Sussex TN31 7HH
From 1066 to 1204 England and France were allies, trading and sharing wealth. When Normandy was lost in 1204 France became an enemy and Rye became the target for many raids by the French.
The Ypres (pronounced Yeep) Tower is the oldest building in Rye that is open to the public, and it is one of two sites which make up the Rye Castle Museum.
Nobody is quite sure how old the tower is because it may have formed part of an early royal castle built between 1230 and 1250, during the reign of Henry III. We do know that in 1249 it formed part of the town’s newly strengthened medieval fortifications when the town was surrounded by a stone wall pierced with four entrance gates. At this time Ypres Tower was called Badding Tower.
Accommodation - Search & Book through Hotels.com here: External Link
The sturdy square building with its three-quarter-round towers at the angles has remained essentially the same since its construction. The stone walls, some forty feet (12 metres) high, were originally topped by a parapet, and the remains of the corbels may still be seen on the east and west sides.
The tower stands on the edge of a rocky outcrop. Long before the 13th century when the tower was built the sea came up to the base of these cliffs. As you stand on the tower’s first floor balcony and gaze out over the farmland it is hard to believe that Rye Bay was one of the largest and most important harbours in England.
In 1430 the Tower was leased to John de Ypres for use as a private residence with the proviso that the Mayor and Corporation could enter it at a time of hostility or war for the purpose of town defence. The tower has been known as Ypres Tower since this date.
In 1484 Ypres Tower became the town prison and remained the prison until 1865 when it was downgraded to a lock up until 1891.
Misdemeanours were punished by a session in the stocks which have now been moved to an area below the Gun Gardens. Visitors can sit in the stocks to find out how uncomfortable it would have been especially when being pelted with rotten eggs and fruit. The Gun Gardens has a good selection of cannon and lovely views.
The north east turret houses a spiral staircase which serves all three floors. The remaining three hollow turrets housed guardrooms which were turned into cells when Ypres Tower became a prison. Some of them still contain the original fireplaces. These cells now house the exhibits.
The main door leads into the ground floor but the portcullis has gone. In the basement are displays of particular interest to children. Replica medieval weapons and armour can be handled and tried on. They can test their strength by trying to bend a longbow. There is also a Captain Pugwash Treasure Trail they can explore.
Each cell holds a different exhibit. One has a display of fine medieval pottery made in Rye.
Of course, this ceramic tradition continues in modern Rye. Another cell is set up as a medieval Still Room showing how medieval ladies used herbs and plants in everyday life. The women were extremely knowledgeable, drying and preparing the plants for use in cooking, dyeing, medicine, laundry and cosmetics.
Rye’s smuggling history is well covered. Don’t miss the very rare Smugglers Spout Lantern. This extraordinary object allowed smugglers to signal to ships, without being seen by the Excise men ashore.
The original windows were arrow slits so, on the first floor, an external balcony has been erected to allow visitors to see the views.
On this floor there is a relief map which shows the development of the coastline over the last thousand years. It shows how the Romans, at high tide, were able to sail over the area now known as the Romney Marsh. It also shows that by Elizabethan times, the navigable area was far smaller and limited to Rye. It is interesting to compare what you have seen on the map with the present day views from the balcony.
The winding stairs lead up to the Millennium Embroidery which depicts many aspects of Rye life and history, and a map showing the south-east shoreline littered with shipwrecks.
The Medieval Garden
A medieval herb garden has been created in the old prison exercise yard. The garden is only open on special days but it can be seen from the balcony. When it is open, a gardener in medieval dress is on hand to identify the plants and explain their use. As well as being useful, a garden was a place for recreation so it has a seat and table, and is planted with fragrant roses and a chamomile.
Ypres Tower became Rye Castle Museum in 1954 and has remained a popular visitor attraction ever since.
Plan Your Visit
Accommodation - Search & Book through Tripadvisor here: External Link
Open 7 days a week (weather permitting) throughout the year except 24th and 25th December.
March 30 – October 31: 10:30 – 17:00
November 1 – March 29: 10:30 – 15:30
Last admission 30 minutes before closing
A Joint Ticket gives access to both Rye Castle Museum sites
Go to the museum website (link below) for up to date prices
Toilet facilities are in the Gun Gardens
There are no refreshment facilities but steps and a narrow lane below the Gun Gardens lead to the delightful Ypres Castle Inn where appetites can be satisfied.
Contact & Further Information
+44 (0)1797 226 728
Ypres Tower Museum website External Link
Follow the directions for getting to Rye in this website.
Google Maps - Ypres Tower