Food, Days Out and Travel stories from Brighton, London and the Rest of the World


Days out in Sussex - Rye and its smuggling past

Once surrounded by sea, the town of Rye clusters up a hill, where buildings date back to medieval times and is a place full of secrets from the past.

There's a pub still in operation that was once visited by Elizabeth I, called The Mermaid Inn (a notorious haunt for smugglers) and houses have whimsical names such as The House Opposite and The House With Two Front Doors.

The House With Two Front Doors, Rye
~ The House With Two Front Doors ~

Oak plank from 15th century prison door, Rye
~ Oak plank from 15th Century prison door, Rye ~
Everywhere there are interesting features to look at or signs to read. It's not surprising it has inspired writers from Rudyard Kipling, who wrote A Smuggler's Song about Rye to the recently filmed BBC Mapp and Lucia. It was also the home of John Ryan, the creator of Captain Pugwash (cue theme tune in my head).

View from the Mermaid Inn, Rye, Sussex
~ View from the Mermaid Inn ~

Rye, Sussex
~ Rye, Sussex ~
I just loved it and on a sunny spring day, which was also my birthday, it was a perfect day out from Brighton with my Welsh one.

Although the sea now lies two miles away, when it was on the coast, it played a key role in defence against neighbouring countries France and Spain and was made a Cinque Port in 1336 in recognition of this. This meant it became one of a group of ports along the south coast that received privileges including exemption from tax, in return for maintaining ships for defence.

Rye, Sussex
~ 85 High Street, Rye, Sussex ~
By the 16th Century the sea had receded but the smuggling that had begun when Edward I introduced the Customs system in the 13th Century remained. Goods like wool, cloth, hides as well as gold and silver were smuggled out of the country from Rye. As further restrictions were imposed towards the end of 17th Century, smuggling became even more lucrative as even everyday products like candles and beer had tariffs placed on them.

St Mary's and Simon the Pieman, Rye
~ St Mary's and Simon the Pieman ~
In 1377 when the town was looted and set on fire by French invaders, St Mary's church was extensively damaged. The roof fell in and the bells were carried off to France. Not impressed, men from Rye and Winchelsea sailed to Normandy to take them back and successfully recovered them the next year.

~ Rye, Sussex ~

Rye, Sussex
~ St Mary's House, Rye, Sussex ~

Rye, Sussex
~ Rye, Sussex ~

Although the sea is no longer close by, Rye is still surrounded by water from three different rivers, the Tillingham, Brede and Rother. We walked along the side of one of them, the Tillingham and passed the picturesque Rye white smock windmill. Now a Bed and Breakfast, a Windmill has been on this site since the sixteenth century. Turned into a bakery in 1912 it eventually became a B and B in 1984. 

Windmill, Rye, Sussex
~ Rye Windmill ~

The Old Bell Inn, Rye, Sussex
~ The Old Bell Inn ~
One final nugget to add about Rye relates to the Old Bell Inn. When smuggling was rife during the 18th Century this Inn was used to store hoards of smuggled goods in its old vaulted cellars and series of secret tunnels and passages, a plan which mostly kept it safe from the eyes of the officials.
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