From the tower of the 12th century church, one looks down at a town which has altered little through the ages. Handsome Georgian buildings jostle half timbered Tudor houses in the cobbled streets,unchanged for hundreds of years.
The Ypres Tower, the Landgate and Town Wall all provide wonderful photo opportunities now that their days of defence are over. But, Rye does not rest on its ancient laurels - not only does it appeal to the eye with its picturesque beauty but it provides the visitor with many pleasures.
When one is tired of glorious views, antique shops, gift shops, art galleries, book shops and potteries, there are delightful tea shops serving delicious home-made cakes and scones with Sussex cream.
Splendid old inns abound, some still selling locally brewed “real ale” for the dedicated beer drinker, and there are a wide variety of fine restaurants to suit every taste and pocket. At the end of your day, return relaxed and happy, to your comfortable hotel room and sleep soundly ‘til morning - Rye is always so quiet and peaceful at night.
Doesn’t Rye sound like your sort of town?
No town in the Kingdom conjures up more atmosphere of England’s historic past than Rye with its 12th century church, Augustinian Friary (the Old Monastery), Rye Castle with its Ypres Tower and the old town wall, originally built to protect the town from the French.
For centuries the little town of Rye, perched upon a sandstone hill at the estuary of the river Rother has watched over the Romney Marches, guarding the coast from foreign invasion. Originally granted to the Abbey of Fecamp in Normandy in 1027, Rye was finally reclaimed by Henry III in 1247 in exchange for other lands. The town then entered the confederacy of the Cinque Ports becoming a full Head Port in the 14th century. Duties involved supplying the King with ships and seamen in defence of the realm in return for freedom from taxation, and self-government. 13th century storms had changed the shoreline to form a large, safe harbour which encouraged a great increase in shipping. Today trawlers still line the fishermen’s quay, while boats from around the world shelter in the yacht basin.
Rye survived frequent attacks from the French. A few stone buildings still bear witness to the burning of 1377. Shortly after this the town’s defences were erected. A stone wall protected the town, parts of which, like the Landgate, remain standing.
The Ypres tower, now housing the museum, still stands guard with cannon aimed out to sea. The centre of the town was said by Samuel Jeakes, the 17th century historian, to be “beautified with a large church called St. Mary’s, the godliest edifice of its kind in Kent or Sussex, the cathedrals excepted”.
By the 18th century, however, Rye’s prosperity depended as much on smuggling as any legitimate trade. Professional gangs roamed the countryside, stored their ill-gotten gains in the old vaulted cellars and crept through secret passages and tunnels. A Blue Badge tour will guide you to some of the more mysterious parts of the town, but beware of the local ghosts!
The curious appeal of Rye is that, unlike other towns that take you back to the past, Rye brings foregone ages into the present. Today Rye is not so much a living museum as a flourishing market town whose rich history is very much in evidence. Wonderful houses with traditional wood burning stoves, antique stores and even a quaint jostle together along the narrow streets, and while you may still see a ‘smuggler’ or two, they are more likely to be on their way to a local fund raising event!
Many famous writers have lived or stayed in Rye over the years and world famous names like Henry James, E.F. Benson, Conrad Aiken, Joseph Conrad, H.G. Wells, G.K. Chesterton, Radcliffe Hall and Rumer Godden are but a few. The famous Dr. Syn novels by Russell Thorndike, brother of that Grand Dame of the British Theatre, Dame Sybil Thorndike, are set on Romney Marsh around Rye, and Russell Thorndike’s son, distinguished actor Daniel Thorndike and his family still live in the area.