Tuesday 2 April 2019


Mermaid Street, Rye

The ancient town of Rye in East Sussex sits proudly on a hill overlooking the surrounding salt marshes and in the distance, Rye Harbour.  This picturesque town with its cobbled streets, narrow passages and mixture of Medieval, Tudor and Georgian buildings is a popular tourist destination. The town is steeped in history and has many a tale to tell, from French Invasions to smuggling with the notorious "Hawkhurst Gang". 

The name Rye is thought to come from the word "rie" meaning bank. Rye was originally situated on the coast on a huge bay called Rye Camber which provided a safe harbour. It is thought that this safe harbour was probably used as early as Roman Times as Rye was an important place for the shipment of Iron. King Ethelred gave Rye to The Benedictine Abbey of Fecamp as part of the Saxon Manor of Rameslie. and the town remained in Norman hands until 1247. 

Rye Castle, also known as Ypres Tower (Baddings Tower) was probably built in 1249 to defend the town from the French and is one of the oldest buildings in the town. Unfortunately the town continued to suffer attacks and raids by the French and in 1377 the town was desolated by fire. As a result the town was fortified and a wall and four gates built , Landgate, Strandgate, Baddings Gate and Postern Gate. In 1336 Rye became a Cinque Port. 

Unfortunately by the 16th century silting and reclamation pushed the sea  away from Rye and this once prosperous port started to decline in importance. Fishing became more important and by the end of the 17th century smuggling, including the smuggling of wool had become widespread. The notorious "Hawkhurst Gang" met in the "Mermaid Inn' in Rye. 

Fishing has remained popular and Rye hosts an annual scallop festival. The town is packed with restaurants, tearooms, potteries and antique shops. Its quaint charm and unhurried pace of life makes Rye a fascinating and popular town to visit.

The Mermaid Inn

The Landgate

Rye Castle (Ypres Tower)
The Ypres Tower originally called Baddings Tower was built to protect the town from attacks by French Invaders. It was probably built in about 1249, however it has been suggested that it may have been built in the late 14th century when the town walls and gates were built. In 1377 the French attacked the town, burning, stealing the church bells and killing the inhabitants. Many of the stone buildings were destroyed but the tower survived. In 1430 the tower was leased to John de Ypres for use as a private residence. In the late 14th century the tower was used as a prison and in 1518 a new roof and new floors were added. 

For the next 300 years the tower was used as a Gaol and in 1789 a full time "Gaol Keeper: was appointed and a red brick exercise yard added. In the mid 1800's in an effort to improve conditions a new exercise yard, new cells and a tower for housing women prisoners were added. Over the following years its used was downgraded to a lock-up and was eventually used as a soup kitchen and mortuary, eventually in 1954 opening as a museum.

Ypres Tower

St Mary's Church
St Mary's Church, situated in the Citadel in Rye is a grand church built in the early 12th century when the town was under Norman control. In 1377 when the town was looted and burnt by French Invaders the church was extensively damaged and the bells taken to France. These were recovered the following year when men from Rye and Winchelsea sailed to France and recovered much of the loot including the bells. In 1651 a new clock was installed on the tower and in 1775 new bells installed. The tower is open to visitors and is worth the climb with spectacular views over the town and surrounding area. 

St Mary's Church





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