by Peter Etherden
The Tale of Smeaton’s Harbour is an everyday story of country gentry and their shenanigans. It is set in the town of Rye between May 1724 and October 1787…and it is a true story. The chronicler of these events is John Meryon, writing in some dismay as he unearthed the story upon his return to Rye in 1841 after a
twenty-year tour of duty in Australia. He later became Mayor of Rye. In his account John Meryon tells of how the country gentry ‘most skilfully engineered a triumphant victory for their landed interests over the local maritime interests’ at an estimated cost equivalent to £20 million pounds in today’s money.
John Meryon’s laid his account before the people of Rye to instruct them in the sleight of hand of the banker, the forked tongue of the lawyer and the double dealing of the politician. His tale was intended to serve as a warning of the forces that the landed interest deploy to mask their intentions and deny the Mudlarks their traditional right to pursue maritime interests and live an ancient seafaring way of life. Nowadays there are governments, quangos and limited liability companies to do the bidding of the banker, lawyer and (elected, appointed and/or employed) bureaucrat. The actors change but the play remains the same.
John Meryon’s account of the local debacle that was Smeaton’s Harbour is available on the website of the Rye Harbour Boat Owners Association thanks to the good (and unwaged) offices of Steve Kemp, the Rye Harbour Pilot. The Rye Harbour Pilotage Account is one of several profitable accounts appropriated by the Environment Agency to pay grey suits to sit in unhealthy buildings shuffling the paper generated by their paperless offices. Pity they don’t use their time constructively by exploring the underlying research behind State of Fear by Michael Crichton and applying the Precautionary Principle to the myth of global warming instead of doling out millions of our money for foreign contractors to vandalise our river banks and coastal beaches.
The pen & ink drawings are by Connie Lindqvist 1950-2002 from Rye From the Water’s Edge by John Seymour & Connie Lindqvist
From the April 2014 issue of “Rye’s Own”
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