Rye, East SussexRye is one of the most interesting places to visit in East Sussex.
A former fishing and trading town of real importance, the retreat of the sea from the town means that Rye has been left high and dry as one of the best preserved small towns in England, with scores of historic buildings and a wonderful atmosphere.
Although the population or Rye is no more than a large village, the summers are busy with visitors enjoying the many attractions that Rye has to offer.
Rye AttractionsThe main things to see in Rye are:
Mermaid StreetMermaid Street is one of the most atmospheric historic streets in Sussex full of timber framed houses with quaint jettied upper floors.
The Mermaid Inn is probably the most famous smuggling pub in Sussex. Members of the brutal Hawkhurst Gang would openly boast of their exploits in the tavern, which was built in 1420.
Ypres TowerBuilt in 1249 as part of the town's defences, Ypres Tower was the 15th century residence of John de Ypres and is now part of the Rye Town Museum. Ypres Tower is sometimes called Rye Castle.
St Mary's ChurchThe Church of St Mary the Virgin is in the heart of Rye Citadel, the highest part of Rye and the place to go for a great view of the surrounding countryside and sea. It's an all round pleasant spot.
Lamb Houseis the former home of writer Henry James. The house is named after James Lamb, who was mayor of Rye 13 times in the 1700s. Lamb House is now owned by the National Trust.
The LandgateThe Landgate, which was built in 1329 is the only one of Rye's fortified gates to survive today.
Other places of interest around RyeInteresting places in and around Rye include:
- Rye Harbour Nature Reserve
- Pett Level which includes a sunken ancient forest;
- The beaches at Camber Sands and Winchelsea Beach;
- Camber Castle built for Henry VIII as part of his coastal defences;
- Martello Towers strung along the coast to keep Napoleonic France at bay
- The Royal Military Canal also built during the Napoloenic Wars
Rye HistoryThe first record of Rye is when the fledgling port formed part of the Manor of Rameslie in Saxon times.
King Ethelred the Unready promised Rye to the Abbey of Fécamp in Normandy - which also held plenty of other land in Sussex, for example at Steyning.
In 1247 King Henry III decided that he would like Rye himself and so took possession back from the French monks.
Like its near neighbour the stranded port of Winchelsea Rye was built on a huge shingle spit which lay at the mouth of the River Rother called the Rye Camber.
Ideally placed for fishing and trading with Europe, Rye soon became a pretty important place - recognised by it being granted the status of Cinque Port.
This status and its trading privileges made Rye rich but it also brought military responsibilities to the town. The East Sussex coast was the target of numerous French raids throughout the Hundred Years War and for years afterwards.
And in 1350 the Black Prince defeated a Castilian fleet of around 40 ships in an epic naval battle in Rye Bay called the Battle of Les Espagnols sur Mer.
In the 13th century Rye saw the first signs of the changes that were to leave it high, dry and land locked.
Great storms cut Rye off from the sea and diverted the path of the River Rother to the north. Trade continued, with ships able to unload their cargo in Rye until 1375.
But then in 1377 Rye suffered a disastrous attack by French raiders. Practically all the substantial buildings in Rye were smashed. The only parts of the old town which remain today are the Ypres Tower and Landgate and a small section of the defensive walls.
As the land silted up around the port, Rye's fortuned waned. By the 17th century a new source of wealth had taken over Rye - smuggling.
Rye was ideally placed for smuggling and the town was adapted to the smugglers' needs, with numerous secret cellars and passageways helping keep the smugglers and their contraband safe from the under-resourced authorities.
Even into the late 19th century Rye had a reputation for general lawlessness, with frequent riots and shows of defiance against authority.
Today Rye is a more peaceful place, but still with a lot to be defiantly proud of.
More about RyeRye has a good quality annual arts festival each autumn.
Rye Foreign, a mile north of Rye, is so called because it was the only part of the Abbey of Fécamp's land not confiscated in 1247.
The town suffered a terrible disaster in 1928 when the Mary Stanford Lifeboat sank with the loss of all 17 brave lifeboatmen.
© East Sussex.org 2008-10.
Sunday November 17