The Mermaid Inn, Rye, East Sussex

In Counties, Days Out, East Sussex, Mini Breaks, Our Journeys, Trip-Types, UK Travel by JanisLeave a Comment

A story of smugglers and ghosts

What better combination….? Although we have visited Rye many times previously and strolled the ancient cobbled streets, we hadn’t ventured into the infamous Mermaid Inn before.

Occasionally the Mermaid Inn conducts guided tours of this historical tavern. You have to follow their Facebook page for their schedule of events, or check out their site, but If you get the chance, it's a must.

The Mermaid Inn, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

From the outside the Inn is imposing, it's current iteration was rebuilt in 1420, and has grown over the following centuries

A bit of history

In the 12th century, the ’Mermaid’ stood on its current site and was built of wattle, daub, lathe and plaster. This was a thriving inn. Rye was a busy port contributing to the Kings Fleet as an Ancient Town of Cinque Ports.

During a French raid on the town in 1377 every building, that wasn’t built of stone, was destroyed. That included the Mermaid Inn

Still, from its ashes the Mermaid Inn was rebuilt in 1420 over the original cellar, by using ships timbers and Sussex oak. Much of the original material still remains today.

Descend to the cellar at Mermaid Inn, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK
Rebuilt in 1420, The Mermaid Inn, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

The Norman cellar has been dated to the mid 12th century and is still used today as a wine store.

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And so to the tour

We were greeted by Judith, part owner of the Inn. A lovely enthusiastic lady, with a true passion for the Mermaid, and it's story.

The Mermaid has a lovely warm atmosphere, glowing log fires burning in the ancient stone fire places, through the chambers makes it feel very cosy.

The lounge at the Mermaid Inn, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

However, some say there is a spooky feel to this 15th century inn, given its past that cannot be discounted.

Guided through into the rear of the inn to The Giants' Fireplace bar, (which is open to the public), you get a feel as to how dark and intimate this may have been.

With the huge open fire, the smoke haze would have hidden many a ‘ne’re do well'.

The bar at the Mermaid Inn, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK
The Giants' Fireplace at the Mermaid Inn, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

You can walkthrough part of the Inn courtsey of Google.


Smugglers were suspected of frequenting the Mermaid Inn, particularly around the 1730’s and 1740’s, when the notorious Hawkhurst Gang were at their height.

This gang was infamous from Kent to Dorset and had numbers of around 500 to 600 men.

The Giants' fireplace bar at Mermaid Inn, Rye, East Sussex, Engl

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 . They were fearsome, and local magistrates were powerless to stop them. The spirits said to frequent the inn are reputed to have met their gruesome ends at the hands of these vagabonds .

Secret stairways

Within the fabric of the inn there are quite a few secret stairways & doors dotted around the Mermaid. These would have served to aid Papalist priests escaping protestant persecution, or indeed anyone trying to avoid capture.

For the current day guests of the Inn, discreet handles have been added which makes them look a little more conspicuous than they once did.

Secret passages at the Mermaid Inn, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

Climbing one of the 11 stair cases woven within the inn, we enter ‘Dr Syn’s Bedchamber’. Which is named after Dr Syn, the fictitious character by the author Russell Thorndike, this character was based on the factual ‘Hawkhurst Gang’.

We exit through the secret door hidden by a bookcase, Judith points out the bookcase is modern, but the passageway is not.

This exit also hides a discreet toilet for a hideaway to use.

Just a bookcase at the Mermaid Inn, Rye, East Sussex, England, U


We enter the ‘Elizabethan bedchamber’, so named as Elizabeth I stayed at the Mermaid Inn during her visit in 1573 and named the town ‘Rye Royal’.

The Elizabethan bedchamber in the Mermaid Inn, Rye, East Sussex,

This room slopes slightly in the corner, it is believed this may have occurred during the air raids in August 1940. The Inn was so sturdy, that other than roof tile damage little else was affected. Which the same couldn’t be said for other buildings in Rye.

Mysterious goings on

Heading on to the next room (I don’t want to divulge the room number just in case you stay there), we pass by an old rocking chair.

This rocking chair has been known to rock of its own volition, without anyone sitting in it.

Are you alone at the Mermaid Inn, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK
The rocking chair at the Mermaid Inn, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

The next room, said to be one of the most haunted at the Mermaid, has had guests saying that have awoken in the morning and noticed that items of clothing have been moved from one chair to another.

In past times some chambermaids would not have entered the room on their own, they would only go in pairs.


We walk back down and through the pleasant dining room, with Judith telling us of more spooky stories as we go.
At the end of the dining room we were greeted with a wonderful mural which has been restored, depicting a band and folks singing and dancing in front of dignitaries.

The Shakespearian mural at the Mermaid Inn, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

Norman cellar

We then proceed down to the Norman cellar dating from around 1156. The cellar which has a barrel-vaulted ceiling is still used today as a wine cellar.

The cellar at the Mermaid Inn, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

Dr Syn’s Chamber

To finish the tour, we enter Dr Syn’s Chamber, which is lined with oak panel and inscriptions upon them.

Judith chats to us about the latest history that has been uncovered regarding The Mermaid Inn.

The entrance to Dr Syn's Chamber at the Mermaid Inn, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK
Dr Syn's Chamber, Mermaid Inn, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

A researcher has discovered a document that confirms in 1597, the Mayor of Rye drew up a contract to pay the Shakespeare Company 20 guineas. With the depictions in the mural and other quotes and tales around the Inn, indications are that William Shakespeare may also have frequented the Mermaid.

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Few bits of interest

In 1980 Her Majesty the Queen Mother became the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. In 1982, she visited Rye and the Mermaid Inn was given the honour of organizing a luncheon party.

As the Mermaid Inn is thought to be haunted, it has appeared on the TV programme ‘Most Haunted’.

It now has dedicated evenings when the Inn is closed and visitors are welcome to roam the hotel as they please, to find the elusive ghouls.

Token of appreciation

The tour lasts around 45 minutes and is free of charge, all Judith asks is that you make a donation to The National Deaf Children's Society, which is close to her heart.

National Deaf Children's Society

Travel tips

Although The Mermaid Inn has a rich past itself, the lovely quaint English town of Rye which it is located in, has an abundance of history all through it.

The Entrance to the Mermaid Inn, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK
Cobbled Courtyard at the Mermaid Inn, Rye, East Sussex, England, UK

A day could easily be spent strolling through the cobbled streets and lanes, of where once smugglers roamed.

  • By Public Transport (train) from London, depart from London St Pancras International, change at Ashford International and onto Rye (East Sussex). The Journey time is around 1 hour 17 minutes. Mermaid Inn is located about 0.2mile (400m) from the train station and is around a 5-8 minute uphill walk along the cobbled streets of Rye.
  • If possible you may want to consider incorporating the Mermaid Inn and Rye as part of a Road Trip. The surrounding countryside, towns and villages of East Sussex and Kent are extremely beautiful and quite diverse in places.
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Inspired to visit the Mermaid Inn, Rye, East Sussex?

You can pop in for drink at the Giant's Bar, book a table at the restaurant or stay for a night or two to enjoy the ambience.

Why not checkout the availability on Booking.Com?
The Mermaid Inn, Rye, East Sussex

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