George Marsden

By The Editor

I was intrigued by Arthur Woodgate’s recollection of the 1937-40 Mayor of Rye George Marsden. The mystery surrounding where he came from and where he went in 1940 have haunted me since Arthur first told me about George Marsden’s Mayoralty so I decided I must delve deeper.

Frank Palmer, who knows an awful lot about former Rye Mayors was unable to help, or any of the many old Ryers I talked to. They all seemed to have Arthur’s idea of ‘mystery man’ passed down as part of local folk law.

There are two parts to the mystery. One – Who was George Marsden and where did he come from?


 George Marsden
George Marsden

Two – Where did he go in 1940?

The first part was not difficult.

According to ‘Burk’s Peerage’. George Marsden was born circa 1885. He was the son of Edmund Marsden. He married Mary Angela Pennell, daughter of Major Richard Henry E. Pennell and Frances Mary Corcoran.

He was educated at Balliol College, Oxford University. and was a Fellow at All Souls’ College, Oxford University.

His old friend, former Attorney General Sir William Jowitt K.C. described him as “Perhaps the most brilliant scholar Cheltenham ever produced”.

It appears that George was a great sporting all rounder, Cricket, Tennis and Rugby were among his favourites, he captained the team when at Balliol.

His younger brother Percy as also a sporting enthusiast, once playing at Wimbledon, including a match against the French star, Jean Borrotra. He fought in the First World War, with Hodson’s Horse.

George’s elder brother was Captain Arthur Marsden .He was also educated at Cheltenham College, Gloucestershire. He was educated at H.M.S. Britannia, and gained the rank of Captain in the Royal Navy. He was invested as a Commander, Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.). He fought in the Battle of Jutland on 31 May 1916, as commander of H.M.S. Argent. He later held the office of Member of Parliament (M.P.) for Battersea North between 1922 and 1928 and was M.P. for Chertsey between 1932 and 1951.

George Marsden’s wife Mary had a brother who also had a naval career. He was Commander Richard George Lovell Pennell who raised to the rank of Commander in the service of the Royal Navy. He was decorated with the award of Distinguished Service Cross (D.S.C.) as a result of a navel engagement with a U-Boat. He is recorded as living at Stone cum Ebony in 1958.

 George Marsden
George Marsden

Where did George Marsden go?

The official reason for his resignation were given as

“Important duties in a Government department required his absence from the town”.

This seems quite feasible given his education, connections and family standing. But what Government department did he go to and what became of him during the war years and after? Was he a war hero, or a backroom boy with an important job? He would have been around 55 in 1940 so it seems unlikely he would have been on the active list.

Unlike his two brothers there seem to be no mention anywhere of his activities in World War One that would give a clue to his actions in the Second War.

Could he have been involved with legal duties for the Crown? His barrister brother Percy was involved at Nuremberg in 1945 for the war crimes trials but if George was employed in a legal capacity in 1940 why was is deemed too secret to tell the Rye electorate?

Part of a letter which he sent to Rye Borough Council from London was made available for public consumption but some details were withheld. That secret contents of the letter, which perhaps would have given a better idea of why Rye lost a Mayor at such a very difficult moment in history, may never be known. It would have been kept with all the Borough Council paperwork and may have been burned on the ‘two day’ bonfire at the rear of the Ferry Road offices in 1974, when Rother District Council was formed.

There are also many other unanswered questions. Why is it that the actions and doings of a man of such eminence, education and family does not seem to be recorded anywhere after 1940?

I have, to date, found no trace of George Marsden from 1940 on.

Did he ever return to Rye? after all, he had strong connections and perhaps even property here.

Can anyone throw light on the mystery? It is a conundrum that, if not soon solved, will never be answered. Time passes and those that remember George Marsden will all soon have passed on with it.

From “Rye’s Own” April 2011 issue