Seven Scenes of Rye

A friend of mine runs a pub in Rye in Sussex, which gives me occasional cause to be there. (I recommend it, but of course I may be biased, and anyway that’s not what this blog is for.) Although nowadays Rye is linked to the sea only by a determinedly dredged channel down which a few high-sided fishing boats pass still, it was once one of the Cinque Ports, towns whose location and contributions to the various English war efforts against France made it worth the kings of England granting them, as a group, special privileges and jurisdictions. This heritage still looms large in the small town, as you can see:

The Landgate in Rye, East Sussex

The Landgate in Rye, East Sussex

If you are there and can see this view, turn around, there’s a nice pub just behind you on the photographer’s left… But this, the Landgate, is your actual medieval heritage: the sign on it reads:

This ancient monument was built in 1329 when Edward II made grants for further fortifying the town, and of the four gates then built it is the only existing one. It has a chamber over the arch and two towers. There were two gates, a portcullis and a drawbridge.

The other standing fortification, the Ypres Tower, I’ve never made it to for some reason—too far from the pub?—though it is centre of this view.

View of Rye from Landgate towards the Ypres Tower

View of Rye from Landgate towards the Ypres Tower

It should be said that if you ask for directions to the tower round here asking for it as if it actually contained a Low Countries place-name, no-one will know what you mean. It was built by Flemish workers from Ypres in the fourteenth century, which is long enough for modern English spelling to have triumphed over French pronunciation: aujourd’hui il se prononce “Wipers”, so watch out. The town is pretty, but it does have these Little Britain aspects, which sometimes make for moments so straight off a postcard that you can’t believe you haven’t wandered into a set-up:

A street in Rye near the top of the town

I did not Photoshop that Union Jack onto that scooter's luggage box or place it next to those cobbles. Someone here has a more developed sense of cliché even than I

Sometimes it genuinely is set up, of course: much of the town’s revenue now comes from tourism and there is a lot of art being made here for sale to passers-by. Some of it gets installed…

Skyline over the Sussex countryside seen through sculptures at the top of Rye

Skyline over the Sussex countryside seen through sculptures at the top of Rye

The oldest part of the town that now survives is, predictably, around the church. St Mary’s has been through a number of phases, at least one Romanesque but that’s now quite hard to see even from atop its tower, which can be climbed for a small sum; overall, the state of its building is a bit complex:

A combination of window styles in a junction of St Mary's, Rye

A combination of window styles in a junction

… but some of the surroundings have basically not been much altered over the last, say, four hundred years, except for maybe replacing the roof every few:

Actually-Tudor house with thatched roof in Rye, Sussex


Please forgive the glare: firstly, this was taken in summer, shortly after Leeds, hence its inclusion now, but secondly, it was done late in the day, and the space round the church is quite packed; getting an angle that escaped surplus light and wasn’t completely dim just wasn’t possible. This topography also makes it very difficult to get an impression of the church itself, by eye let alone with a camera, but as it’s the centre of the town, that’s obviously what should be in the seventh and last scene.

Crossing and north transept and aisle of nave of St Mary's Rye

Crossing and north transept and aisle of nave of St Mary's Rye

In the real world, meanwhile, everything is editorial, but next time I’m here I’ll get to the Tower, and meanwhile, mine’s a pint.

6 responses to “Seven Scenes of Rye

  1. Nice pics!

    In my reading today my eyes fell on this reference to an instruction from the baronial government enlisting the assistance of the men of “La Rye” against reported invasion by French forces under Queen Eleanor of Provence, coming to the rescue of King Henry III who was a captive in the hands of his brother in law, Simon de Montfort, at the time. Please accept it as my humble New Year offering! (For ‘king’ read ‘Simon de Montfort’…)

    Oxford. December 3, 1264. “Mandate to the barons of Hastinges, and especially of Wynchelese and La Rye to keep watch for the capture of certain persons who as the king is informed, are endeavouring by ships to munition the castle of Pevenese with men and victuals to the king’s damage, as J. de Sandwico shall instruct them. And the king will pay them for their
    watches in this matter with any arrears which may be due.” Cal. Pat. Rolls 1258-66, p. 392.

    The Cinque Ports were allied with the Earl of Leicester during this time, and the Patent Rolls also record Richard le Provost “and the other barons of Rye” being granted safe conduct to come to the king in late August of 1266 during the noteworthy seige of Kenilworth, presumably to sue for pardon and “to fine” for royal good will… it was no doubt a rather expensive exercise!

  2. What a charming little town. And yes, that gate sorta stands out. :)

    Happy New Year to you.

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