A Pocket Full of Rye.
If you have never been to Rye, you are missing an historical treat.
Rye is a really pretty town in the South East of the UK and still has its ancient past flowing through its cobbled streets.
During the 12th Century Rye became a Cinque Ports Ancient Town. Members of the Cinque Ports were responsible in providing ships and men, to meet the naval and transportation requirements of the English Crown. In return for this, the towns and ports were granted certain privileges and status.
In essence, a blind eye was turned to misbehavior and this led to a high level of smuggling through the centuries. Which has all added to Rye’s rich history.
Smuggling was practically abolished during the early 1800’s, but by which time the likes of the Hawkhurst Gang had already left their mark.
They were known to have frequented the Mermaid Inn and Ye Olde Bell Inn, moving their wares along a connecting secret tunnel.
There are tales of the gang sitting around tables with tankards of ale, smoking pipes and loaded flintlock pistols on the tables ready for action.
Rye which dates from the Medieval times, sits on what was once a rocky outcrop. Rye Castle, also known as Ypres Tower, is one of the oldest buildings in Rye built in 1249.
The castle was originally built to defend the town from the French
When built, it would have overlooked a natural harbour. As time & tide wait for no man the persistent silting reduced this to saltwater marshland. The tower now overlooks this marshland and the River Rother which joins the coast a further 2 miles to the south east.
One of four
In 1329 Edward III required Rye to be fortified further. Four gates were built around the town, only one stands today – ‘Landgate’.
This gate which has a chamber across the top and two towers, also but once had a portcullis and a drawbridge.
Wandering through Rye is like stepping back in time, it has that ‘old world charm’ about it. The delightful cobbled lanes and streets, are lined with lovely timber framed curiosity shops, welcoming tea rooms and traditional old pubs with open fireplaces.
Meandering up towards the 900 year old parish church of St Mary the Virgin, you are greeted with the Quarter Boys clock tower, which strikes on the quarter rather than the hour.
This is a lovely old church with a cute pink vicarage just adjacent to it. We strolled through the church yard (as I tend to do), and we noticed a little grave stone poking through the roots of a tree.
Around Church Square
Branching off down West Street you are greeted with Lamb House which was once the home of Henry James the American novelist.
E.F. Benson, the English novelist who wrote Mapp and Lucia also lived at Lamb House (during 1918 to 1940), which is now owned by The National Trust.
The adaption of Mapp and Lucia was filmed prominently in Rye and Lamb House, in the mid 1980s and again in 2014.
E.F. Benson became the Mayor of Rye in 1934 and dedicated a lookout to the town.
You are inquisitively led around the corner into Mermaid Street, these well trodden cobbles that lead you past the haunted smugglers tavern of the Mermaid Inn, could tell many a tale.
This charming street winds down to the River Brede, all the time you are passing so many eye catching little doors and windows.
With their unusual names, such as ‘The House Opposite’ or ‘The House with the Seat’ and even ‘The House with Two Front Doors’.
Along Mermaid Street (formerly Middle Street), you can still see the Old Hospital and Quakers House, many of the homes along here were rebuilt during the 15th & 16th Century.
From the 12th century and many centuries following, Rye was considered a very significant port on the south coast of England. During the mid 1400’s the harbour could anchor over one hundred ships.
The severe storms of the late 1700’s, caused further drainage and silting damage and navigation along the River Rother, leading to Rye harbour was becoming more and more difficult. Particularly as local landowners were also reclaiming marshland from the sea.
Today the quay is approximately 2 miles from the open sea, and is now only used for smaller boats.
Along from the quayside on the River Tillingham you can see the Grade II listed building of Rye Windmill.
There have been many guises of this windmill over the years, but a windmill has stood on the same site since 1594.
Down by the quayside is the Rye Heritage centre and the Information centre.
Inspired to visit Rye?
Make sure you pop into the Mermaid Inn, and refresh yourselves at the Giants’ bar. Does taking a little bit of time travel appeal to you?
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