Rye – medieval gem of the Cinque Ports
One of the best preserved medieval towns in England, Rye is home to the enchanting cobbled Mermaid Street, the impressive Norman church of St Mary’s, a rich selection of specialist shops and a thriving fishing fleet. The famous Mermaid Inn was once the haunt of notorious smugglers, the Hawkhurst Gang. Camber Castle, built by Henry VIII is located in the dramatic Rye Harbour Nature Reserve.
Rye was once surrounded on three sides by the sea and its maritime heritage dates back to Norman times. To defend it against frequent attacks from the French, Rye became an ‘antient town’ of the powerful Cinque Ports Confederation.
Take time to discover its architectural treasures and narrow passageways. Climb the tower of St Mary’s Parish Church for fine views to Rye Harbour Nature Reserve and the beautiful hilltop town of Winchelsea, with its maze of medieval wine cellars.
Rye has always been a magnet for writers and artists. Lamb House, a National Trust property, was once the home of Henry James and later E.F.Benson, creator of the Mapp and Lucia books. The artists Paul Nash, Edward Burra and Captain Pugwash creator, John Ryan all lived in Rye. Today a wealth of art and photography galleries thrives in the town.
Rye Heritage Center is home to the Rye Town Model. Not just a model, but a complete sound and light show that brings to life seven hundred years of Rye’s history. Invasion, murder, smuggling and Royal visits, a perfect way to start your visit to Rye.
Rye nature reserve with shingle beaches, sandy shores at low tide, grassland, saltmarsh and reedbeds bordering lakes and pools hosting a vast array of wildlife.
Camber Castle was one link in the chain of forts built along the south coast by Henry VIII. Highly symmetrical, built from Wealden and Sussex sandstone. By completion in 1544 the garrison strength was 29 men and had cost £16,000. It was abandoned in 1642 due to shingle build up and is a rare example of a Henrician fort surviving in its original plan. Now 2 miles from the sea.
Lambs House is an early Georgian house and walled garden which was the home of the American writer Henry James, from 1898 to 1916 and later of author, E F Benson, famous for the Mapp and Lucia stories. Several ground floor rooms are open to visitors and contain some of James’ furniture, pictures and personal possessions, photographs and letters.
The Ypres Tower was built in 1249 to defend Rye against attacks from across the channel. It has served as a fort, private dwelling, prison, court hall and now finally as a museum.
You can see where murderer John Breads was held prisoner, where prisoners where chained and the cells in which they were incarcerated. You can see a smuggers lantern, and a model that shows the changes to the Romney Marsh coastline and the defenses against Napoleon.
The East Street Museum was originally a bottling factory but it now houses exhibitions from Rye’s history including its unique C18th fire engine. There is a display showing the changes to the coastline over the last thousand years and a shipbuilding display exhibiting many of the tools used, which includes modesl of ships built.
Many visitors are especially interested in the wooden Tunbridge ware, the tobacco pipes and the examples of pottery made in Rye for which the town was famous.
There are also several paintings showing the changes in Rye, its rivers and harbour over the past few centuries.