Will the Smugglers defeat the Revenue Men?*

There’s only one way to find out – come to Dymchurch for The Day of Syn – actually, three days of skullduggery, derring-do and excitement over Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday, August 27–29 2022.

You can expect to see dramatic battle re-enactments between musket-wielding smugglers and fiercely-armed Revenue Officers, a court trial, historical demonstrations, Morris dancing, musical acts, fun, entertainment and a Grand Procession.

Visit the village and you’ll meet many of the Dr Syn characters from the novels.  Mr Mipps, Jimmie Bone, Sir Anthony Crabtree, Dr Seenacherib Pepper, Mrs Waggetts, Imogene Almago and of course Dr Syn himself are all played by villagers who dress up for the occasion!

(*We’re not going to give the game away!)


Established in 1964 in Dymchurch, originally to raise funds for the replacement of the roof at St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church, the Day of Syn is now a bi-annual event.  What more appropriate theme than the local history of smuggling, and the Dr Syn stories by Russell Thorndike, one of Dymchurch’s claims to fame?  Thorndike himself gave the Church permission to use the title ‘Day of Syn’, and the tradition continues to this day.  Nowadays, the Day of Syn supports small, local charities by providing them with an event which brings in visitors and attracts locals alike at which they can fundraise.


Paul Jones – always known as PJ – is Dymchurch born and bred, and he and his family have always taken part.  He joined the committee in 2016, after falling back in love with the story, and is committed to the event and its success.

“We fundraise to hold the event so that local charities can raise money for their activities.  They are all small, and times have been even harder for them than the bigger charities.  This is a way of enabling them to raise more, by providing lots of attractions in the village and encouraging visitors” he says.

If you wander along Dymchurch High Street, you’ll see PJ’s house – it’s the one with the stocks, scarecrows and skeletons in the front garden!  He’s often outside, dressed in character, and will happily spend hours telling visitors smuggling stories, and showing them artefacts such as muskets.  He says it’s all part of the fun – “The more people know about Day of Syn the more we can do to help our local charities, which is why we do it.  I do love a bit of Syn!”

PJ plays a character called Tom Bailey, who always ends up dead.  “I’ve been shot, I’ve been hung… Tom is a bit of a shady character, always on the fringes of trouble or, more likely, right in the middle of it.  Tom works on the sea wall, and although he doesn’t have a gun he has a huge hammer, meant for dealing with the blackthorn that used to form the sea defences.  His uses for the hammer are nefarious!”


Smuggling and Romney Marsh have gone together for centuries – thanks to the sheep for which our area is so famous, the vast open expanse of the Marsh and its proximity to the French coast.

The export of wool to the continent was taxed very heavily, and the authorities not too hot on policing it – a great opportunity for the smugglers.  In 1698 the death penalty was introduced as a deterrent to smuggling wool.  This measure did not prove very effective and in the 18th and early 19th centuries there was a thriving business in spirits like fine French brandy, silk, lace, tea and tobacco coming in and tin, graphite and particularly wool being smuggled out.

Five and twenty ponies,

Trotting through the dark —

Brandy for the Parson,

Baccy for the Clerk;

Laces for a lady, letters for a spy,

And watch the wall, my darling,

While the Gentlemen go by!

Smugglers liked to see themselves as a cut above a common or garden highwayman or pirate, as they felt they were fighting the government.  This honourable perception of themselves as Robin Hood type figures was not borne out by their behaviour, as they were very often vicious, cruel and murderous.

Tom Bailey, alias PJ, faces justice in the form of the military…