RYE, a market town and municipal borough in the Rye parliamentary division of Sussex, England, II m. N.E. by E. from Hastings, on the South-Eastern & Chatham railway. Pop. (1901) 3900. It rises on a sharp eminence above the S. of Romney Marsh, which within historic times was an inlet of the English Channel. The sea began to recede in the 16th century, and now the river Rother forms a small estuary with its mouth 2 m. from the town; this serves as a small harbour with a depth of 15 ft. at high tide, and there is some trade in coal, grain and timber. Fishing and shipbuilding are carried on, and there is a market for sheep (which are pastured in great numbers on the marshes), wool, grain and hops. The church of St Mary is of mixed architecture, chiefly Transitional, Norman and Early English; it is cruciform, with a low central tower. Of the old fortifications there remain portions of the town wall, a strong quadrangular tower built by William of Ypres, earl of Kent, and lord warden in the time of Stephen, and now forming part of the police station, and a handsome gate with a round tower on each side, known as the Land Gate, at the entrance into Rye from the London road. Picturesque old houses are numerous. In the low land S. of the town stands Camber Castle, one of the coastal defensive works of Henry VIII. In the vicinity are golf-links, to which a steam tram runs from the town. The municipal borough is under a mayor, 4 aldermen and 12 councillors. Area, 985 acres.
In the time of Edward the Confessor, Rye (Ria, Ryerot, La Rie) was a fishing village and, as part of the manor of "Rameslie," was granted by the king to the abbot and convent of Fecamp, by whom it was retained until Henry III. resumed it. By 1086 Rye was probably a port of consequence, and a charter of Richard I. shows that in the reign of Henry II., if not before, it had been added to the Cinque Ports. The fluctuations of the sea and attacks of the French caused its decline in the 13th and 14th centuries, and the walls were therefore built in the reign of Edward III. The decay of Winchelsea contributed to the partial revival of Rye in the 15th and 16th centuries, when it was a chief port of passage. Towards the end of the 16th century the decay of the port began, and notwithstanding frequent attempts to improve the harbour it never recovered its ancient prosperity. Rye was incorporated under a mayor and jurats by the beginning of the 14th century, but possesses no charter distinct from the Cinque Ports. As a member of the Cinque Ports, which were summoned from 1322 onwards, Rye returned two representatives to parliament from 1366 until 1832; after that date one only until 1885. In 1290 the barons of the royal port of Rye were granted a three days' fair in September, altered in 1305 to March. The mayor and commonalty evidently held weekly markets on Wednesday and Friday before 1405, as in that year the Friday market was changed to Saturday. Shipbuilding has been carried on since the 13th century.
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