Rye’s Harbour in Medieval TImes

Rye’s Harbour in Medieval TImes

With thanks to Winchelsea Community Office (www.winchelsea.net)  for the map showing medieval Rye Bay.

Note that the  articles in this series are about the old port of Rye at the confluence of the Rother, Tillingham and Brede Rivers.  Rye Harbour is a separate community nearer the sea developed in the 19th century.

Before Richard II died in 1189 he had conferred Cinque Port privileges on Rye. By 1229, Rye was supplying ships and men both for the King’s expeditions and the defence of the realm. Henry III spent money repairing sea walls and in 1249 ordered the building of ’the Castle of La Rye’ as an important defence against the pillaging of Rye by the French and pirates.

The castle was originally known as Baddings Tower from the name of the Ward in which it was situated and later as Ypres Tower after its temporary owner John of Ypres (1439 – 1494). Early in the 14th Century Rye had become a Cinque Port in its own right.

At the height of its Medieval prosperity a variety of 300 – 400 ships could be seen in the Harbour and it was a major port.

The harbour between Rye and Winchelsea consisted of saltings and mud flats covered at high spring tides. The Brede was a larger winding river opening into the main port at Rye with an outlet to the sea. A large creek formed on the Marsh and was protected by a shingle head. This creek was known as the Wainway and was a haven for large ships to shelter.

Throughout the 13th Century numerous storms and a rise in sea level destroyed the port of Old Winchelsea and the River Rother altered its course from its exit to the sea at New Romney to a new position near Rye. This was due to the inundations of the Marshes after the great storms from 1234 to 1336.

The 14th century brought calamity. There was the Hundred Years War with France, and in the summer of 1348 the Black Death struck England; it killed over a third of the population and left towns and villages desolate. Trade was slack although timber and wine and captured cargoes provided a living for some survivors. Henry V undoubtedly used the port to transport men to France prior to the Battle of Agincourt (1415), using the Confederation fleet.

First posted in Rye's Harbour on 4th February 2009
Last updated: 28th November 2012
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