Rye’s Inns, Tipplings and Alehouses

Rye’s Inns, Tipplings and Alehouses

NB: 12 November 2012: Just published is a comprehensive and illustrated history of Rye pubs which provides insights into other aspects of the town as well:  David Russell, The Pubs of Rye, East Sussex 1750-1950

Rye’s Inns and Alehouses

by Frank Palmer

Of the earliest Inns and Alehouses little or nothing is known and all that exists are a few early cellars beneath later buildings such as the Old Bell on the High Street. What we do know is that by the sixteenth century, the Inn and Alehouse was a significant part of the Rye scene.

As an important port of embarkation the town was always busy with travellers. Merchants and the military were crossing to and from France and all required sustenance and accommodation whilst awaiting the tide. For example, Lord D’acre stayed at Le Crowne (at the corner of West Street and High Street) on the way to meet Henry VIII at Calais in 1520.

In 1574 some twenty six Inns and Alehouses could be found with ninety four beds for strangers.

The occupation of licensed ale housekeepers was a privileged one and found among the more affluent members of Society, often the town’s Jurats. One of these was Richard Pedyel, owner of the Mermaid, who died in 1536.

Yet earlier at the Cinque Ports Brodhull (the name for the meetings of the Cinque Ports Confederation) held at Romney in 1465, it is recorded that no Mayors or Bailiff shall retail bread or ale during his term of office. Likewise breweries, of which there were several, were expensive to set up and, therefore, the preserve of the more wealthy.

At times Alehouses could be of considerable concern to the town authorities, because they provided shelter to vagrants and other suspicious persons, including ‘harlotts, hores and comon women’ (sic). Various Acts gave powers to Justices to deal with these, and an Act of 1495 gave powers to suppress Alehouses.

Later, an Act of 1552 gave authority to the Magistrates to licence and suppress such premises.

In 1581 twelve ‘common dronkards’, were banned from every tippling house in Rye. At this time some of the Inns and Alehouses were:

The Red Lion (located where the Further Education Centre now stands but burnt down in 1872)

The Mermaid

The George and The Swan – both at this time in the Butchery (now Market Street)

The Three Kings in Middle Street (now Mermaid Street)The Blew Anchor (later The London Trader and now The Borough Arms) at the Strand.

Whyte Vyne (in Longer Street now the High Street)

 There were many others but the principle inns were the Mermaid, the Red Lion and the George. These were often used by the Corporation for celebratory dinners.

However, the Mermaid had closed by the mid eighteenth century. Louis Jennings, visiting Rye in the 1870’s wrote,

The Mermaid — still I looked about for the Mermaid Inn, I roamed up and down Mermaid Street, over rough cobble stones, loathe to give up the search. . . . ‘ . . . at the helm.  A seeming mermaid steers’ .

At last I met an ancient man, who looked as if with a little effort of memory he might recall the Mermaid, or perhaps be the merman who married her. ‘Ah Sir ‘, said he, with a sigh, ‘the Inn has long since closed. How curious you should ask for it. Gone ever so long ago, Sir’.

Throughout the centuries there were always some unlicensed premises trading illicitly and it was the duty of the constables or Sergeant at Mace to bring the offenders before the Courts.

Fines and license fees brought in necessary income, so, despite pressure from the Privy Council in London to reduce the numbers of Alehouses, the Town Council tended to impose fines that were not too punitive and tried to persuade offenders to obtain a license.

The brewers also had an interest in supplying as many outlets as possible. It is perhaps interesting to note that in 1609 four brewers were fined for supplying beer to unlicensed tippling houses; two of these brewers were town Magistrates.

A glance at the Passage Book of the Port of Rye, shows that in the year 1635 many important persons sailed from Rye to the continent including merchants from London, Plymouth, Norwich, Hull, Bristol, Exeter and Barnstaple, as well as Scotland and Ireland. Some forty Inns and Alehouses offered their services in the town. However, at times this proved to be a mixed blessing.

A report to the Council of State in 1651 stated ‘the causes of injury to the trade of the ancient town, the multiplication of strangers and the superabundance of beer houses are alleged as the chief impediments to the prosperity of the market’.

Early in the eighteenth century we find; the Two Brewers (now the Queen’s Head) the Ship without Landgate (no longer in existence) and the Dolphin, Gun Garden (pulled down in 1837) for the enlargement of the Rye Union Workhouse.

However, in general the number of inns and alehouses was falling. The billeting of troops in the town was at times a source of difficulty. Many Acts of Parliament were passed over the years that attempted to control the problems of excessive drinking. This had an effect on the number of inns and alehouses in the town.

In 1830 another statute was passed, popularly known as the Duke of Wellington’s Beerhouse Act. This Act enabled any householder assessed to the poor rate, on payment of two guineas a year, to obtain an excise licence to retail beer from his own dwelling either on or off the premises. This was an attempt to reduce the abnormal amount of spirit drinking, but resulted in a considerable increase in the number of alehouses.

At the beginning of the twentieth century a number of inns were closed down because the police opposed the licence.

Those affected by this were; the Foresters Arms and the Swan, both in the Mint, the Jolly Sailor in Church Square, the King’s Arms in Cinque Ports Street, the London Stout House (formerly Sawyers Arms) in Ferry Road, the Borough Arms in the Strand, the Tower Inn in Landgate and The Oak in the High Street, amongst others.


 Sources for this article

Records of Rye Corporation, 1962
Tudor Rye, Graham Mayhew 1987
A New History of Rye, Leopold Vidler, 1934
A History of the English Public House, H.A.Monckton, 1969
Sussex Archaeological Society Collections.

First posted in Rye Trades and Industries on 20th September 2010
Last updated: 6th May 2013
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