Rye Hastings
East Sussex TN31
The East Sussex walled town of Rye is probably the best known of the surviving medieval Cinque Ports that once defended the coast of south east England. Its steep, narrow, cobbled streets, old buildings, and city walls and towers are a magnet for tourists.
Rye has a long and colourful history and is a living example of how environmental changes can radically alter the livelihood of a thriving town.
Rye is located at the point where the sandstone high land of the Weal reaches the coast. In medieval times the coastline was very different to how it is today and a large bay allowed ships to come up to the port of Rye.
Most of England’s trade and commerce was conducted through these small coastal ports and protection of them was very important. One of the oldest buildings in Rye is Ypres Tower (pronounced Yeep) which was buit in 1249 to defend the town from the French. It is open to the public and is part of Rye Castle Museum.
Cinque Port
The town’s position and ready supply of ships made it an obvious choice as a Cinque Port, particularly as some of the other ports were silting up and being blocked by longshore drift (shingle being swept north east by the Channel tides). Rye was made a limb of the Confederation of Cinque Ports and received its Charter from King Edward I in 1289.
The Charter brought privileges and tax exemptions in return for ship-service for the Crown.
The River Rother originally took an easterly course, entering the sea at what is now New Romney. However, violent storms in the 13th century (particularly 1250 and 1287) cut the town off from the sea, destroyed Old Winchelsea, and changed the course of the Rother. Around 1375 the sea and the river combined to destroy the eastern part of Rye and ships began to use a tributary of the Rother - the River Tillingham to off-load their cargoes at Strand Quay.
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Town Sacked & Burnt by French Raiders
In 1377 the town was sacked and burnt by the French, and it was ordered that the town walls should be strengthened as a defence against foreign raiders. The intermittent town walls were replaced with substantial stone ones and four fortified gates gave entry to the town.
The Land Gate is the only gateway that has survived and now provides the lone vehicular access to the centre of medieval Rye. It dates from 1329.
Eventually the storms in the English Channel in the 13th century, coupled with reclamation of the bay and longshore drift blocked the entrance to the port. The sea receded, changing the coastline for ever and the Town of Rye now stands 2 miles (3.2 km) inland from the coast.
As a result of the medieval storms the Rother River now flows south. The tidal nature of the river often leaves fishing boats and yachts picturesquely stranded on the mud flats until the tide comes in.
By the 14th century the King no longer relied on ship-service for defence and larger ships needed deep-water ports, so the Cinque Ports declined in importance. The towns had to rely on fishing for their economy.
The imposition of heavy duties on certain goods made smuggling a very lucrative industry even though it was an offence punishable by death. Nearly everyone was involved in the industry so the authorities found it very difficult to get evidence – locals never saw or heard anything!
In the 18th century smuggling was widespread throughout Kent and Sussex. It had evolved from an activity most people considered harmless into a criminal business conducted by ruthless and murderous gangs.
- Hawkhurst Gang
Some of the worst gangs based themselves at Rye. The Mermaid Inn, Rye was the favourite meeting spot of the infamous Hawkhurst Gang. They often frequented the inn where they would sit with their weapons on the table in full view. Of course, when the Excise Men came calling, no one had ever seen them.
Famous Writers
The town's extensive history and colourful past has been an inspiration for authors. Many famous writers have lived here, ranging from Henry James and E F Benson to Spike Miligan. Both Henry James and E F Benson lived in Lamb House which is now owned by the National Trust and open for 4 hours on Thursdays and Saturdays (Mar – Oct).
This charming and ancient little cobbled town is full of antique shops, galleries, old pubs and restaurants. There are plenty of atmospheric places to stay (check our Accommodation page). Even the restored smock mill near the station is a B & B.
The town struggles up the hill to the parish church of St Mary the Virgin Church, Rye. This lovely old Norman building is surrounded by picturesque medieval half-timbered houses. A climb to the top of the tower affords splendid views of Romney Marsh and the River Rother wending its way south to Rye Harbour.
Camber Castle
The Marsh and Rye Harbour Nature Reserve are excellent sites for bird watching and places of special scientific interest. The ruins of lonely Camber Castle (EH) lies in the middle of the Reserve.
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Rye Tourist Information Centre
Rye Tourist Information Centre in Lion Street, just below the church, has an accommodation booking service as well as information on sights to see, things to do, local events, and a gift shopsellring local arts and crafts. They are happy to provide advice on local attractions, places to eat and drink shops and local events. Tickets for local events can be booked through the TIC.
Maps and walking routes are available and information on public transport. Their little shop is well stocked with local gifts. The TIC has an excellent website which we recommend visiting. Open all year except 25-26 December & 1 January 10:00 – 17:00 hours Closes 1 hour earlier in winter (1 Oct – 31 Mar)
TIC Contact & Further Information
Website   Rye website info    External Link
Lion Street is pretty cobbled street housing the town's oldest tearoom - Simon the Pieman.
Rye Heritage Centre
Down on Strand Quay the Rye Heritage Centre is well worth visiting. It has a most unusual collection of working penny-in-the-slot machines. These delightful old machines were the backbone of every seaside pier’s entertainment.
Several long distance footpaths come into the town:
- The Saxon Shore Way runs from Gravesend to Hastings
- The 1066 Country Walk runs from Rye to Pevensey
- The High Weald Landscape Trail connects Rye with Horsham
- The Royal Military Canal Path goes to Hythe.
For Further Information go to Rye website link above.
Getting There
- By Car
Situated on the A259, east of Hastings, Rye is a short drive from the M20, leaving Ashford on the A2070, or, if travelling south on the A21, take the B2089 to Rye
The shortest route is to take the A21 from London to Flimwell and change to the A268. Rye is 63 miles (100 km) southeast of London.
- By Rail
Trains depart London's St Pancras Domestic station on an hourly basis for Ashford International station – travel time about 40 minutes. There can be around 50 minutes wait for a Marshlink train to Rye, travel time around 20 minutes. Overall journey time about 75 minutes.
Trains also depart from London Charing Cross however that journey takes about 90 minutes. Marshlink connection to Rye departs in about 20 minutes. Overall journey time just under two hours.
For full details on times, ticket prices and ticketing go to Web: National Rail Enquiries    External Link
Google Maps - Rye


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