|The House of Marney: John Goodwin (alias Sidney David Gowing)
John Goodwin was a nom de plume for author Sidney David Gowing (1877 - 1943) who lived for a few years on Mersea Island - his widow was to stay on Mersea until her death in 1969. Below is the only picture I have found of Gowing, published in a newspaper, The Courier and Argus, dated 12th October 1922 and reproduced courtesy of John o'London's Weekly. Entitled 'Men and Women of Today', it shows him in his naval uniform and gives an indication of the interest in Gowing as a writer.
Mr Sidney Gowing (Drawing by F D Niblett from John o' London's Weekly with thanks to Find My Past)
The crime novel, The House of Marney, set on Mersea Island, was published in the 1920s under the pseudonym, John Goodwin, and was made into a silent black and white film in 1927. It likely this film no longer exists but it featured well-known actors of the day.
The precis of the plot appears at the front of the book and conveys its contents, flavour, story and style so well I will quote it here.
WHAT THIS STORY IS ABOUT
The son and heir of Sir Neville Marney had been kidnapped when a child, and long since presumed dead.
On his death-bed the man who had kidnapped the boy confesses his crime to his own son, and beseeches him to right the wrong he has done by seeking out the young man and restoring him to his inheritance.
Then follow many thrilling adventures in the barge-yacht "Windflower", manned by the missing heir, his pretty and practical sister, and the son of the kidnapper.
The story is salt with the tang of the sea and, with Piers Marney, the wicked uncle, provides many exciting situations and hairbreadth escapes.
The action is firmly set on Mersea and along this coast towards Harwich in one direction and Kent in the other.
The strong north-west wind, arising at sundown and coinciding with the highest spring tide, had piled up the waters. Before him lay the Strood Creek, that cut off Mersea from the mainland. The embanked road across the creek, the only land exit from Mersea, usually high and dry above the tide-mark, was now deep under water.
The film featured American actor James Carew as the villain, Piers Marney. The heroine Beatrice was played by Alma Taylor, Patrick Susands was the missing heir, Stephen, and John Longden took the part of Richard, who promised his father on his deathbed to search for Stephen.
A story passed on to Mersea Museum in 2022 by Martin Yirrell gives an eye-witness acount that the filming took place locally.
I thought you might be interested in hearing that my mother who died recently remembered the filming [of The House of Marney], I think, on the sands of Colne Point. Her family used to camp there in the Summer and one year they had to take down the tents as filming was taking place.
There is also a rumour that the large house in West Mersea called Orleans (now replaced by the New Orleans flats) was used as the film set for Marney's house, called Mersea Holt in the novel.
Orleans, West Mersea pre 1906. Was this the inspiration and subsequent film-set for the Marneys' house?
The frontispiece of the book lists other novels by the same author Above The Law, The King's Elm Mystery, Paid In Full, Jennifer, Helen Of London, Blackmail, A Daughter In Revolt (which was also dramatised, filmed and released in 1927) and Without Mercy - there were many more including serialisations in newspapers.
Gowing wrote under a number of pseudonyms including Sidney Floyd Gowing, John Goodwin, David Goodwin and John Tregilis and for this novel, set on Mersea, he used the name John Goodwin.
Like another novel which was made into a film, Daughter In Revolt, alongside the exciting and dramatic plot, Gowing explores the changing attitudes to women in the 1920s. In both novels the heroines desire to enjoy the era's new-found freedom for their sex but are constantly fighting the more Victorian ideas of the men around them. In The House of Marney, Gowing's heroine, Beatrice, is a feisty, practical character who clearly will not be restricted by previous limitations imposed on her sex and who demonstrates the same sailing skills, confidence, intelligence and courage of her male contemporaries.
As we shall see, Gowing was a sailor, serving in both wars with the navy and this book reveals he was very familiar with the waters around Mersea and Walton and along the coast to the Isle of Sheppey. Much of the action In The House of Marney is on the water to great dramatic effect.
So what do we know about the author of this gripping, page-turning story?
Sidney David Gowing (1877 - 1943) was born in Highgate to father Richard (1832 -1899) and mother Fanny. His father was also an author and an editor. In the 1861 census Richard is a Head Reporter and writer in Ipswich - the town where he, his wife and two elder sons were born - and used to work for The Ipswich Journal. In later censuses the family is in London where Sidney was born and the two elder sons are both listed as reporters. Richard Gowing was editor of The Gentleman's Magazine from 1874 - 1877 and wrote, among other publications, a book entitled Richard Cobden; Cobden was a manufacturer, political activist and radical.
Already an author at the time of his marriage, Sidney Gowing married Muriel Yerbury Kenrick (1878 - 1969) in 1902. During the early years of the twentieth century he wrote many short stories for the Boys' Friend Library.
Curlew Island by David Goodwin
Gowing was to go on to serve in both world wars.
We are told Gowing was modest and shy ...[and] absolutely shrinks from publicity and everything that savours of self-advertising by a journalist from the Leicester Evening Mail - the journalist tells us the little we know of Gowing's service during WW1.
In the war he served for four years with the Dover patrol. At Zeebrugge and Ostend he was in command of a motor launch and for his services was mentioned in despatches and received the Croix de Guerre. Leicester Evening Mail 29th August 1924]
In the same article Gowing is described as one of the most brilliant of the new school of
authors.... His books are having a wide sale in England and America...translated into Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Spanish and film versions have been made and will shortly be released. His books are so full of incidents and exciting adventures that they lend themselves splendidly to the cinema.
Of course, the journalist had a vested interest in promoting Gowing - the newspaper regularly serialised Gowing's stories - and described him as a great serial writer having a pawky wit and broad humour and an uncanny knowledge of human nature.>
Gowing and his wife appear in West Mersea's electoral rolls for 1931 when they are living in Montagna, Beach Road; in 1936 in Linney, Beach Road; and in 1939 in Oaklands, Grove Avenue. Given he wrote The House of Marney before 1927 and clearly already had such familiarity with local waters it would appear the family were already frequent visitors or resident in Mersea in the mid to late 1920s.
In WW2 Gowing was serving as a lieutenant with the Kenya Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve based at HMS Tana (a shore station for the Royal Naval Air Service at Mombasa). In 1943, he died there from malaria. He was buried in Mombasa (Mbaraki) European Cemetery, Kenya, aged 56 according to naval sources. It is likely he was in fact 66 - was he not truthful about his real age when signing up?
His inscription at the cemetery reads
REST IN PEACE.
O BLESSED LORD, HOW MUCH I NEED THY LIGHT TO GUIDE ME ON MY WAY
In 1955, Gowing's wife Muriel is listed as living at The Beacon, a wooden house, later to become 11, Victory Road on the east side just north of the folley to St Peters Road. This was Muriel's address at the time of her death, aged 91 in 1969. According to long-time Mersea resident, Nick Hines, the Gowings' unmarried eldest daughter, Marjorie, (baptised in Chigwell in 1903), and not in the best health herself came to nurse her mother. Marjorie clearly stayed after her mother's death and appears in the 1973 electoral roll in West Mersea in 11, Victory Road. It appears she died in Norfolk in 1975.
The House of Marney can still be obtained on second hand book websites but it seems the film no longer exists.
Peldon History Project
Sidney David Gowing WW2 Memorial Profile
John Pullen Appleby