From Maidstone Prison to the Wide Sargasso Sea! Find!

An article in this week's Kent Messenger* has alerted us to evidence that a former Maidstone pub may have been the birthplace of Jean Rhys' award winning book The Wide Sargasso Sea!

Jean Rhys took many years to write The Wide Sargasso Sea, which was finally published in 1966.

During the early 1950's, Jean Rhys, whose life was often peppered by turbulence, went into hiding. Apparently she spent 2 years secretly living in rooms above the Ropemakers Arms, in Bower Lane, Maidstone. She had come to Maidstone in order to be able to visit her husband, Max Hamer, who had been convicted for fraud and was serving his sentence in Maidstone Prison.

Clearly this was a particularly low point in Rhys' life, but out of it came a manuscript, written in a small brown exercise book, From a Diary: At the Ropemaker's Arms, subtitled Death Before the Fact

(To check this document, we would need to visit the McFarlin Library Archives at the University of Tula, USA, but, according to Elaine Savory in The Cambridge University Introduction to Jean Rhys, C.U.P., it is a remarkable document.) 


*The Kent Messenger cites an article by Geoff French in Bygone Kent as the source for this information.

For information on Jean Rhys, see

11 October 2009 from Julia


Hi Julia,

This is a terrific find.

I think that The Ropemakers' Arms may still be a pub? The Cooper's Cask at 50, Bower Lane could be the one.

I've found a lovely website called "Once upon a Pint, a Reader's guide to England's Literary Pubs & Inns"-

This would be a useful resource for the other 4 Reading Detectives teams.

Apparently, in Jean Rhys's unfinished authobiography- "Smile Please," there's a dramatic piece titled "In the Ropemakers' Arms."

"a chilling drama of Judgement Day with herself in the dock."

The Ropemakers Arms used to be a general store as well as a pub. Also, the old Tovil railway station was located at the end of Bower Lane. So, it would have been a reasonable place for a lodger to make a long term stay & to make regular journeys into Maidstone town centre.

Brilliant link Rob, been looking at the Hampshire pubs for inspiration, literary and otherwise!

Hi Angela,

Yes, 'though desk-based research is fruitful, there are times when we have to back this up with fieldwork!

I'm glad the link was useful.



Hi Julia,

I've just read "From a Diary: at the Ropemakers' Arms." It is an appendix to "Smile Please," the unfinished autobiography. It's extraordinary- part diary, part memoir, part drama. Rhys describes her rooms and furniture at the Ropemakers' Arms in detail. It isn't quite the "trapped in the attic" horror story that one might imagine. She is pathetically grateful, in a desperate situation, to have found a relatively pleasant place to stay and a sympathetic landlady. This landlady must have been one of the Hayward family, [Mable Hayward?] Rhys is touched when Mrs Hayward buys second hand books from the market and leaves them on the desk in her lodger's room. She is less pleased with the singing of Mrs Hayward's daughter-in-law, and the noise of local school children [from St Michael's C.E. Primary School?] grates on her fragile nerves. There is no doubt that Rhys lived a disturbingly confined life in Maidstone. Her vivid description of a picture visible through the window of the house opposite the pub can only have been made after hours rooted to the spot. A trip outside the inn is only an "obligation walk." One of the most poignant sentences of this fragment of writing is "The place I live in is terribly important to me, it always has been, but now it is all I have."

Truly a remarkable story, and one that should be taught in our homes and schools. I remember studying about Davy Crockett some 45 years ago, but nothing about this event in his life. Lets send this to everyone we know!

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