Prepared with a “map”:https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/read/3572560/free-town-map-rye of Rye, I set off to explore on foot. The centre of Rye is very compact and comparing it with the “model”:https://www.alamy.com/rye-july-2021-model-of-old-rye-in-the-rye-heritage-centre-in-rye-in-east-sussex-image435662280.html of Old Rye in the Heritage Centre, the street layout is unchanged.
I began in the car park by the Railway Station, a splendid brick building. The Hastings to Ashford Railway arrived in 1851. It survived plans for closure in the 1963 Beeching Report because of poor road connections. The signal box was built later and is resplendent in the cream and green livery of the Southern Railway.
Being a Thursday, part of the car park was taken up by Rye Market. This was busy but feedback from those that visited was that the stalls were the same as in any other market…
I turned onto Cinque Port Street, part of the one way traffic system through Rye, and lined with small shops. This was outside the line of the town wall and part of it can still be seen in the car park on the street.
The Old Waterworks building dated 1869 is on the corner of Cinque Port Street and Tower Street and is now a “micropub.”:https://www.ryewaterworks.co.uk/ Just beyond is one of the original brick built warehouses and now a “Webbes at the Fish Cafe.”:https://www.webbesrestaurants.co.uk/section.php/3/1/webbes_at_the_fish_caf_ . Behind it is a yard with the remains of stables and storehouses – it repays to explore down narrow alleyways!
Tower Street leads to Landgate, the only one of the medieval gateways to survive. The road drops down to a bridge over the railway. Through the gateway is Hilder’s Cliff, which really is built on a cliff and looks down across the Bowling green to Romney Marsh beyond. On the other side are attractive brick or clapperboard houses.
Hilder’s Cliff joins High Street, which is the main shopping street and the other half of the one way system. It is always busy with traffic and parked cars. Rather than walking down High Street, I turned left onto East Street and past the house where the artist Paul Nash lived.
Rye Town Hall on Market Street is an elegant Georgian building built in 1742 and now houses the Information centre.
The narrow Pump Street leads to Church Square with views down to Ypres Tower. A castle was built in 1249 to defend Rye against French raids. After harbour had silted up and Rye no longer on coast, the castle was bought by was bought by Jean de Ypres in 1430 and has been known as Ypres Tower ever since. Over the years it has been used as a prison, court hall, soup kitchen and mortuary. It is now a
“museum”:https://ryemuseum.co.uk/. A gateway leads to the Gun Garden, a ‘walkway’ beneath the tower with views across the marshes. There are examples of different cannons with piles of cannon balls.
St Mary’s Church, surrounded by its graveyard, is built on the highest part of the town, and is the only pre 1200 building to survive in Rye. It is a splendid building, reflecting the status and importance of Rye at the time.
Streets around the church are cobbled and very narrow. “Lamb House”:https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lamb-house on West Street and now in the ownership of the National Trust, was built in 1722 by wealthy wine merchant and local politician, James Lamb. It was bought by the author Henry James in 1849 and he wrote many of his novels here. In 1919, it was bought by EF Benson and his ‘Mapp and Lucia’ novels featuring the seaside town of Tilling were closely based on Rye. The classic TV drama was filmed in Rye in 1985 using Lamb House and adjacent Lamb Cottage.
Leaving West Street, I turned down Mermaid Street which drops down to the Strand and was once the main street leading into the town from the harbour. With its cobblestones, this is one of the most photographed streets in Rye. It is lined with a mix of timber frame , clapper board and brick houses dating from the C15th. There has been an inn here since the mid C12th, although the present “Mermaid Inn”:https://www.mermaidinn.com/ ‘only’ dates from the start of the C15th. It was the haunt of smugglers and particularly the notorious Hawkhurst Gang. It has secret passages, priest’s hole and the reputation of being one of the most haunted buildings in South East England.
Strand Quay along the tidal River Brede, is lined by large brick and tarred wood warehouses. The best views of the river and the Strand are from the bridge on the A259 as it crosses the River. Beyond the main road is “Rye Windmill”:https://ryewindmill.co.uk/ , now a B&B.
The “Rye Heritage Centre”:https://www.ryeheritage.co.uk/ is in the Old Sail Loft on Strand Quay and has a very good “model”:http://www.alamy.com/rye-july-2021-model-of-old-rye-in-the-rye-heritage-centre-in-rye-in-east-sussex-image435662280.html of Old Rye.
By then, it was time to head back to the station car park….