Fellow blogger Colin Markham, from the U.K., offers another tour of his neck of the global woods, this time not far from where he “toured us” a few days ago (Sandwich). Enjoy and be refreshed. Check out Colin’s other features here.-PBN
A visit to Rye
The ancient hill town of Rye in East Sussex (pop. 9,041) is a delightful place to visit. A little to the north of the town is a line of low hills, but the predominant feature of the landscape is its vast flatness, stretching east for many miles across the Romney Marsh, to the west towards Winchelsea, a hill village three miles away. There are similarities between Rye and Sandwich in Kent. Both towns are small, compact and full of interest and both are close to the sea, Rye on the estuary of the Rother, Sandwich a little farther inland on the Stour. Sandwich is at sea level, whereas Rye makes a statement from afar, a cluster of buildings grouped round the hilltop church, a welcome relief from the bleak windswept marsh, a place to aim for with the prospect of refreshment and homely warmth within its time-honoured walls.
If anything typifies the old world ambience of Rye it is Mermaid Street and the steep ascent to its summit. At the lower end is the original eighteenth-century Quaker Meeting House. George Fox visited the town in 1655 to preach the Light within. At the upper end is the Mermaid Inn which dates from early Tudor times, around 1500, with a thirteenth-century vaulted cellar. Turning right into West Street there is Lamb House which dates from 1722. It was the home of two prominent writers, Henry James and E. F. Benson, and it boasts one of the largest gardens in Rye. Nearby is Church Square, not quite a perfect square but houses line the pleasant tree-shaded churchyard on almost four sides, each one an architectural gem and each no doubt with a florid tale to
tell if the ghosts of former occupants were to present themselves. The oldest is called The Friars of the Sack, a religious order of the thirteenth century.
Watchbell Street is another miscellany of houses with one exception, the exquisite Catholic Church of St. Anthony of Padua, built 1927-29 in the Romanesque style and served by the Franciscans. The interior has a
traditional layout with two side altars in tiny alcoves due to the restricted space. The smell of polish greets the visitor, at times mingled with the aroma of incense. In contrast the parish church of St. Mary is lofty and spacious, much of it dating from the time of King Henry I (r. 1100-1135). The clock is of interest, one of the oldest turret clocks still in working order. It was installed around 1560 and the pendulum swings in the body of the church. The mechanical ‘quarter boys’ appear and strike the quarter hours. The climb to the top of the tower is arduous but worth the effort for panoramic views over the town and surrounding countryside. The main entrance to the church is reached by another steep climb, Lion Street, at the top end two tea rooms, one with a window full of home-made cakes and pastries. Resistance is futile.
The lower end of Lion Street leads into the long High Street, comprising shops, banks, cafés and restaurants, and the imposing George Hotel, c.1719. Opposite the hotel is Peacock’s School, a brick building dating from 1636 in the Dutch style. The east end of the High Street opens out where there is a sharp drop. Here the view is over the Rother and the bowling green. The only remaining town gate nestles among small buildings farther down. This is the Landgate, built in the fourteenth century. Its massive towers recall
substantial town defences in an era when raids and wars were a constant threat. With inevitable expansion at least half of the population live outside the confines of the original fortified town, but there is still much of interest to catch the eye. Even the railway station, completed in 1851 in the Italianate style, strikes a note. On The Quay there are tall weather-boarded buildings that may once have been warehouses. Similar structures are found at Hastings, 13 miles (21 km) west, where there is a thriving fishing fleet. At Rye they accommodate antique emporiums and cafés.
The variety of Rye’s historic charms creates a unique experience. It is an architectural feast of a town, a virtual time capsule revealing bygone splendour to the appreciative gaze of modern man. A visit leaves many different impressions. Rye is a town to wander through at a leisurely pace drinking in the atmosphere, inspiration emanating from every aspect. As you go along listen to the brisk sea breeze whistle around secret passages, oak beams and russet roofs, and step lightly over the cobbled streets which gleam with cleansing rain that falls like a blessing on this enchanted corner of England.
Colin Markham, February 2021
Image of Rye, England, source.
Image of Mermaid Street, Rye, from the public domain.
Image of Lamb House, Rye, source.
Image of St. Anthony of Padua Church from Wikimedia Commons.
Image of English tea setting, source.
Image of Landgate Arch, Rye, source.
Image of sheep grazing in pasture in front of medieval ruins, source.