Rye Castle actually comes in two parts. There is the Rye Castle Museum in East Street and then there is Ypres Tower (just off Church Square). And while a lot of Sussex castles and heritage sites are shut for the winter, Ypres Tower is open throughout the year (except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) making it a good place to visit on a rainy day.
Ypres Tower dates to about 1249 and is grade I listed. And it’s had an interesting life. It’s been a defensive building and it’s played its part in trade. It’s also been a prison with a courthouse in the 17th century and it housed a women’s prison in the 19th century. It’s even been a morgue and a soup kitchen! The tower was damaged during an air raid in 1942 and has required a number of repairs and restorations since. It’s named after its one-time owner Jean d’Ypres, a cloth merchant, who bought it in 1430 although it was originally called ‘Baddings/Baddyngs Tower’ after the name of the ward in which it is located.
Rye is a great place to visit in the winter because gone are the throbbing crowds of the warmer months. It’s a pleasure to walk around the town even for those who don’t like history and the tower stands proud at the edge with views from the Gun Garden across to Rye Harbour. The Tower itself is set on different floors and includes the Women’s Tower (set up as the women’s prison), the Still Room and a Medieval Garden.
One of the first things you’re greeted with is a replica gibbet and skeleton of John Breads who was executed here in 1743 for a gruesome and notorious murder. There are also military uniforms and my all-time favourite exhibit- an interactive model of the coastline which lights up to show how the shoreline has moved over the centuries. Myself and a visiting 5-year-old could have watched this all day! There are also some incredible Medieval floor tiles, suites of armour, a man trap, and lots of other curiosities. The staff are well informed and super helpful. A tour won’t take you too long but it will keep you busy for a couple of hours.
Unfortunately, the museum part of Rye Castle in East Street is only open from April until October. But there is plenty else to occupy you while in Rye. Head down to Rye Harbour for a walk in the nature reserve, a look at the Martello Tower and a visit to the Discovery Centre. Or amble over to Camber Castle. It’s not open to the public at the moment but you can peep through the doors. Head back to the town centre and climb the tower in the church if you dare!
Lunch at the historic Mermaid Inn is almost compulsory (you might see a ghost) or failing that, try heading to Fletchers House in Lion Street.
The Ypres Tower is open from 1st November to 29th March, 10:30 am – 3:30. Admission to the Tower: Adults £5.00. Children under 16 are free but must be accompanied by an adult.
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