What it’s like to live in Rye

PUBLISHED: 10:09 22 November 2016 | UPDATED: 10:09 22 November 2016

Mermaid Street (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Mermaid Street (Getty Images/iStockphoto)


From the 12th century this East Sussex Cinque Port town helped defend the South Coast, but now the river is more likely to harbour fishing boats than war ships


Rye dates back to before the Norman Conquest, when King Ethelred the Unready promised the manor of Rameslie to the Abbey of Fecamp in Normandy in 1014. The area came back under the English crown in 1247 except for a small area known as Rye Foreign which had to wait until the Reformation to leave French rule.

Alongside Winchelsea it was one of two ancient towns within the Confederation of Cinque Ports by 1189, which provided ship service to the English Crown in return for legal and fiscal privileges.

It was fortified in 1380 under King Edward III, with only the Landgate, Ypres Tower and small sections of the town wall evidence of this early defensive period. The town was the victim of a French raid in 1377 which saw the town devastated by fire, and the bells of the towering St Mary’s Church taken to France. The next year the men of Rye and Winchelsea took their revenge on the French coast and stole them back.

In the 18th century it became a favourite haunt of smugglers especially the notorious Hawkhurst Gang.

In the 19th and 20th centuries it was something of a literary centre – providing a home for E F Benson, Henry James and Captain Pugwash creator John Ryan.

The unspoilt medieval streets also make it a popular filming location – in the last few years it has hosted the comic shenanigans of Mapp and Lucia in 2014’s BBC adaptation, Sir Ian McKellen in Mr Holmes and Hollywood A-listers George Clooney and Matt Damon in The Monuments Men.

Annual festivals and events

The 2016 Rye Arts Festival launched on Saturday 17 September and ran until Saturday 1 October 2016. On the tail-end of the programme are a production of comic opera Don Pasquale at Rye Creative Centre Theatre in New Road; broadcaster Loyd Grossman talking about his biography of Royal Academy founder Benjamin West; and photographer Martin Parr talking about his work. For more information visit www.ryeartsfestival.co.uk.

Rye’s scallops were so famous that in 1628 King Charles I declared Rye: “The cheapest sea-towne for provision of fish for our house.” Rye Bay Scallop Week, which in 2017 runs from Saturday 18 to Sunday 26 February, celebrates the seafood with music, special restaurant menus and shucking sessions. The man behind Rye’s Scallop Week, Oliver Campion, is also responsible for the annual Wild Boar Week which takes over the town from Saturday 22 to Sunday 30 October with special menus at town restaurants, live music and have-a-go sessions with Rye longbowmen. For more visit wildboar.org.uk.

In August Rye International Jazz and Blues Festival brings a mix of local, national and international musicians to play pubs, theatres and venues in the town. Last year’s programme included performances by Mica Paris, Joe Stilgoe and Liane Carroll.

Every autumn Rye joins East Sussex’s county-wide bonfire celebrations, launching fireworks from the fishing fleet moorings.

And this 2016’s Christmas in Rye event is following the theme of Tales of Old and will take over the town on Saturday 10 December. Among the attractions are a Christmas tree competition, pudding races, craft, storytelling and a chance to visit Santa’s grotto.

What to do

Kino Digital Cinema in Lion Street offers a full range of new release films and event cinema over two screens. For more information visit 

Rye Castle Museum is spread across their home in East Street and the landmark Ypres Tower. Both explore Rye’s rich history. Rye Art Gallery is made up of two domestic houses in High Street and dates back to 1957. As well as its permanent collection of international and regional artists, it hosts regularly changing guest exhibitions, often with a Rye link.

The harbour opens up a range of sea-based activities, from boat charters to fishing. The town is packed with interesting independent antique shops, pubs and restaurants. Visit the Gun Garden for views out over the harbour or just walk the cobbled streets down to the Strand Quay and model village at Rye Heritage Centre.


As a small town Rye has a post office, library and doctor’s surgeries at Ferry Road and Rye Medical Centre in Kiln Road which was opened in 2007.

There is a wide range of largely independent shops selling everything from toys to fossils – including independent supermarket Jempson’s in Crownfields – as well as many pubs and restaurants.

Meet the neighbours

Lamb House in Rye was home to authors Henry James and comic writer E F Benson who immortalised the town as Tilling, home to the poisonous Miss Mapp and battleground between her and incomer Lucia. The house also provided a base for King George I when his ship was grounded on Camber Sands in 1726. Today former Beatle Paul McCartney has an estate in nearby Peasemarsh.


Rye has its own town council based in the Town Hall in Market Street. It comes under the auspices of Rother District Council and East Sussex County Council.

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