The History of Rye
The ancient hill top town of Rye looks out over the Rother River in the historical county of Sussex, in South East England. It was once an island surrounded by water, which made it a target for invasion many times. It dates back across the centuries and although not settled by the Roman Legions who arrived on England's shores, it was used by them to export the iron that was mined in abundance from the surrounding area and transported to Europe from the Harbour at Rye.
From its inception as a small fishing hamlet its link with the past continues today, the town grew before the Norman 's had invaded, when Rye was gifted to a Benedictine Abbey in Normandy, France by King Ethelred the Unready and remained in their hands until 1247. The 11th Century had brought success with the production of Pottery which still continues today, a church that was dedicated to St Mary which has the oldest working clock in the country, and by the time of 1205 the Port had well established trade links, together with a charter issued by Edward I in 1289.
Henry III was concerned at the threat of invasion and wished to strengthen England's shores, he introduced a charter, combining 5 towns and Ports known as the "Cinque Ports", where ships and men were ready at all times in the name of the king to defend and protect against invasion. This brought a silver lining to the town's economy for those concerned in the form of "Common Rights and Privileges" which was issued in recognition of their service and allegiance, no taxes or customs duties were payable.
The arrival of the 14th Century saw the French invade the town causing devastation and destruction in their wake, and three years later the much needed fortification of the town with a wall, and four gates built in 1380, parts of which remain in the north entrance to the town, "Landgate" whose amazing structure still stands 40' high today. Peace was disturbed again when the Spanish attacked in 1350, and again with the French in 1372 when they attacked in earnest. 1377 saw the French invade the town once again and steal the church bells, thankfully these were returned a year later when men set sail and invaded France and retrieved them after setting fire to 2 of their towns in retaliation.
The year 1400 saw men depart from Rye to fight the bloody battles of the 100 Years War , sometime later the instruction from Henry VIII to build a footpath leading to Camber Castle in order to strengthen the defences of the town, a visit from Elizabeth I who arrived in 1573, followed by George I in 1726.
The 18th and 19th Century town of Rye was frequented by Smugglers and Wreckers, moving around the narrow alleyways and twittens in darkness like ghosts. Smuggling grew in popularity after Edward I increased the Customs and taxes on many items, the realisation of the benefits, and money to be made became clear, Smuggling or "Owling" as it was known locally became a way of life, highly profitable when the illicit contraband was brought ashore from creaking ships anchored nearby, it was held and stored in cellars around the town. The Hawkhurst Gang became infamous with 600 members at one time who darted between buildings via a labyrinth of passages and underground tunnels, meeting at The Mermaid Inn , which remains today. The 19th Century saw the building and erection of the Martello Towers which were used again in the defence of the town during the Second World War .
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