Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Day Four: Rye

Monday, August 4, 2008

Ypres Tower, Rye
The Parish Church Of Saint Mary, Rye
Lamb House, Rye
Rye Castle Museum

This day will be a very mellow day, probably the most restful and relaxing day of our entire trip.

Rye is a small town. Charming as it is, there are not many attractions in Rye, and none of the attractions requires significant amounts of time. Nevertheless, it is a quintessential English market town, very pretty, with cobbled streets, half-timbered buildings dating back to Tudor times, and ancient remnants of castles and fortifications befitting its status as a member of England’s ancient “Cinque Ports” Confederation of coastal towns.

We will be in no hurry to rise early on this day.

We plan to set out from our hotel at 9:30 a.m. and walk to Ypres Tower, a fortification erected in the mid-13th Century to defend Rye against invasion from France. There are remnants of ancient fortifications throughout Rye, but Ypres Tower is the only substantial structure that has survived, intact, through the centuries. We will go through the building and examine both the architecture and the exhibits covering Rye’s history, and we will climb to the top of the Tower to view the town and the surrounding countryside.

From Ypres Tower, we will walk to The Parish Church Of Saint Mary. Over 900 years old, Saint Mary’s is a rather significant church for such a small town (the church was planned and erected while much of Kent was under the control of Normandy, and the structure was intended to make an impression upon local residents of the benevolence and wisdom of Norman power) with many interesting monuments and a large, garden-like graveyard. Its tower clock has been in continuous working form since 1562, and its eight giant church bells, among the loudest anywhere, strike the quarter hour (but not the hour, oddly) in fearsome fashion. We will explore the church and graveyard, and climb the tower, which affords views all the way to the sea.

The next item on our agenda will be Lamb House, a former home of both Henry James and E.F. Benson. We will not be able to visit the interior of Lamb House, however, because it is not open on Monday (it is open to the public only a couple of hours two afternoons a week), but there is not much to see inside Lamb House anyway.

Lamb House is of interest primarily to lovers of literature. Henry James wrote his mature novels at Lamb House. E.F. Benson not only wrote his “Lucia” novels at Lamb House, but he had his heroine actually reside there. It was from Lamb House that the worshipful Lucia governed the inhabitants of Tilling, making them come to her various soirees and dinners, and making them listen to her butcher the first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata over and over. It was at Lamb House that Lucia played the piano duets of “Celestial Mozartino” with Georgie, plotted against Miss Mapp, guarded her secret recipe, Lobster A La Risholme, and started The War Of The Chintz Roses. It was also from Lamb House that Lucia placed her successful stock trades with her London banker, Mammoncash And Company.

We will explore the exterior of Lamb House, and the two charming streets Lamb House overlooks.

The legendary Garden Room at Lamb House—a one-room separate building in which both James and Benson did their writing, and the building from which Lucia maintained her discreet surveillance of her Tilling subjects—is no longer there, a victim of an errant World War II bomb. However, a plaque marks the site of the former Garden Room, and visitors may observe, instantly, what a wonderful view it provided up and down two of Rye’s main market streets.

From Lamb House, we will find a place to have a light lunch.

After lunch, we will visit the Rye Castle Museum. The Rye Castle Museum has all kinds of exhibits about the history of Rye. It traces the fortunes of this once-coastal town whose prosperity was closely-tied to its status as a port town until the port silted and the town, over four centuries, found itself no longer on the coast at all but two miles inland from the sea. It tells the story of the town’s long history as a haven for smugglers until the townspeople, offended by a couple of especially vicious murders, suddenly turned on the members of the local band of smugglers and executed them. It provides a history of Rye’s membership in the Cinque Ports Confederation. It even houses Rye’s first fire engine, a monstrosity from 1745 with lead-lined water tanks.

There are two current temporary exhibitions. One is an exhibition about E.F. Benson, apparently the most significant exhibition ever devoted to the famous author (and former mayor of Rye). The other is an exhibition about Rye between the world wars, which addresses the social and technological changes that occurred in the town between 1918 and 1939.

I suspect we will enjoy a couple of hours in the museum. Once we have seen what we want to see in the museum, we will spend the rest of the afternoon strolling the cobblestone streets of the town, visiting antique shops and book shops and whatever else captures our fancy, until it is time to find a place to have dinner.

I always look forward to a return to Rye.

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