Monday, August 26th 2013
The August Bank Holiday is special for us because, not only do we have an extra day added to the weekend to use as we please, but it is the day of the year on which we celebrate our anniversary. I have already described how we met and came to decide to share our lives and will not repeat the story here. I previously recounted it in Anniversary, and you can read it there, if you wish.
We decided to visit a small but picturesque town in East Sussex called Rye1. We have been there before but, although small, it is worth seeing from time to time. This map shows where it is. As usual, we rambled around the town and took photos of whatever caught our fancy. A lot of the buildings in Rye are very old and, consequently, it possesses an impressive number of listed properties. If a property is listed, then the listing text gives information as to its age and history. If a property is not listed, then it may be difficult to discover its history and quite often we could only guess. I will give information where I have it.
While I am by no means a fan of what goes on in churches, the buildings themselves (and sometimes the interior furnishings) can be both interesting and aesthetically pleasing. I found the little Baptist Church quite pretty, though I do not know anything of its history other than that the organization, according to their own Web site, moved into it in 1910. I imagine that the present entrance hall and windows are a fairly recent addition.
In contrast, this little building displays its foundation date proudly over the windows – 1869. There is a little mystery, however, that I have not yet been able to elucidate. Someone somewhere knows the answer but will they tell me? 🙂
In front of the old water works are the remains of a water pump. No doubt water could once be obtained here by local householders but it was put out of use when the piped water supply arrived. However, the mystery concerns a plaque embedded in the wall and bearing the date 1718. If the water works was indeed built in 1869, then why is this plaque, bearing a much earlier date, incorporated into the building? Does in mean that the original building dates from 1718 and that it was converted into a water works in 1869?
Despite its small size and the fact that it is not on the sea coast (though connected to the sea by the River Rother), Rye is one of the Cinque Ports and was once therefore of strategic importance, a likely target of enemy action in time of war. It was one such attack, by the French in 1339, that prompted the building of the town wall and the fortified town gate.
As you might expect in a town that developed from the medieval period, the streets are narrow and often curved or crooked. Many are designated one-way for vehicular traffic as there is insufficient room for passing.
There are narrow streets, lanes and alleys, many of which are partially or entirely cobbled. Vehicles access these with caution or may be banned altogether.
One such is Lion Street that leads up to the parish church of St Mary. The present church building was begun in the 12th century and one of its more fascinating features is the clock, installed in 1561-2 by Lewys Billiard, a Huguenot. The clock’s huge pendulum swings back and forth in the body of the church above the heads of visitors.
The church is quite large (being built, I imagine, when churchgoing was a more popular sport than it is now) and I would describe it as fairly typical. It has the usual accoutrements and fittings, which include…
…stained glass and effigies.
Behind the church is the churchyard or burial ground, though I imagine it is no longer used for burials. The tombs and gravestones are all still in place and many of them are very ancient, their inscriptions having been eroded away long ago, so that we can guess their age only by the design of the tomb and the style of masonry.
I think an annotated inventory of the houses of Rye could read like an encyclopaedia of English house building through the ages. In a part of the High Street known as The Mint, we found this fine example. It is a timber framed house dating from the 16th century. It is striking how well kept these buildings are and the fact that they are still in use and being enjoyed by their present owners.
We went for a little stroll along the river which provides the town’s contact with the sea. It seems that today the craft that ply these waters are mainly pleasure craft. The days of warships and merchant vessels are long past.
To return to the town, we took this uneven path, hoping it would lead us where we wanted to go. Fortunately, it did (Tigger’s “inner pigeon” was in fine fettle today!), taking us past the allotments.
Back on the main road, we found some houses whose front gardens were full of flowers, much to the delight of the bumblebees who were out in force gathering pollen. Tigger held this flower steady against the breeze while I photographed the furry pollen-gatherer.
We found steps leading from the road up to the Ypres Castle Inn. Despite being a riverside town, Rye is very hilly and the explorer will do a lot of climbing before the day ends. If the pub’s name seemed exotic, a sort of explanation for it was soon forthcoming.
Continuing upwards, you come to the Ypres Tower, one of the remains of Rye’s medieval fortifications, designed to protect it from marauding French and other invaders. As you would expect, its hilly location is chosen to give it a good view over the surrounding countryside.
At the foot of the Ypres Tower today is a terrace, decorated with cannon guns of various ages, called by the slightly incongruous name of the Gun Garden. From here you gain almost as good a view of the approaches to the town as you would from the tower itself. Any raider trying to sail up the river to attack the town would be exposed to the Tower’s artillery.
But why the name “Ypres”? That still remains something of a mystery to me. It is suggested that the name has something to do with the fact that Rye once belonged to the Abbey of Fécamp in Normandy. However, Ypres is a town in Flanders (Belgium), so the jury is still out, as far as I am concerned.
A few yards up the path from the Ypres Tower, we find ourselves in a narrow thoroughfare called Church Square and thus back at St Mary’s but on the other side from this morning’s visit.
Here we find what might be regarded as some of the jewels of Rye’s collection of historic houses. The three pictured above are largely 16th century but the middle one has parts possibly dating from the 15th century. Just think how many people have lived here and the history they must have witnessed!
On spying this Victorian post box nearby, it struck me that though we normally regard Victorian items as “old”, when this post box was installed as a “modern” invention, those houses were already ancient!
We had seen much of Rye but there was plenty we had missed and left many of its secrets, well, still secret. Plenty of grist for future milling, I would say.
For this visit, though, it was time to make our way back to the station, with just a backward glance or two at the sloping cobbled streets, and catch our train to London. We shall no doubt come back again, one of these days.
1The derivation of the name of Rye seems uncertain. One source says it comes from the French rie, meaning a ‘bank’, but that seems unlikely as the town existed before the Norman invasion. Another avers that before the Rother changed course, Rye sat upon an island surrounded by water and that the name derives from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning ‘island’. More work needs to be done on this… 🙂