Rye

Sitting atop of a hill overlooking Romney Marshes and the Sussex coast, with its half-timbered houses, is the Cinque Port of Rye, one of the loveliest towns in Sussex.

There is a surreal quality to Rye. You descend the steps at the quayside down to the sea, only there is no sea, the sea is 2 miles away having long since receded.

A famous inhabitant of Rye was the American novelist Henry James (18431916) who lived in Rye in Lamb House (now a National Trust property) from 1898 until his death in 1916.

Not as well known, though equally famous in her own right, was Radclyffe Hall (18801943), author of the lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness.

Lamb House was also the residence of the writer E F Benson (1867-1940) who lived there during the inter-war years. Benson was the mayor of Rye from 1934 to 1937.

Lamb House, a charming brick Georgian House, was built by James Lamb between 1722 and 1724, then subsequently altered by his son Thomas Lamb in 1789. The Lambs were an important local family and during a period of 116 years, 75 of those years one or other of the Lamb family was mayor of Rye. The Lamb family lived in Lamb House until 1832. Henry James acquired the house in 1898, where he was to spend most of his life until his death in 1916. The house was donated to the National Trust in 1950.

Other writers who have either lived in Rye or had an association with the town include, Conrad Aiken, Joseph Conrad, H G Wells, G K Chesterton and Rumer Godden, to name but a few.

The once famous but now little known 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.

The children's author Monica Edwards (19121998) who lived at Rye Harbour, set her Romney marsh novels in the area, renaming Rye, Dunsford.

Both Daniel Defoe and William Cobbett mention Rye in their travels.

At the centre of Church Square stands St Mary's Church. Within the church can be found what is claimed to be England's oldest pendulum clock.

On the far side of the square Ypres Tower which stood guard against invaders. Ypres Tower now forms part of the Rye Castle Museum.

During the 100 Year War, Rye was repeatedly attacked by the French. The town was sacked in 1339, 1360 and again 1377 when they raised most of the town to the ground.

Rye has two interesting old inns, the Old Flushing Inn in Market Street, an old smuggling inn, and the Mermaid Inn, a half-timbered building dating from the fifteenth century with vaulted cellars dating from the thirteenth century.

Smuggling was an important industry for Rye.

During the first two weeks of September, the Rye Festival takes place.

For such a small town, little more than a village, Rye manages to hold a weekly farmers market, every Wednesday on on the Strand Quay.

Rye was one of the Cinque Ports. The Cinque Ports were a chain of ports that were required to raise a navy to defend the realm.

The Saxon Shore Way passes through Rye.

Rye is on the Brighton-Ashford line.

Not far from Rye, and equally isolated from the sea, is the small town of Winchelsea.

In 1278, Dover, Hythe, Sandwich, New Romney and Hastings, were formalised under a Charter of Edward I as the Cinque Ports. In return for providing maritime support to the King, they were granted special trading privileges as free ports. Later Rye and Winchelsea were added to the Cinque Ports. Their special privileges were revoked in 1685, as their services were made redundant after Henry VIII founded a professional navy, what was to become the Royal Navy.

The Saxon Shore Way runs from Gravesend in Kent through to Hastings. It traces the coast as it was in Roman times. It is an estimated 163 miles long.


Sussex ~ Winchelsea
(c) Keith Parkins 2006 -- July 2006 rev 0