green Apple Harvest, confirm Kaye-Smith’s regionality and her desire to preserve at least some of the “racy Sussex dialect, with its affinity with real English” (Egerton viii). Once her work became popular during and after the First World War, and with the growing popularity of regional fiction, both her publishers and her critics began to dub her the ‘Sussex Hardy’ and placed her as a distinctly regional novelist. However, Kaye-Smith’s regionality as a writer is inextricably linked to her positioning as a novelist of the rural.
Throughout Kaye-Smith’s fiction the writing of the rural demonstrates the development of her growing skill as a novelist, and her changing interests and concerns during her adult life. Her early works are illustrative of a writer feeling her way as a novice novelist, and as an observer of the countryside from the perspective of an occasional visitor. The portrayals of the regional countryside are panoramic and pictorial, and are rendered in the language of an idyllic pastoral style. Thus she described the Weald as a patchwork of images with its scenic “white-capped oasts and black barns, emerald pastures, olive-green hop-fields . . . patches of garden . . . and above all the blue sky” (TM 121). Combined with these wide expansive views of landscape, there are detailed and carefully observed descriptions of the natural world. These narrations of nature, influenced by her reading as well as by detailed observation, idealise the particular. For example, a spring day is characterised by earth that “was damp and soft, and smelled sweet, and primroses and dog-violets starred the turf” (TM 42). However, as Kaye-Smith’s writing developed, she combined these two aspects of the rural to present a generalised impression of countryside that speaks to the regional in its imagery, but is also no longer reliant on the visual senses alone. For example in Susan Spray the countryside is depicted in a variety of sensory terms with the “clop of the horse’s hoofs upon the valley lane, and the dim, stealing smell of hops, which blew in invisible smoke down the September twilight from the cowls of the oast-houses” (SS 367). In the early novels the landscape and the natural world take centre stage and the human characters are placed as interlopers or outside observers for much of the narrative. They are, like Kaye-Smith, urbanites, “just townspeople living in the country” (TWH 95). Not until the writing of Sussex Gorse did Kaye-Smith begin to place human characters at the centre of her narrative and start to develop her theory of the relationship between the rural environment and humanity. In this novel and those that followed she concentrated on how characters are shaped by their environment.
Throughout her writing of the 1920s and 1930s Kaye-Smith continued to develop and refine her presentation of this relationship. In her pre-First-World-War novel, Isle of Thorns, she had tentatively begun to explore the affiliation between humanity and the environment with the added dimension of religious belief. The use of the rural environment as a manifestation of God the Creator, with God in all things, and a belief in a universal Christianity based on these tenets was tentatively explored in her early novels; it became the driving philosophy that informed all of her writing during and after the war. By the 1930s Kaye-Smith had come to recognise that although her writing was regional by necessity, it was her love of the countryside that really lay at its heart. For Kaye-Smith it is evident, throughout all of her fiction, that “The country and my writing are really two different parts of the same thing” and that religion is “the third strand in the shining cord” (TWH 5). From the time, in 1918, that Kaye-Smith became a devout Anglo-Catholic until her death, when she was an equally devout Roman Catholic, her fiction is informed by her faith. In those works where this is overtly evident, such as her proselytising propaganda for the Anglo-Catholic movement that lies at the centre of The End of the House of Alard, or in the preaching of her own religious Catholicism that makes up much of Green Apple Harvest, the narratives overwhelmingly speak to a Christian culture. However, while the majority of her work is informed by her beliefs, the Christian message is implied rather than obviously and openly stated in her later work. Kaye-Smith’s novels do, nonetheless, provide a record of her personal changes in faith and belief. Those works that pre-date the First World War reflect her own searching for religious belief and a questioning of her parents’ Protestantism. In them her protagonists’ rejection of the constraints of Anglican Protestantism, with their exploration of a spiritual replacement by a form of mystical union with the natural world, echoes Kaye-Smith’s own quest for a meaningful religious dimension to her life. Her conversion to Anglo-Catholicism marked a significant change in her life and work that came at the same time as a rise in her popularity. With the zeal of the convert she gave her central characters an assurance of faith that combined her own belief in the union of humanity, nature and God with a Catholicised Christianity. Her final conversion to Roman Catholicism marked a concluding change in her fiction. She no longer felt the necessity to preach or proselytise, and while her work reflects her own Catholicism, this is covertly presented through the everyday lives of her characters. The only religious philosophy that remains constant, but is refined and developed throughout her oeuvre is the belief she had from childhood: that of the unique relationship between God, nature and humanity. This is illustrated in her often repeated motif of a human being leaning on a gate staring at the natural world while experiencing a universal mystical spirituality that is beyond words.
Kaye-Smith’s religious beliefs lie at the core of the other concerns and issues that are the focus of the majority of her fiction. Her work gained in popularity after the publication of Sussex Gorse, but it was not until the end of the First World War that she became a truly popular novelist. Her popularity is attested to, not only by the sales figures for her fiction, but also by the number of interviews and articles that appeared in the newspapers, by the lengthy reviews that appeared in a number of publications both in Britain, and particularly America, and by the recognition she gained from her fellow novelists. In the inter-war years critics recognised that her concern with social issues, particularly the place of women in society, and her positioning as a rural regional writer, placed her alongside a wide-ranging collection of her contemporaries including Rose Macaulay, Clemence Dane, Rebecca West, Storm Jameson, Hugh Walpole, John Travena and Constance Holme. However, it was not popularity alone that gained her acceptance in a wider literary milieu. D. H. Lawrence, in a letter to Charles Lahr dated 7th October 1929, concerning the publication of Pansies (1929), suggested that “you might ask Rebecca West, Sheila Kaye-Smith – a smart woman or two” (The Letters of D. H. Lawrence 516) to give an opinion on the content of the poems, thus defining Kaye-Smith as a woman of some literary eminence and sound judgement in his estimation. While a twenty-first century readership might not wish to subscribe to the opinions and judgements of Kaye-Smith’s contemporaries, such material is pertinent in the placing of Kaye-Smith in a context of the middlebrow literary landscape of the 1920s and 30s. What set Kaye-Smith apart from her fellow writers of rural regional fiction and many of the women middlebrow novelists, was her concern for the rural working classes: those who worked on the land and the issues that affected their lives.
During the 1920s Kaye-Smith was at her most prolific. Like many of her generation she had been greatly affected by the First World War, and her writing of the 1920s and early 1930s reflects this. Several of her novels, either directly, or through the metaphorical imagery of destruction and battle, reference the war and illustrate the lasting, damaging legacy of that conflict. Much of her fiction is preoccupied with the changes in society that followed in the wake of peace, as she adopts a political agenda that is reflected in the subject matter she addresses in the novels of this time. From the early 1920s Kaye-Smith uses her rural and regional settings to explore a number of social issues and to make socio-economic and socio-political observations. These included discussing and documenting the changing roles of women in rural society, the economic effects of the agricultural slump on the lives of the rural working classes and the gentry, the encroaching urbanisation of the countryside, and the loss of traditional country ways of life and skills. Not always critical of this brave new world, her contention throughout is that while change is inevitable, and sometimes for the best, each individual must work out their own destiny and freedom within society. Her religious beliefs and her love of the countryside inform her contention that human peace and contentment can only be attained by a spiritual and mystical contemplative communion with the natural world. What matters most to those characters, who are cast as admirable, is the contentment that comes from an acceptance of their lot in life, and her oft repeated central theme, of humanity’s place within the natural world. This is most aptly reflected in Reuben Backfield’s resolve that when he dies he “‘shan’t be afraid to lie in it [the earth] at last'” (SG 462), Bob Fuller’s assertion that in dying in May he was “going into the middle of all that’s alive” and he “can’t never lose the month of May” (GAH 285), and in Adam Cryall’s desire to have his ashes spread “upon the dust of the stubbled wheat” (VFP 224). For Kaye-Smith’s characters, in an ever changing world, stability comes from the dependable and predictable cycles of the seasons, the weather and the farming year. Their joy, solace, and optimism for the future, comes from their observation of nature combined with an implied recognition of their own place within the natural world. Stella Mount recognises hope for the future in the “starry beds of wood anemones” and “the first occasional violets” (EHA 332) of spring, while Fred Sinden perceives that even in a much-changed world the things that meant most to him “were with him still – the earth and its changes, the fields and their fruit” (PP 343).
While her earliest novels only tentatively approached an exploration of women’s place in society, her fiction that featured female protagonists from the 1920s and beyond is uncompromising in the presentation of women who are robust, determined and resolute in their desire to make their way in male-dominated worlds. The dilemmas that face Susan Spray, Joanna Godden and Rose Deeprose have relevance for a twenty-first century female readership. As Janet Montifiore suggests in her Introduction to Susan Spray, the focus of “The woman’s questions have a resonance now that her [Susan Spray’s] creator probably did not intend” (SS xii). Kaye-Smith champions the right of women to compete with men, and to stand as equals, in whichever field of activity they choose to pursue. To strengthen and reinforce her case she has allocated traditional male preserves as the chosen careers for her heroines, with Joanna Godden and Rose Deeprose finding satisfaction in farming, and Susan Spray as a female preacher. In the novels of the 1940s and 1950s, female characters still stand at the centre of the narrative, and although they are strong, steadfast and tenacious in their pursuit of a path in life, they are less overtly ambitious and competitive. All of Kaye-Smith’s female characters exemplify the central thematic strand that is woven throughout her fiction: they all find solace, peace and contentment in the countryside and it is to the natural world that they turn when they are in need of tranquillity. Equally, in common with many of her male protagonists, her female characters are ‘questing’ or ‘wayfaring’ individuals in search of a path to follow that offers them an understanding of who they are, and that gives a meaning to their lives.
The feminist message is not the only politically motivated strand that characterises Kaye-Smith’s fiction of the 1920s and beyond. With her abiding concern with the traditions of the countryside and her love of the Sussex rural landscape, it is not surprising that the focus of her socio-political and socio-economic criticism is directed at the changes wrought in agriculture and farming life by the agricultural slump that occurred in the aftermath of the First World War. She is accepting of the inevitability of change and modernisation and sees much that is beneficial to those who live and work in farming communities. She is saddened and angered by the loss of the paternalism of the gentry and in The End of the House of Alard makes plain her condemnation of Gervase Alard’s sale of his inherited estate. She abhors the indiscriminate house-building that attracted town-dwellers to the country and that blighted Sussex with sprawling urbanisation. She is at her most outspoken when condemning the pain and suffering that has been caused to those who have lost their jobs and livelihoods because of prohibitive taxation, government policy and a general centralisation of control over rural affairs that means the destruction of traditional farming methods. Her political advocacy for the countryside as a “place of business, of hard work” (KF 203) became explicit in her writing by the middle of the Second World War when she was living in the heart of the Sussex countryside. As an ardent advocate for the farming industry she felt that in the national political outlook farming should be regarded as on the same footing as other large industries, and as such should “have its place in ‘progressive’ political programmes instead of being regarded by the protagonists as the symbol of Tory reaction” (KF 203). Her eloquent and heartfelt call for a fair-deal for the countryside has a resonance for the twenty-first century when considered in the light of modern organic and environmental movements that campaign for food security. Kaye-Smith’s constant, informed love for the countryside is most powerfully and passionately stated in her assertion that “The day we lose our countryside as a real thing – a working thing, an independent thing, a self-respecting thing – we lose our soul” (KF 204). All of her fiction attests to this staunchly-held belief.
Her fiction reflects the spirit of the age. Often her early work appears to relate the perceptions of an outsider overlooking the world of the countryside, but in her later novels she is “much more than a detached observer” (TJA 18) of the countryside and the current of events that affect the lives of those around her. As she had commented of Jane Austen, Kaye-Smith was “watching the stream of history flow” (TJA 18) but her observations of the times in which she lived were not viewed from a distance, but rather she found herself “carried along ” (TJA 18) by the tide of change. Although she abhorred some aspects of the modern world she viewed much of that change with sympathy, recognising that change was inevitable. However, during the interwar years she became aware of the national mood and a nostalgia for an Englishness that had become identified with the perceived traditional ways of the countryside.

With a careful balancing act, Kaye-Smith stayed true to her agenda of realism by presenting the hardship and harsh reality of rural life, but she combined this with sufficient idyllic pictures of the landscape to allow her readership to retain their fantasy of country life as wholesome and timeless. Her desire with her fiction was to provide a “form of escapism” that allowed her reader to experience a world that was “enough like [their] own to be real” but “unlike enough to be stimulating” (TJA 208). By the 1930s and through to the post-war years, Kaye-Smith was using her “nostalgic views of rural life . . . in the service of a political intervention” ( Head 121). Her mission was to persuade those in a position of political authority to recognise that the countryside is “the scene of one of the most vital, most neglected, most maltreated of our national industries” and to argue that “Any great extension of its present occupation by urban fundamentalists would mean the end of farming except as a hobby” (KF 203). By the late 1930s this nostalgic conception of the countryside, that her urban readership saw as quintessentially English, was linked with the patriotism of popular culture. For example the popular song “There’ll always be an England” (1939) promoted the notion that there will always be an England “While there’s a country lane. Wherever there’s a cottage small/ Beside a field of grain” . Throughout her later fiction Kaye-Smith presented her readers with rural life rooted in realism while allowing for an escape to a fantasy world that was not threatened by the mechanised forces of war or modernity.
As well as reflecting her own interests and concerns, Kaye-Smith’s fiction often adopts or emulates the prevailing trends of the time. During and after the First World War her rural writing echoed the Georgian poets interest in an Englishness that rested on images of landscape, nature and a love of the English countryside. Like Vita Sackville-West she celebrated the beauty of the Kent and Sussex countryside and the lives of those who lived and worked there. Kaye-Smith’s novels of the 1920s and more especially the 1930s and beyond, with their preoccupation with aspects of religion, place her among convert Catholic novelists such as Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene. Unlike Waugh and Greene her novels were never explicitly Catholic but her characters are invariably portrayed as wayfarers, pilgrims, in transit, or on a journey metaphorical or actual that will lead to a sense of self-understanding and a spiritual awareness. Like Waugh and Greene she illustrates the mysterious workings of divine grace and a universality of faith and hope that is only offered by the Catholic church.
While it is plain that Kaye-Smith’s fiction was primarily rural and regional, and that on occasion she placed a strong emphasis on a religious dimension, her work also represents a strand of the middlebrow that has been neglected by those who have chosen to foreground women’s middlebrow writing in recent years. Her readership and popularity in the inter-war years places her securely in the middlebrow, albeit a middlebrow that encompasses a wide spectrum of genres. She fulfils Woolf’s criteria of being ‘betwixt and between’ the bestseller and literary fiction, and Kaye-Smith had no pretensions about herself as a novelist or reader; she felt that in both she was “average middle-brow . . . [her] brow is not high, neither is it narrow” (ABML 171).
The carefully chosen selection of Kaye-Smith’s fictional writing that is considered here illustrates the development of her writing as a regional, rural and religious novelist but there is still scope for further work on her fiction. There is considerable scope for further deliberation and exploration of Kaye-Smith’s fiction as writing of the self, and the lasting effects of the First World War on her writing, could offer interesting lines of enquiry. In addition the ethnographic and historical uses that could be afforded by her Alard novels might fruitfully add to academic enquiry into the agricultural slump.
Although she stayed true to her championing of a regional rural agenda, with a socio-political, religious and moral message, Kaye-Smith’s novels from the late 1940s and the 1950s were increasingly old-fashioned, out-dated and parochial, when compared with the work of other popular writers. Among these were Rumer Godden, (a Sussex writer who eventually bought Little Doucegrove from Penrose Fry), Daphne Du Maurier, George Orwell, Ian Fleming, William Golding and J. R. R. Tolkien. Kaye-Smith’s publishers traded on her reputation from the past, but the sales for her later works were modest. After her death Cassell’s noted that Kaye-Smith “became the literary hit of the Twenties and best-seller followed best-seller”, but by the Fifties the critics were only able to praise her characterisation and her nostalgic recreation of country life. Although a twenty-first century multi-cultural readership might well find the overtly religious aspects of a few of her novels unappealing, some of Kaye-Smith’s fiction has a resonance for a modern audience. Her overall emphasis on, and concern for, the rural environment voices a nostalgic view of Britain that speaks directly to a sense of parochial identity in a globally focused world, and the stereotypical escapist dream of life in the countryside. With this in mind I think it would now be timely for a re-issue of a number of Kaye-Smith’s novels. Joanna Godden and Susan Spray, her novels that are concerned to show the dilemmas faced by women in society have a real relevance for women today, while her two war novels Little England and Tambourine, Trumpet and Drum are unique in their dealings with war from the perspective of those on the home front, particularly women, and therefore each of these is worthy of re-publication. Those novels that take farming life as the focus of their narrative, and/or have their basis in the agricultural slump of the 1920s and 30s, have a value not only as a fictionalised record of those times but also as historical ethnology, and as such there is good reason for a re-print of Sussex Gorse and The Ploughman’s Progress.
Kaye-Smith’s fiction addresses issues that are universal and timeless and they do, therefore, possess a lasting value. Always true to her subject matter, her work springs from “some fundamental wisdom and tolerance as old as the earth itself, and as indisputable”.
Her dedication to her literary work and her overwhelming reason for writing fiction was considered by her to be a vocation driven by her religious beliefs and informed by her life-long love of the countryside of Sussex and Kent.

The View From the Parsonage

The View From the Parsonage was Sheila Kaye-Smith’s last published novel. Her untimely death in January 1956 brought an end to the publication of her fiction. There is some indication that she had been working on a number of works but these have never seen the light of day and were quite possibly only at an ideas stage of planning.

The View From the Parsonage is a “study in nostalgia”, presented as a first-person narrative that spans fifty years from the 1890s to the outbreak of the Second World War. Narrated by a village parson but not presented in diary form, The View From the Parsonage is in the tradition of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth-century diary of a clergyman, such as Parson Woodforde’s Diary of a Country Parson, or John Galt’s novel, The Annals of the Parish, that purports to be the diary of a Presbyterian Minister. It comments on national affairs but with a concentration on the personal and parochial affairs of a small rural parish. The narrator is Parson Harry Chamberlin, whose view from the Parsonage is twofold. There is the actual view from his window on to the farm and the land beyond that forms the setting for the novel. However, there is also the metaphorical “view back over the rough country” of the past, that his generation and Kaye-Smith’s had travelled across to reach the present “firm and tranquil ground”. As well as providing a recollection of the social changes that have affected rural life in England throughout those fifty years, this novel returns to Kaye-Smith’s early works in having a rural and regional setting located on the edge of Romney Marsh, and with religion at the centre of the narrative. In the course of the novel Kaye-Smith brings together many of the foci and features of her extensive oeuvre. This novel returns to the lyrical description of the countryside of the Kent/Sussex borders that had established her reputation as a regional, rural writer. She continues to emphasise the differences between town and country as, through Chamberlin, she leaves the reader in no doubt of her conviction that the rural environment is by far superior to the urban. As with the other novel considered in this chapter, this work is concerned with an exploration of time and memory and addresses questions raised by social change. However, the central thesis of the novel is the nature of religious belief. Kaye-Smith uses her characters to scrutinise the “manifestation of God in the world and each individual’s response to it” (Walker 112). She compares the relative merits of mainstream Anglicanism, as seen in the narrator, with Roman Catholicism, exemplified by Edward Boutflower and more especially Blanche Cryall, and with the atheism espoused by Adam Cryall after his rejection of the Christian ministry.
She asserted in the late 1930s that once she wrote from imagination or her “unconscious mind”, but now “the cupboard of this internal Mother Hubbard is bare, and I must take my imagination out into the highways” (TWH 255). The setting of this novel lacks the imaginative re-arrangement of landscape that had featured in her early novels. Kaye-Smith has been faithful to her chosen topographical and geographical setting and her village of Palster-in-Ebony is an amalgam of Stone-cum-Ebony and Stone-in-Oxney. In earlier novels she had introduced her characters and setting in time and place with a looking back at the history of the community, but this technique is used sparingly here. In a few sentences Kaye-Smith establishes a sense of the physical change that has affected Ebony throughout the fifty years of the narrative, and this subsequently becomes a metaphor for the social and religious changes that have affected the lives of the inhabitants. In 1892 “the ferry was still working. The lower reaches of Wet Level were seldom clear of water between November and May, and the old black tub would glide across the shallows, at hours of its own choosing, from the wharf below Mockbeggar to the toll-house” (VFP 7). In contrast, in the present of the late 1930s, Ebony “has a gentle shore-green meadow [that] becomes green marsh” (VFP 6) but “in winter even now the sea is back, salting the overflow of the dykes and the swollen river and lying in sullen floods upon Wet Level” (VFP 7).
There is less cohesion between the natural world, the seasons and human activity than in previous works. In this novel depictions of the landscape are used to reflect the relationship that those who live in Ebony have with their surroundings – sometimes these are used to enhance the pathos of a situation or more frequently to set the scene for some incident of human interaction, or as a framework within which the human drama is played out. Central to all of Kaye-Smith’s philosophy of the land is the strength of the bond between the individual human being and the countryside. This attachment to place is illustrated most fully in the realisation of Adam Cryall. In his own eyes, Cryall is defined by his umbilical connection to the land and in particular the landscape of Ebony. When faced with estrangement from this environment he experiences a “nausea of craving” in realising that he
might never again see that view from the Parsonage field – or the red sun hanging in winter above the woods over there by the river’s bend at Methersham – or that sharp white corner of Potmanskiln Lane . . . [that] shines in the moonlight above Barrow’s Land. (VFP 19).
Cryall accepts “death as a part of Nature” (VFP 216). Like the changing of the seasons, it is “one of her [nature’s] processes for cleansing and remaking the world” (VFP 216). This attitude towards the cycle of life and death makes reference to the myth that those who live their lives close to the earth have an acceptance of death as part of the natural order, and also to Kaye-Smith’s often re-iterated belief in the unique relationship between the country dweller and the natural world. An instance was the death of Sam Holman, “a good old man” whose “painless, peaceful end had been in true affinity with the fields where the wheat slumbered and with the trees that revealed their beauty in their leafless boughs” (VFP 56). This reinforces the fantasy of a countryside that is constantly stable, unchanging and able to withstand the increasingly mechanised and technological influences that affect Kaye-Smith’s urban readership. Throughout the text Kaye-Smith has conjured up an idyllic imagined countryside in which the seasons are characterised by a perpetual immutability. A summer day ends when the “motionless air thickened at dusk into crimson bars at the western edges of the sky” (VFP 74), the early autumn is a time when “the misty gold of the hedges had become clear splashes of yellow, red and brown” (VFP 99), and winter is “bringing cold winds from the marsh and fogs which lay around the isle like another sea” (VFP 102). The rural environment in this novel is no longer the harsh landscape of Sussex Gorse, nor is it the working countryside of Romney Marsh seen in Joanna Godden. For the vast majority of her readership, who were living in the cities and urban areas of Britain, Kaye-Smith has provided the fictional equivalent of the Shell petrol company posters or the railway tourist posters that were used in the 1950s to promote travel to the countryside. The narrator, Harry Chamberlin, is town-born like Kaye-Smith and the majority of her readership, and his perceptions of the countryside speak directly to the nostalgic dream of England as a green and pleasant land. Ebony and the surrounding area is “a world of green pastures and shallow waters and long dreaming days” (VFP 10). There is nothing the same as “sitting by the White Kemp Sewer through all the long, hot, drowsy afternoon, with the marsh sun-hazed behind me and the hawthorn brakes like ghosts beyond the buttercups” (VFP 267).
Reviews of The View From the Parsonage made little mention of the setting or the depictions of the countryside, and were critical of the slow pace of the narrative that made the novel appear out-dated and old-fashioned, much as her early work had been recognised as reminiscent of Victorian fiction by some critics. This last novel had an “air of indirection” so that the “exterior tale moves like an English village fete”. In the handling of religion reviewer Robert Bowen feels that “there is no suggestion of a statement of faith”. There was no reason to believe that “Kaye-Smith felt that Catholicism was intrinsically different from any other religion or . . . that religion was ultimately different from any other basis for human behaviour”.
In this novel Kaye-Smith is not proselytising as she had been in The End of the House of Alard, or preaching her own religious message as she had in Green Apple Harvest. Rather, she is presenting the reader with a philosophical exploration, through her depiction of a number of characters, of what makes a good Christian soul content with life. To conduct this theoretical fictionalised experiment, Kaye-Smith must contrast the beliefs of her three main characters. The narrator is suspicious of Roman Catholicism. He is “innocent, good, kind, and safe” (Walker 121) in his ‘view from the parsonage’. He is assiduous in carrying out his duties as “a loyal, devoted son” (VFP 249) of the church who, each Sunday, holds “an early service besides Morning and Evening Prayer” and delivers “two sermons” (VFP 265-266). Chamberlin, with his prejudices and limitations of vision and faith represents the culmination of Kaye-Smith’s fictional portrayals of the Anglican clergy. The first person narrative allows for a gentle self-critical appraisal of Chamberlin’s short-comings in his worldliness and lack of spirituality. This gossipy all-too-human priest acknowledges that he enjoys the ‘good things’ and sometimes fears that “I appreciate them too much” (VFP 27). His spirituality and the need for faith to influence everyday life and actions he learns through observation, experience and from those around him – most notably Adam Cryall and Blanche Cryall. By the end of the text he is portrayed as an innocent good man. He is happy to be an ‘old shepherd’ to his flock, but he finds his joy in appreciating the worldly things of life. He has, however, learnt that selfless acts of charity and a closeness to nature bring a certain contentment. His greatest joy is his love for “Ebony and the men of the Marsh, who are still [his] men” (VFP 267-268).
Kaye-Smith’s investigation of faith places Chamberlin as the observer/informer in the narrative, and as such he is in a central, pivotal position between Adam Cryall, an atheist, and his daughter, Blanche Cryall, who eventually becomes a Roman Catholic nun. The complex characterisation of Adam Cryall is necessitated by Kaye-Smith’s desire to promote the same fundamental views that had inspired her other religious novels – that God is “in all things, no matter how simple and seemingly insufficient” (TWH 139). As a young man Adam represents the ideal clergyman. Borne out of a social conscience to help those in need, his work in the London slums involves him in visiting the homes of the poor in “courts and alleys that were shunned by the police” (VFP 13). He made a rash decision to “clean up Jute Street and Sody Street” by tackling the “lucrative vice” that was “not only harlots but all perversions for hire” (VFP 16). Applying the same contrived manipulation of the plotting that she had used in previous works, Kaye-Smith introduces a series of co-incidental but unrealistic twists to her narrative so that she can change Adam from the perfect clergyman to an atheist “Lord of the Manor” at Palster Manor. In line with Kaye-Smith’s view that God works through those who acknowledge his existence and those who do not, Adam continues to be an honest, just individual who extends the hand of charity to those in need, and is true to his own creed.
His paternalistic attitude to those around him means that he serves the community by providing the Village Hall and a playing field, and in secret acts of charity he “saved poor men from debt and old folk from the workhouse” (VFP 145). Defined by ‘goodness’, ‘charity’, the “sunshine of his humanism” (VFP 144), “a good life” that has been “mostly summer” (VFP 222), and a belief in ‘mankind’, like Reuben Backfield in Sussex Gorse, at the end of his life he is content. To illustrate the naturalness of death and Adam as a humanist countryman, Kaye-Smith utilises a metaphor of autumn trees. Adam is “ready to go”, he is no more than a “leaf that must fall”, and “it’s the tree, not the leaf that matters” (VFP 222). In an extension of this metaphor, Adam’s belief in the intrinsic goodness and progress of mankind as “a tree that grows taller and stronger with every generation” speaks to Kaye-Smith’s own belief in the existence of a unique bond between the natural world, humanity and a religious faith. This is echoed at Adam’s humanist funeral when Chamberlin states of him that “he himself did not believe in God. But he was much better than many of us – than any of us – who do. God did his work in him without his knowing it. All that you loved in Adam Cryall was God’s work” (VFP 227). In Kaye-Smith’s theoretical investigation of religious faith, her placement of him as a good man who has lived a Christian life without acknowledging this fact, means that he is able to reap “his Maker’s reward for a good life lived without Him”. Adam is saved from witnessing the horror of the First World War because he was taken “from this world six months before that shot was fired at Sarajevo” (VFP 223).
Figured throughout the text as the countryman, Adam Cryall is rendered in the same terms of nostalgia and idealism that characterise Kaye-Smith’s countryside. He is a shadowy heir to the protagonists of her earlier fiction. Where Reuben Backfield, Bob Fuller, Mr Sumption or Fred Sinden were portrayed as men who worked the land, understood nature’s harshness as well as its beauty, had an affinity with the natural world, and who found God in their communion with the soil, Adam Cryall is shown as a gentle man who is distanced from direct contact with the actuality of nature. Kaye-Smith has attempted to make him her country philosopher who lives his life in tune with the seasons and the world of nature but in her positioning of him firstly as an educated clergyman, and latterly the “Lord of the Manor”, she has made him less than convincing in this role.
In contrast to both Chamberlin and Adam Cryall, Blanche Cryall is presented as the perfect Christian, an exemplar of the hard road that must be trodden to attain true faith. In an imitation of Christian from Pilgrim’s Progress, Blanche must travel a hard road to faith with many difficulties along the way. Her journey is fraught with doubt, and becomes a “slow-motion progress, with endless set-backs and false starts” (VFP 250). Although she “kept on falling back and having to start again” (VFP 251) the journey eventually led Blanche to her religious life. From an initial position as an atheist, her eventual coming to faith is characterised by her fervency as a convert. Overwhelmed by the spiritual joy of her baptism, she felt that she was like
a new born babe [when she] entered the Church, though unlike a newborn babe, [she] had the unparalleled joy of knowing what was being done to [her] . . . [she] stood there at the font absolutely pure and sinless after all [her] sins. It wasn’t just the scrubbed cleanness of absolution, but the perfect whiteness of a new creature (VFP 250).
In a continued engineering of the plot to prove her theory that Catholicism is the only true and satisfactory form of Christianity, Kaye-Smith figures this baptismal start to Blanche’s new life as a Roman Catholic as offering the greatest of rewards. Blanche is the only one of Kaye-Smith’s central characters whose Catholic faith comes to define who she is and she is the only one who by the end of the novel has devoted her life to faith. She is, however, the last in a long line of characters who reflect, like Rose Deeprose, the mysterious workings of divine grace.
Where Chamberlin sees the risks of life as a Poor Clare to be ‘repugnant’, ‘inhuman’, ‘vile’ and something to “thoroughly disapprove of” (VFP 260), Blanche sees her decision in a much more positive light. She will no longer be “thoroughly selfish” (VFP 260), but will be fulfilling her understanding of God’s will in that He “wants me to give myself to him more completely” (VFP 261). Kaye-Smith uses the symbolism of the rose that Chamberlin has bred and cultivated to emphasise the perfection and purity of Blanche’s faith.
In a complex referencing of the iconography of the Rosary, the medieval and renaissance depictions of the Virgin Mary in a rose garden, the white rose as a symbol of purity, and the use of the imagery of the rose in the liturgy of the Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Kaye-Smith equates the new rose that has been produced by Chamberlin with Blanche and her faith. Characterised by perfection, based on sight and smell, the rose is white as a reflection of Blanche’s name, it has ” a golden shadow at its heart” (VFP 230), and therefore incorporates the two hues that make up the Papal colours. Its scent is “a gust of sweetness – the sweetness of tea and honey” (VFP 231), and it is a symbolic image of the life that Blanche will live as a Christian, that should be blameless and golden at its heart. As well as her sense of a religious vocation, Blanche’s version of a perfect Christianity involves not just faith but also selfless good works. On a visit to New York she worked with those in need and saw it as “wonderful work – to help the people at the bottom not from above them, but from the bottom too, as one of themselves” (VFP 258-259). In the conclusion of Kaye-Smith’s survey of what makes a good Christian soul, Blanche’s life reflects the goodness of her father combined with the author’s ideal of religious belief. The story of Blanche’s religious life contains fictionalised and exaggerated aspects of Kaye-Smith’s own. She had at one time considered herself an atheist and like Blanche she had come to an adult religious faith as a result of her experience of the First World War. The descriptions of Blanche’s conversion and subsequent baptism are rendered with the emotionalism of one who has experienced the same spiritual awakening. Blanche’s reception into the Poor Clares reflects Kaye-Smith’s own strong faith that was reflected in her membership of the tertiary order of the Dominicans. It was endorsed by the stipulation in her Will that she should be buried “clothed in the religious habit of the Dominican Order in which habit I am entitled to be buried as a member of the Secular Third Order of Saint Dominic”. While Blanche most closely reflects Kaye-Smith’s religious views, it is through the voice of the narrator, Chamberlin, that the reader hears her nostalgia for, and remembrances of, the past. The years before the First World War are written about with the sentimental wistfulness of one who chooses to forget the unpleasant times, overlaying that which is recalled with a patina of “elegiac love of the past that makes it all seem so beautiful” (VFP 144). Those times are like a “distant hill-top on which the sun still shines” (VFP 144). Voicing the view of many of Kaye-Smith’s generation, Chamberlin looks back on the First World War as a significant turning point in which the world as it had been “had come to an end in 1914”; by the 1920s “the old order had passed away” (VFP 240). In looking back to the more recent past, the late 1930s, i.e. the time at which the novel ends, Kaye-Smith does not portray the Second World War as a climactic time in the lives of those who experienced it. In contrast to the descriptions of the air raids and bombing raids that feature in Tambourine, Trumpet and Drum, the narrative that focuses on the Second World War underplays the possible effects of an airborne war. Writing with the benefit of hindsight but couching her narrative in the guise of foresight, Kaye-Smith has Chamberlin adjudging that this will be a different kind of war, in which the Navy will play a lesser part. The Germans will bring the war to the civilian rural population of Kent but only in the form of “a certain number of bombs [that] will be jettisoned by fighting or escaping aircraft, and there may well be some civilian casualties” (VFP 268). The considerations of the past are not merely concerned with war. Kaye-Smith also utilises the panoramic viewpoint she has ascribed to her narrator to document and comment upon the changes in societal attitudes and behaviour.
The focus of these changes is Blanche Cryall, who is used particularly as a vehicle to highlight the changing attitudes to women. As with the handling of religion in this text, the author offers no “particular way which she feels the materials she handles should be viewed” and she “withholds her judgement in sectarian matters”. While greater freedoms were attained by women between the end of the nineteenth century and the end of the 1930s, Kaye-Smith is careful to show that the ramifications of these would not always be positive. The issue of women’s education is the focus of Blanche’s early years. Her “scholastic and specialized education” (VFP 69) is seen as divisive and sets her apart from those around her, most notably her yeoman farmer husband. His reverence for education makes him determined, against her wishes, that she should not be “looking and behaving like any ordinary farmer’s wife” (VFP 69). Throughout the novel, education is portrayed as a mixed blessing. It becomes the key to a greater autonomy for Blanche as an individual, but is the source of much of the heartache and joy in her life. Her education takes her away from the countryside to teach in a London girls’ school where she is able to enjoy a “pleasant change . . . among people of her own type and education” (VFP 150). In a rather contrived plotting, however, Blanche’s subsequent meeting and love affair with Anthony Boutflower is used to illustrate the author’s belief that marriage is for life and that divorce can be destructive for all involved. The consequences of Blanche’s divorce are far reaching: Boutflower, as a Catholic cannot marry her and his struggle with his conscience eventually leads to his death in the First World War; her divorced husband cannot cope without her and commits suicide, and her father, although a free-thinker in many ways had “failed to prepare him[self] for his daughter’s marriage ending in the divorce court” (VFP 170). For Blanche the divorce is shown to be part of her wider religious education and part of the life journey to her conversion. It leads her to devote her time and efforts towards the care of others by “training as a V.A.D. nurse . . . then driving an ambulance in France” where she is “slightly wounded by a piece of shrapnel” (VFP 242). As with the portrayal of religion, Kaye-Smith’s handling of the secular change that affected society is apparently even-handed. With the contrivances of plotting, however, she has left her readership with the Catholic message that the life of faith and selfless giving, exemplified in Blanche, is the only satisfactory way to find contentment and peace.
Although it was never Kaye-Smith’s intention to make The View From the Parsonage her final novel, it is a fitting valedictory work. In her memoir, Three Ways Home, she had stated that throughout her life there had been three things which mattered most to her: the country, her writing and her religion which made up the “the third strand in the shining cord” (TWH 5). In this final novel, Kaye-Smith uses her writing to portray the countryside she loved, and to pursue a philosophical exploration of the nature of a good Christian life while focusing on some of those social issues that had become important to her in her later years. By 1954 Kaye-Smith was seen as an old-fashioned writer with a limited appeal to the reading public. While her old friend Gladys Stern saw “humour and shrewdness” in The View From the Parsonage. Others saw the novel as “a long, dull, sentimental, pretentious, Victorian tale”. While the reviewer for The Saturday Review maintained it was “hard to be sure what a book’s message is”. Damning and overly harsh though this criticism is, it highlights the fact that Kaye-Smith’s fiction of the 1950s could not compete with the plethora of reading matter available. Fiction with an emphasis on the rural, and religion, held little interest for a generation of readers who could choose the exciting and fast moving James Bond novels, the fantasy works of J.R.R. Tolkien, or the literary novels of William Golding. By choosing a first-person narrative and a cleric as her central character, Kaye-Smith had returned to the format she had used in her first novel, The Tramping Methodist. Similarly, although more carefully crafted, her descriptions of the natural world have an idyllic quality that speaks to a nostalgic view of the countryside rather than the realism that had characterised her work of the late 1910s and 1920s. Nostalgia and selective remembrances of a past long gone and of a countryside that is not mechanised were the features of the novel that the publishers chose to highlight in their sales blurb. They described The View From the Parsonage as a “story of times now fading into the past. . . while the seasons moving over Ebony soothe us who live in less comfortable days with glimpses of a beauty that does not change”. However, at the centre of this novel lies Kaye-Smith’s concern with religion. Under the guise of her supposed even-handedness and the comparisons of different ways of leading a Christian life she subtly demonstrates, in her depiction of Blanche, that she believes that the only true faith is Roman Catholicism. Never overtly propagandist or proselytising, the novel states clearly Kaye-Smith’s position with regard to the relative merits of Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism. She believed that opposition to, or a lack of adherents for, the Catholic faith in Britain was because of prejudice: “the inherited prejudice of three hundred years” (VFP 262).
Kaye-Smith’s writing from the Forties and Fifties, as exemplified by the two novels considered in this chapter, continues her concern with those issues that had begun to emerge in her writing of the Thirties. The consideration, exploration and development of differences in generational attitudes to life, the place of women in society, the continuing and ever present menace of war and its effects on everyday lives are all seen through her created microcosmic rural and provincial environments. In using the rhetoric of nostalgia, Kaye-Smith has added to those concerns that have featured in earlier works, by making time and memory central to the novels considered in this chapter. Her scrutiny of the effects of time is conducted through her own memories that in turn inform those that she gives to her characters. These novels are unique in her oeuvre in that they each have a structure that accommodates this consideration of time and is far removed from the linear and chronological structure of all of her previous novels.
The 1940s and 1950s saw a reduction in the number of works of fiction that Kaye-Smith produced. Her fiction of these years was not greeted with a great deal of enthusiasm and commanded no more than a small but loyal following of readers. Nevertheless her reputation was sufficient for her to be able to have a number of other works published. These were two volumes on Jane Austen, written jointly by her and Gladys Stern, along with a travel guide to the Weald, a biographical work on four female saints, and two volumes of memoir. Considered alongside the reliance in these later novels on her past life for her subject matter, there may well be an indication that both her desire and inspiration for writing fiction were coming to an end. Her sudden death in January 1956 meant that The View From the Parsonage was to be her last published novel.

The Stuppeny Tombs in New Romney and Lydd

The Stuppeny Tombs

The Table Tomb that lies in the chancel area of New Romney church of St. Nicholas is a rebuilt construction of Richard Stuppeny’s original tomb. It was rebuilt by his great grandson Clement (Jnr) and was only completed a few months before Clement died at the relatively young age of 27 in September 1622. During his life time this Clement had witnessed the death of his father, Richard, which took place when Clement was a small child, the death of his grand father, Clement (Snr), in 1608 at the age of 83, and the death of his uncle, Lawrence, five years later in 1613.
Richard Stuppeny may have been born in Ivychurch and the surname was probably a corruption of Stokepenny. The date of Richard’s birth is unknown neither do we know his age at the time of his death in 1540. What is of note however is the fact that Clement did not record the date of his great grandfather’s death correctly on the brass that was attached to the tomb. The inscription reads – “Here lyeth buried the body of Richard STUPPENYE Jurat of this town (New Romney) in the first year of King Henry VIII (1509) who died in the 18th year of the said king’s reign (1527) of whose memory Clement Stuppenye of the same port (New Romney) his great grandson hath caused this tomb to be new erected for the use of the Ancient meeting and election of mayor and Jurats of this port town June 10th 1622”. In his Will Richard had stipulated that his executors should see that he was buried in the south aisle of the church chancel of St. Nicholas and that his grave stone was to lie two feet above the foundation and was to have a picture of himself, his wife and children. If there was such a picture (brass) it seems it has been lost. However, we do know that the church authorities were probably very grateful to Clement for the re building because there are records that show that the building was in some state of disrepair in the early 17th century.
Although we know only a little about Richard Stuppeny we do know that he served New Romney as a Jurat on more than one occasion and that he served as a Burgess in Parliament in 1516. He was also admitted as a freeman of New Romney on 22nd March 1512. Richard Stuppeny was a man of some substance in New Romney and in the wider Marsh economy. Richard was involved in the Inning of areas of salt marsh and in the 1490s and in the early 1500s he leased Agney, and Newland in 1517. (Both areas of land close to Fairfield). The interest of Richard Stuppeny in leased land in this area was considerable. When Stuppeny leased Newand he was also instrumental in doubling and extending the area of grazing land by Inning an area that became known as New Innings. (His leased land was leased from All Souls College, Oxford)
However, Richard’s was not the only tomb that the young Clement was responsible for erecting. With his uncle Lawrence he was also instrumental in the construction of the tomb of his grandfather – Clement (Snr) in Lydd church. Born in 1525 Clement Snr married three times and lived to the ripe old age of 83 dying in 1608. Clement Snr spent his early adult life in New Romney and he and his brother Lawrence were involved in the civic plays. Organised and undertaken by the town of New Romney and a number of surrounding villages, the Passion plays were staged annually. The plays were probably a series of pageants, performed over four days between Whitsun and September, portraying various episodes of Christ’ Passion. The most informative material on these plays comes from the reign of Mary Tudor and it was at this time that Clement and his brother took part. Clement and Lawrence are listed as taking the parts of Tormentors in the Jurats’ accounts of 1555/6. The list informs us that Clement represented “False at Need” and Lawrence “Untrust”. (Such characterisation essentially moved the play from a biblical representation of Christ’s Passion to a moral allegory.) Parts in the play were only taken by those who were of some standing in the town and each player had to pay £5 on the feast of the Epiphany when they “recyvyd players Speches or partes in theseyd playe”. This money seems to be have been returned if the players had learnt their speeches by the time of the rehearsals.
Soon after Lawrence’s death in 1557, Clement left New Romney and settled in Lydd. Some time later he was engaged in a dispute over land taxes with the authorities in New Romney. Unlike his father, Richard, Clement made no stipulations in his Will about his Tomb and only requested that he should be buried in earth, likewise there is no indication of any strong Protestant views. Clement Jnr (grandson) and Lawrence (son) were Clement Snr executors and it is they who decided that Clement Snr should be buried in the fine tomb in the south aisle of the chancel of Lydd church. (The tomb is now positioned in the north aisle of the chancel having been moved probably in the 19th century).
Like his father Clement Snr had served as both Jurat and Bailiff, but in his case in Lydd, and his tomb was placed close to the traditional site of the bailiff’s chair. He was first elected Jurat in 1565 and was elected bailiff seven times. Clement’s table top tomb is in some ways grander than that of Richard in New Romney. It is a large marble structure with a brass figure and an inscription that sets out Clement’s civic standing.
“Here lyeth buried the Body of Clement STUPPENY, one of the Jurats of the town who was chosen Jurat of the same town in the year of our Lord 1565. And afterwards elected Bailiff of the same town 7 times. He departed hence in the Lord 11th Nov 1608 aged 83 years.”
A poetic inscription on the tomb also points to the fragility of mans’ existence.
“In holy writ the Pilgrimage of Man
Here upon earth is likened to a span
His days uncertain brittle as glass
His chiefest glory like ye withering grass
A flower in field doth flourish fair a day
E’re tomorrow morn it vanisheth away
Such is our state, we now in glory flourish
But in an instant suddenly perish.”

The tomb building took place at a time when New Romney and Lydd were both in a period of decline and when the country as a whole had undergone considerable religious change. Their medieval importance as providers of ships was long over but they still retained the historical rights that had been part of their proud heritage. The unique position of the Cinque Ports was still treasured and brought with it certain rights and privileges. Among these privileges was the right of both towns to annually elect the civic officers who governed the towns – the Jurats and the Bailiff – and from the early 17h century these elections took place at the respective Stuppeny Tombs. Although the tombs themselves and the people they memorialise are of interest, the motivation of Clement Jnr is worth consideration. Why did he want to expend what must have been large sums of money to honour the names of his grandfather and great grandfather and how and why did he persuade the civic authorities to hold elections at these tombs?

Clement Jnr was a Protestant and as such he could not and would not be able to offer intercessionary prayers for his ancestors or endow chantry chapels in their names. Instead he turned to the tomb building that we see in each of the churches today to provide a lasting memorial. The placement of them close to the place where the Eucharist is celebrated and because they would have been very evident in the empty church buildings of the time adds to their importance. As Protestant churches the high altar of Catholic times had probably been abandoned and replaced by a communion table that was located in the chancel. Thus the tombs were positioned at the spiritual heart of the congregation and its commemoration of Christ’s Last Supper. This religious ceremonial was mirrored in the civic secular ceremonial of the community when the tombs became a focus for the civic life of the towns’ election process that took place around the tombs. In addition we know that the civic officers of each town occupied the pews around the communion table, appropriating the space that had formally been occupied by the clergy, and reinforcing and emphasising the civic officers roles as both spiritual and moral role models to the community. Likewise the placement of the tombs conveyed a political message. The fact that those that were commemorated had both been Jurats on a number of occasions and also served as Bailiff pointed to the importance of a social and political hierarchy within the towns.
Through the placement of the tombs in the chancels, Clement provided a very visible sign of the family’s privileged status within the communities and he went on to reiterate this in the inscriptions that he had added to the tombs. It will be noted that these inscriptions emphasis the civic roles that each man had held and the frequency of holding these roles. This emphasis on their conduct as civic officers enhanced their moral and political status in the eyes of the beholders of the tombs. Together, the inscriptions, the placement of the tombs and the tombs themselves provided an easily understood means of establishing a power dynamic for the family. The past was, therefore, used to reinforce the authority of the Stuppeny family as important members of the urban elite of these Cinque Port towns.
Equally, Clement was presented with a dilemma in the memorialising of his grandfather and great grandfather because both of them had lived, and/or spent, much of their lives, as Catholics. Whereas New Romney citizens had, in Mary’s reign, been strong adherents to the Catholic faith, by the early 17th century, when Clement was providing these tombs, adherence to a strongly Puritan faith had begun to exert influence over the civic life of the town. By the 1620s both New Romney and Lydd had a number of influential families that were of an extreme Protestant persuasion, although the parish church still provided the focus for the religious life of the community.

It will be noted that both tombs are unembellished, and that the inscriptions and the piety that they visibly demonstrate points to the piety of Clement himself as the descendant of these men. The charitable and voluntary nature of office holding and the commemoration of his ancestors as those who have given freely to the good of their respective communities also establishes a place for Clement as such a charitable individual. Equally it could be argued that in making sure his name is recorded on the New Romney Stuppeny tomb Clement (Jnr) has cemented his own position in society and for the future. This tomb acts as a memorialisation for him too. By persuading the authorities to make the tombs the focus of civic life Clement has succeeded in placing his family at the centre of community life. Thus he has been able to link past, present and future whilst memorialising his ancestors and himself. The tombs act as a bridge between the church and the commons – the secular and the sacred – and thus the tombs remain relevant and important to the living and succeed as well as uniting the Protestantism of Clement’s time with loyalty to a town’s proud past.

Clement was highly successful in this endeavour of memorialisation because the tombs were used as places of election until 1886 when national legislation transferred responsibility to town halls. Even today the visitor to the churches is reminded of the importance of these men and equally we recognise the importance of these tombs through our visual perception of their placement etc and as we are drawn to touch the marble slabs and read the inscriptions. Today we “read” the tombs in our own way and come to an understanding of them that is influenced by our own experiences and the narratives that we apply to the Stuppenys in these communities. However, without doubt Clement was highly successful in memorialising his family for far longer than I suspect he ever envisaged. The Stuppenys remain incontrovertibly entwined with the history and heritage of each of these towns.