Rye is Unique (A.G. Bradley)

Rye is Unique (A.G. Bradley)

Extracts from A.G. Bradley, An Old Gate of England: Rye, Romney Marsh, and the Western Cinque Ports (London: Robert Scott 1918)

The author possessed a wry sense of humour and wrote in a delightful style. His wife’s line drawings give a good idea of the Rye of nearly one hundred years ago. It’s worth tracking down a copy. Bryant  knew many  towns of England well, yet still begins his 77 page section on Rye with:

Rye is unique. There is no doubt about that. . . .

Among the several reasons for this claim:

You see it is a burgher’s town at a glance. The story is obviously that of its people, and it has nothing suggestive in its quaint streets and homely little houses, of Feudalism in any shape or form. Moreover it is essentially of the south, of the sea, of the sand and of a lower-pitched England. . . . The physical surprise in store for the stranger is partly due to the almost exotic character of the site . . . . Here we have an insulated sandstone rock rising sharply out of a green coast strip, that for twenty miles is as flat as a billiard table , and actually below the level of the sea, which breaks behind it upon interminable barriers of shingle or on low waving ranges of sand dunes.

Clustering upon the aforesaid rock and covering all but its three more or less precipitous sides, one sees the ancient town as a pyramid of red roofs climbing gently to an apex clearly defined by one of the noblest churches in Sussex. . . .

Other examples of Rye’s distinctiveness:

. . . For there are no palatial mansions in Rye . . . . People who anywhere else would probably insist upon the modest minimum of three sitting and six bedrooms will often be found in Rye in picturesque snuggeries of half that accommodation.

. . . I have never met with any other country town that has inspired a local chronicler to write its history in over six hundred pages of small print; Rye has achieved this triumph. {referring to William Holloway’s History of the Town and Port of Rye, 1847)

Some things in Rye have certainly changed since Bryant’s day however:

Grass is popularly supposed to grow in the streets of Rye,and rumour for once is justified, for the simple reason that in cobbled streets where there is small occasion for wheel traffic, grass always does grow. Hastings folk have been heard to accuse the Rye Corporation of top-dressing it every spring to keep up the aesthetic reputation of their town. . . .

Rye’s appeal to artists is of particular interest to Bryant:

 Rye is, I suppose, the most painted town in England, both inside and out. . . . Artists revel in its quaint old cobbled streets, and rave over its distant effects under the magic lights for which the atmosphere of Romney Marsh . . . gets some general credit. In the summer season they sit betimes in serried rows in the by-streets and plant their easels unconcernedly on the pavement of the main thoroughfares. No one notices them in Rye, even the urchins . . . .

He comments on Henry James’ fondness for jesting about the artists ‘that set up their campstools and easels so thickly along the approach to his front door’ and includes this quotation from James English Hours:

‘At favoured seasons, there appear within the precinct sundry slouch-hatted gentlemen who study her charms through a small telescope formed by their curved finger and thumb. Leading a train of English and American lady pupils, they distribute their disciples at selected points, where the master going his round from hour to hour, reminds you of nothing so much as a busy chef with many saucepans on the stove and periodically lifting their covers for a sniff and a stir. There are ancient doorsteps which are used for their convenience of view and where the fond proprietor going and coming has to pick his way among the paraphernalia, or to take flying leaps over industry and genius.’

 There is a great deal more . . .

Recommended:  More items under Said about Rye and more under Literary Rye, both under Local History at right.

First posted in Literary and Artistic Rye, Said About Rye on 13th October 2010
Last updated: 5th May 2013
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