One of the most attractive and best-preserved medieval settlements in southern England. Rye sits on a hill overlooking the East Sussex levels and was once an important seaport. During the 12th century it became associated with the Cinque Ports, supplying services for the navy. Although it originally stood on the coast, the sea gradually receded over the centuries, silting up the harbour and stranding it several miles inland. The modern port now lies two miles downstream but fishing boats still land catches here, supplying the local restaurants.

Mermaid Inn
The Mermaid Inn © Travel About Britain

Typical of Rye's ancient ways is Mermaid Street, narrow, steep and cobbled. The Mermaid Inn, half way up, is one of Britain's oldest public houses (circa 1420). Once a haunt for notorious rogues and smugglers, it has oak timbers, leaded windows, massive stone fireplaces and cosy inglenooks.

Virtually all the dwellings in Mermaid Street are of medieval or 18th-c origin. The Old Hospital is a particularly fine half-timbered example. Several properties display humorous names. Across from the Mermaid Inn is a black-and-white dwelling called "The House Opposite". Down the hill is a house with a seat in its porch, called the "The House with a Seat". The house next door has no such amenity, so is called "The House Without a Seat".


Rye Landgate © TAB

Landgate arch is an impressive stone portal, defining the northern entrance to the old medieval town. The only surviving gateway from the old town walls. The grooves of the portcullis are still visible.

A tall stone church-like structure part way down Conduit Hill, is all that remains of a 14th-c Augustine Friary. Overthrown during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538, it has since served as a church, a storehouse and theatre.

At the end of Market Street, next to the old Town Hall, is Fletcher's House, the birthplace of John Fletcher (1579), a playwright who once rivaled Shakespeare in popularity. Its medieval tile-clad frontage now houses a pleasant little tea room.

St Mary's Church
St Mary's Church © Travel About Britain

The squat clock tower of St Mary's Church has two gilded quarter boys, who strike bells on the quarter hours. First built in about 1120, the church was virtually destroyed by the French in 1377 and rebuilt in the 15th-c. The clock was added in 1561; one of the oldest turret clocks still in working order.

The unusual elliptical building at the back of the church was constructed in 1735 to contain the town's water supply. Cobbled streets surround the churchyard include Watchbell Street, recalling a time when the alarm bells would be sounded against French raiders.

Rye's small castle, the Ypres Tower, was built in 1250 to defend against the French. A task that it failed to accomplish as they sacked the town in 1377 and again in 1448. The Gun Garden, in front of the tower, provides views across the marshes to the harbour and nature reserve. Defensive guns have been housed on the terrace since Tudor times, when six brass cannon were given to Rye by Elizabeth I, in gratitude for town's role in defeating the Spanish Armada. The current weapons date from 1980, gifted to commemorate the 80th birthday of the Queen Mother (Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports). The flat grassy recreation field below the garden was formerly a salt production site, once used to extract salt for the preservation of fish.

A footpath running south from Harbour Road leads to Camber Castle, built by Henry VIII in the shape of a Tudor rose. Further to the east lies Camber Sands, a popular coastal region with long stretches of golden dunes backed by holiday accommodation and caravan sites.

Places of Interest to Visit in Rye

Lamb House

Ham House

A fine 18th-c Georgian mansion of built by James Lamb, a leading citizen of Rye. The house later became the home of two authors, the American novelist Henry James and E. F. Benson, author of the Mapp and Lucia books.

The house is now a writer's house museum with a delightful walled garden at the rear.

Opening times: Fri to Tue, 11am to 5pm - Admission Charge
Location: West St, Rye TN31 7ES
Tel: 01797 222909

Rye Art Gallery

Housed in two heritage buildings, the gallery displays a permanent collection of artworks by notable local masters including Paul Nash, John Piper and Graham Sutherland. There is also an inspiring display of regularly changing Contemporary art and craft for sale.

Opening times: Mon - Sat: 11.00am - 5.00pm, Sunday: 11.00am - 4.00pm
Location: 107 High St, Rye TN31 7JE

Rye Heritage Centre

Rye Heritage Centre

The heritage centre is a local history centre telling the 'Story of Rye' with a scale town model, multimedia light show and a Victorian pier experience.

Opening times: Wed to sun: - Admission Charge
Location: Strand Quay, The Old Sail Loft Rye, Rye TN31 7AY
Tel: 01797 226696

Ypres Tower

Small fortress built in the 13th-c to defend the town against French raiders. A role it failed to achieve on many occasions. It was later used as the town hall and in 1430 it became the private residence of John de Ypres. From 1518 to 1865 it was used as the town gaol. Today it houses a museum of Cinque Port regalia, medieval pottery, militaria and smuggling related items.

Opening times: daily from 10.30am - Admission Charge
Location: Gungarden, Rye TN31 7HE
Tel: 01797 226728

Map of Rye

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