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Rye Castle

Visited August 2015

Location Rye, East Sussex
Entrance Fee Yes
Railway Station Nearby Rye
Parking Town centre car parks
Facilities Small gift shop


The town of Rye in East Sussex is today two miles from the coast. But at one time it was right on the coast, and therefore vulnerable to French attacks. Its status as a major port meant that it was afforded large scale fortifications, some of which survive today. The building known as Rye Castle, is officially called Ypres Tower, and was once a part of the Rye town wall defences. It was possibly built initially as part of a castle which was never completed, but survived as it became the town prison so it was maintained in a way that the other parts of the walls were not.






Rye is a small town, and the castle a small site, but both are well worth a visit. The castle is now a museum manned by a team of enthusiastic volunteers who are on hand to explain the history of Rye. In the basement level there are some costumes and replica military helmets for children to try on, and a selection of hands on items to play with. 


The entrance level features a replica metal gibbet with a skeleton inside, this was once notorious Rye criminal John Breads, a butcher who attempted to kill the Mayor of Rye James Lamb after harbouring a grudge against him for several years. As he stabbed his victim he shouted 'Butchers should kill Lambs', which pretty much gave away his identity to witnesses. He was hanged for his crime in 1743 and his body was left in the gibbet on Romney Marsh for a further fifty years. The final irony to the story was that John Breads did not even kill the Mayor as intended, he killed the Deputy Mayor Allan Greball who had stepped in for the Mayor at the last minute. A gruesome story indeed (but most children seem to love it!) It is a replica skeleton , by the way, in case some children are freaked by the sight of it!


The view from the roof level is over the marshes and out to the sea beyond, but also affords a view of the garden planted in the courtyard of the Women's Tower, which housed the female inmates of the town prison. This is a separate building lying adjacent to the main part of the castle. It has been fitted out to show a Victorian prison cell, complete with a sound and light show featuring a female prisoner and the conditions in the prison at the time.







Once outside again the garden of the Women's Tower is pleasant as it has been planted as it would have been in medieval times, there are benches for visitors to sit a while.  Just below the castle is the Gun Garden. Constructed in the reign of Elizabeth I it featured heavy guns facing out to sea to ward off invaders. The site has also been used in more peaceful times as a bowling green and a soup kitchen, but these days it is a quiet spot (if you don't mind the guns!) and there is a small battlement to walk along for an extra dimension to the sea views.





The town of Rye itself has a lot to offer the tourist, with narrow streets full of shops and cafes, and several places of interest. The Landgate is worth a quick visit, this is the other surviving part of the ancient town defences. St Marys Church is also an ancient landmark and very interesting (and seems to have a resident cat who was sleeping peacefully the day we were there).


For literary fans there is Lamb House, one time home of Henry James, Rumer Godden and Edward 'Fred' Benson. Fans of Mapp & Lucia will already know that Benson used Rye as his setting for the imaginary town of Tilling, and Lamb House itself is Mallards, the home of the formidable Miss Mapp. The house is worth a visit, there are exhibitions on Henry James and EF Benson, which may not be too interesting for kids but there is also a huge garden out the back which might be more appealing to the younger ones. Lamb House is owned by the National Trust, so membership would clearly be useful for the free admission. See 'Other Places of Interest' for details. 


Finally there is  Camber Castle , set isolated in the Rye Nature Reserve, this one time coastal fort is only open on certain days for guided tours. Unfortunately our visit to Rye did not coincide with the opening times, but we would be interested to hear from anyone who manages a visit! See our 'Welcome' page for contact details.





More info:  Rye Castle

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