The Historic Town of Rye

Rye Harbour

At Rye Harbour, the Rastrums Wharf (which was renovated in the 1980s) has the capacity to take large ships up to 80 mtrs on a high tide. Rye also is an important yachting base, offering the only safe haven for many miles in either direction along this section of Channel coast. Yachts may currently moor either at Rye Harbour or at the Strand Quay at the edge of the town. There have been numerous plans proposed for a modern yacht marina to be built at Rye, but each has foundered on economic or planning grounds.

The River Rother at Rye Harbour, flowing southward into Rye Bay

After its confluence with the River Tillingham and the River Brede, the River Rother flows southward into Rye Bay and the British Channel.

River Rother (eastern) at Rye Harbour, flowing northward to the town of Rye

The Rivers Brede and Rother also form part of the Royal Military Canal between Winchelsea and Iden Lock. Though not considered isolated, the town is nevertheless situated in the remotest and least populated area of southeastern England, on the edge of Romney Marsh and within three kilometres of the coast.

 

Lifeboats Station in Rye Harbour

Since 1803 there have been lifeboats stationed at Rye although the lifeboat station is now at Rye Harbour approx 2 miles down-river from the town.[10] The worst disaster in its history occurred in 1928, when the Mary Stanford Lifeboat sank with all hands. The incident is recorded by a tablet at Winchelsea church; and by the folk-song The Mary Stanford of Rye. A new RNLB Mary Stanford was commissioned by the RNLI two years later and stationed at Ballycotton on the coast of Ireland.

The William the Conqueror pub in Rye HarbourThe town of Rye

Rye is a small town in East Sussex, England, which stands approximately two miles from the open sea and is at the confluence of three rivers: the Rother, the Tillingham and the Brede. In medieval times, however, as an important member of the Cinque Ports confederation, it was at the head of an embayment of the English Channel and almost entirely surrounded by the sea.

Fishermen's chapel near Rye Harbour

Rye is officially a civil parish but with its historic roots has the status of a town; at the 2001 census it had a population of 4009. During its history its association with the sea has included providing ships for the service of the King in time of war, and being involved with smuggling gangs of the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Ship Inn

Those historic roots and its charm make it a tourist destination, and much of its economy is based on that: there are a number of hotels, guest houses, B&Bs, tea rooms and restaurants, as well as other attractions, catering for the visitor. There is a small fishing fleet, and Rye Harbour has facilities for yachts and other vessels.

A known demonym for the people who live in the town is ‘Ryers’ and in Sussex they are sometimes referred to as ‘Mud Heads’.

As one of the two “Antient Townes” (Winchelsea being the other), Rye was to become a limb of the Cinque Ports Confederation by 1189, and subsequently a full member. The protection of the town as one of the Cinque Ports was very important, due to the commerce that trading brought. One of the oldest buildings in Rye is Ypres Tower, which was built in 1249 as “Baddings Tower”, to defend the town from the French, and was later named after its owner John de Ypres. It is now part of the Rye Museum. Rye received its charter from King Edward I in 1289, and acquired privileges and tax exemptions in return for ship-service for the crown. The “Landgate” (the only surviving one of four original fortified entrances to Rye) dates from 1329 in the early years of the reign of King Edward III. It is still the only vehicular route into the medieval centre of Rye and is suitable only for light vehicles.

Fishmarket Quay

The Fishmarket Quay Refurbishment in Rye, east of the town centre. This project has replaced the old jetties with a new steel sheet pile wall. As well as providing mooring facilities, the wall also acts as the flood defence along the quay.

Bailey's of Rye

The River Rother originally took an easterly course to flow into the sea near what is now New Romney. However, the violent storms in the 13th century (particularly in 1250 and 1287) cut the town off from the sea, destroyed Old Winchelsea and changed the course of the Rother. Then the sea and the river combined in about 1375 to destroy the eastern part of the town and ships began use the current area (the Strand) to unload their cargoes. Two years later the town was sacked and burnt by the French, and it was ordered that the town walls be completed, as a defence against foreign raiders.

Strand House, Rye

Rye was considered one of the finest of the Cinque Ports even though constant work had to be done to stop the gradual silting-up of the river and the harbour. There was also a conflict of interest between the maritime interests and the landowners, who gradually “inned” or reclaimed land from the sea on Romney and Walland Marsh and thus reduced the tidal-flows that were supposed to keep the harbour free of silt. Acts of Parliament had to be passed to enable the Rother to be kept navigable at all.

Old Borough Arms, Rye

With the coming of bigger ships and larger deepwater ports, Rye’s economy began to decline, and fishing and particularly smuggling (including owling, the smuggling of wool) became more important. Imposition of taxes on goods had encouraged smuggling since 1301, but by the end of the 17th century it became widespread throughout Kent and Sussex, with wool being the largest commodity. When luxury goods were also added, smuggling became a criminal pursuit, and groups – such as the Hawkhurst Gang who met in the Mermaid Inn in Rye – turned to murder and were subsequently hanged.

Antique shops in Rye

During the 1802-1803 Napoleonic invasion threat, Rye, Dover and Chatham were regarded as the three most likely Invasion Ports and Rye became the western Command centre for the Royal Military Canal. The canal was planned from Pett Level to Hythe as a defence against a possible French invasion. How a 20 meter ditch was supposed to have stopped the finest army in Europe, and one which had already crossed all of Europe’s great rivers at one time or another, was not clear. In the event, the canal was not completed until long after the need for it had passed.

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