Rye, Clocks, Murder, Smuggling, Captain Pugwash, and strange front doors: part three of my ‘jolly’.
Part three of my birthday ‘jolly.’
If you’ve been following my two previous posts about my birthday treat earlier in the month you will realise I’ve been in Sussex and visiting all manner of wonderful places. I’ve not posted in sequence but I am sure you won’t worry about that.
Bright and early one morning we set off (my sister and I) for a day in the ancient Cinque Port of Rye.
For those of you who don’t know, a Cinque Port (member of the Cinque Ports Confederation), is a town which was allowed a certain amount of self-government – in Feudal times – in return for supplying the King with a Navy.
‘God Save Englonde and the Towne of Rye’
(quote from the Ancient Rye Customal or Law Book)
We visited the Parish Church of St. Mary in Rye which for almost 900 years has dominated the hill on which the Old Town stands. The Domesday Book, completed in 1086, records ‘The Abbot of Fecamp holds Rameslie from the King, and held it from King Edward – there are 5 churches and a new Borough with 64 Burgesses. Hastings has 4.’
Think the Battle of Hastings in 1066 when William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy defeated King Harold just down the road, and if you are wondering about the Doomsday book in 1086, that was the very first Census in a way; William needed to know who owned what and how much, to put it plainly.
Rye is a well-known tourist destination. The houses and cobbled streets are fascinating and the views from the roof of the church are well worth the agonising journey up many narrow stairs and two ladders. We were amazed when we got to the roof of the church to see a very elderly lady appear from the narrow little door, complete with walking stick. I was amazed I’d managed it; respect to her though.
I should mention that it is wise to climb to the roof when the big bells are not about to toll on the hour. Even though it is a single toll, I am told it really rocks your socks.
The bells were re-cast in 1775 and each one has the maker’s name, Pack and Chapman, and a rhyme on them. These bells were re-hung in 1995. The bells are not the original ones however, those were stolen by the French in 1377. There are 8 bells and their total weight is almost 5 tons.
I don’t have a photo of the Clock but I do have one of the mechanism which I managed to take in spite of the gloom. The clock mechanism is one of the oldest church turret clocks still functioning and chimes the quarters and a single hourly toll.
The clock has a beautiful blue face – called ‘the new clock,’ and was made by the Huguenot ,Lewys Billiard, in about 1561-62. The pendulum. a much later addition, swings in the body of the church. The present exterior face of the clock and the original ‘Quarter Boys’ (so-called because they strike the quarters but not the hours) were added in 1760.
On the clock decoration are the words ‘For our time is a very shadow that passeth away; Wisdom 11v.’
The view from the church roof is wonderful; over the red roofs of Rye.
Never far from the sea there are lots of channels leading to it; I’ve taken photos of the whole panorama from the roof as you can see for miles.
The golden weather vane on top of the tower (white dome photo two here) dates from 1703. The church has been a look-out from the day it was built and has been assistance to sailors as a landmark, to be seen from Dungeness to Fairlight.
We spent quite a time on the roof, the wind was rather cold and refreshing and the weather threatened rain but to see the whole of Rye and so far into the distance was worth shivering for.
I must admit the thought of the journey back down the stairs and steps did occupy my mind for a while. I managed it backwards as the narrow steps and twisting stairwell was a bit of a nightmare. Modern folk are so much taller, wider, and have larger feet than those 900 years ago I think. Plus carrying cameras and handbags is an added nuisance when trying to find something to hold on to. Not for the feint-hearted or those with a fear of heights and confined spaces I think!
There are some gorgeous stained glass windows in the church depicting various events in the history of Rye. We had a giggle when we noticed that Captain Horatio Pugwash – TV cartoon character from when my son was a toddler – was mentioned in the church brochure. John Ryan, his creator, lives in Rye.
For our American friends you might be interested to know that the township of Rye, New York State, was founded in the early 17th century by settlers from Rye, Sussex. Both parishes observe the 2nd Sunday in Advent as an annual day of commemoration. An inscribed slab under the tower crossing was donated by the Americans, and in return a piece of stone from the fabric of the church was sent to Christ’s Church, Rye, New York USA.
Now, you know I love a good murder so trust me to find one in Rye and not just murder, but smuggling too.
Apparently parts of the church have been used over time for various activities, and in 1569 guns and stores for the town had been stored in the South Chancel, and later in 1637 a complaint was made that it contained ‘arsenals, prisons and places of execution of punishment’. Later the South Chancel was divided and used for a school. The North Chancel was used as a lumber room, the home of the town’s fire engine (now in Rye museum) and for hiding smuggled goods. However, until 1854 it was still being used to bury people.
Two graves feature in a famous Rye story.
Next to each other lie Allen Grebell – murdered by mistake in 1742 by John Breeds – and members of the Lamb family. James Lamb having been the intended victim. The murder took place in the churchyard when John Breeds killed the Deputy Mayor instead of the Mayor. Various explanations have been offered, including vengeance, mental illness, or the Rye smuggling Mafia diverting attention from their activities. From 1792 – 1862 the murderer and his victim lay together in the North Chancel, the remains of John Breed’s skeleton, in an iron cage, having been moved there from Gibbets Marsh. In 1862, when the Chancel Chapels were re-opened, the iron cage and its contents were removed to the attic of the Town Hall in Rye.
There is an inscription which I didn’t have chance to find, which apparently reads:
‘Here lyeth the Body of ALLEN GREBELL Esq.r
Who after having served the Office of Mayor of this Town for Ten Years with the greatest
Honour and Integrity fell by the Cruel Stab of a
Sanguinary Butcher on the 17th of March 1742
I can imagine all the Historical novelists reading this wanting to know more.
We took a wander around the town and I managed to take some photos of some of the more interesting buildings and streets after having lunch at a little tea rooms we found. The Cobbles Tea Rooms was delightful and not too expensive. They serve afternoon teas (cream teas) homemade scones, cakes and luxury carrot cake by the way. I enjoyed their Ploughman’s Lunch – cake is not my thing. They have an extensive range of loose leaf teas too and high quality coffees. The Cobbles Tea Rooms, I, Hylands Yard, Rye. TN31 7EP.
Here are some more of the photos I took on our visit. I do hope you enjoy the front doors especially; they tickled me.
I love the cobbled streets and the style of houses.
So many are really ancient and those I’ve photographed nearly all date from around 1400.
The street below is where novelist, Henry James lived. You can see the plaque marking his house on the left.
Henry James lived here from 1895-1916 (shown below).
Some of the houses are really fascinating and it is no wonder people enjoy wandering around looking at them. I enjoyed it no end.
These houses all have strange names. Look closely.
I hope you find these fun. I love them.
Anyway, we had a fantastic day. I took dozens of photos – too many to share here. I hope if you ever get the chance to visit Rye you will take it and have a good time discovering everything it has to offer.
My ‘jolly,’ hasn’t ended;
I have more to share with you and so keep an eye out for lots more next time.
Thanks for visiting and do please let me know what you think.
Now I must pop off and get down to writing Murder at the Observatory – a short story to be included in my Crime Anthology due out in a couple of months. Murder at the Observatory is a stand-alone Ms Birdsong Investigates story, not from the novel, but I couldn’t resist having her investigate evil deeds in the Vale of the White Horse.
All photographs are copyright Jane Risdon 2014 All rights reserved.