Rye’s Gates and Walls

Rye’s Gates and Walls

The Landgate Tower

By the early 14th century, Rye was one of the most important ports on the South Coast, and with the start of the Hundred Years War with France, was very vulnerable to attack by raiding French warships.

In 1339 the French attacked the town, and burnt 52 houses and a mill.

It was at about this time that the mayor and corporation made a start on the town walls and gates, aided by ‘murage’  granted by the King.

The Landgate dates from about 1340, during the reign of Edward III. Built of stone rubble, the two towers have moulded plinths. The parapets have disappeared, but the string course and machiolations with moulded corbels remain on the north front which had a pointed arch with grooves for the portcullis. (The portcullis was removed in 1735. )

The south front has an elliptical arch, once flanked by two buttresses but one of these is no longer there. The floors and roofs of the gate and towers have also disappeared.

In 1377, however, the French attacked again and sacked Rye, burning practically every building in the town. Only a few stone buildings survived.

The Walls

In 1381, the town was granted a charter to build a stone wall, although this was not completed until several years later. A third story was added to the Landgate at this time too. The new wall enclosed the town except where steep cliffs provided adequate defence to the east and south. There were four gates: the Landgate, Strandgate, Baddings Gate and the Postern Gate.

Of the wall between the Landgate and the Strandgate considerable portions survive between Conduit Hill and the former site of the Landgate. The most visible section is at the back of the Cinque Ports Street carpark.

The town was again attacked by the French in 1449, and despite the walls, some buildings were burnt. This was the last time the town’s medieval fortifications were tested, though brick arches were made for gun holes in the Landgate at the time of the Armada.

The Strandgate

However the 16th Century saw Rye reach the zenith of her power. Every kind of cargo was handled at Strand Quay and records show that 200 ships at a time could anchor near the Strandgate. Located at the foot of Mermaid Street, it must have been an impressive gateway to the town, as the drawing of its arcading suggests.

Rye’s fortifications were modernised with the addition of cannon during the 15th and 16th centuries, but subsequently fell into disrepair. The Strandgate survived until c1819 when it was destroyed, though a few remains of it have been incorporated into the Old Borough Arms hotel’

Thus today’s visitors searching for Rye’s former defenses are able to see only the Landgate, a few fragments of the town wall, and the Ypres Tower, now one of the two buildings of Rye Museum.

First posted in Rye Buildings and Defences on 13th December 2009
Last updated: 7th December 2012
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