History of Rye, England

The town of Rye, a small isolated spot, may seem at first sight little deserving of being recorded in history; but when we recollect that the Cinque Ports were called into existence at a very early period, perhaps even while the Romans yet remained in England, that these Ports were the first parents of our navy, that it was from these all our earliest monarchs, down to the accession of the Tudors, drew the whole of their naval force, and their successors partially so late as the reign of Charles I, and added to this, that Rye became one of the Ports, under the title of an ancient town, as early as the reign of Edward the Confessor, then we see that this little town is no longer the insignificant spot which, at the first glance, it appeared to be.

To enable them to meet the heavy expenses, attendant on fitting out their ships, the Ports were endowed with great privileges and immunities: these were not granted by individual Charters to each Port, but by one general Charter to all of them in their corporate character. Thus the history of any one Port must necessarily embrace more or less of that of every other; and hence, though this work is called a History of Rye, yet still, so far as regards the Charters, the Customals, and the Courts, it contains matters interesting to all the Ports, from which fact I venture to hope to obtain the patronage not only of the Barons of Rye, but of those of all the other Ports and their members.

By the Parliamentary and Municipal Corporation Reform Bills the ancient constitution of the Cinque Ports has been completely changed; their privileges have become, in a great measure, a dead letter, and thus, in another generation or two, the memory of them would be clean gone for ever, were not some record made of them were it be too late.

The archives of Rye are rich in remains; the mayors, jurats, and combarons of the older times,' the corporation which succeeded, and the town council of our own days, have preserved these with equal care and fidelity, so that the records exist in an unbroken series for nearly four hundred years, commencing December 13th, 1448.

To Jeake, in his 'Charters of the Cinque Ports' every historian of the Ports must acknowledge a deep debt of gratitude, though we can but regret that he has not given us all the information which we think he could have done. He was town clerk for eleven years; he was born in 1623, and thus able to converse with inhabitants fifty or sixty years older than himself, carrying him back to the middle of the sixteenth century, only a hundred years after the supposed destruction of the town in 1448, of which we have but a confused account; for he tells us the records of the Port were then all destroyed save a few fragments; this, as far as relates to the records properly so called, that is, the books containing the proceedings at the different courts, may be correct, seeing that no such now exist of a previous date; but not so as regards all the documents, because we have two still, those of the respective dates of 1194 and 1197. It appears that, previously to the year 1673, the proceedings were kept in a very loose and disorderly manner, sometimes on a few sheets of paper, so that there must have been great difficulty in preserving them. We do not doubt the invasion of Rye in 1448, but merely repeat our regret that the accounts of it should be so meagre.

Table of Contents

The origin of the name of Rye
The Charters
Glossary to the Charters
Hi-marks on the origin and services required of the Cinque Ports
The Customal of Rye, and its Municipal Government .
Parliamentary History of Rye, with List of Members in the various Reigns
The Local History of Rye, Ancient and Modern
The Public Revenues of the Town of Rye
Public Charities
National and Sunday Schools
Benefit Societies
Merchant Seamen's Fund
Savings' Bank
Parochial History
Ecclesiastical History
The Church
The Friary
Carmelite Friar*
Wesleyan Methodists
Biographical Memoirs
The Jeake Family
Dr. Clark
French Refugees
Dansays and Espinette
Antiquities of Rye
Ballad " The true Mayde of the South"

Holloway, William. The history and antiquities of the ancient town and port of Rye, in the county of Sussex. With incidental notices of the Cinque Ports. Published at London: J. R. Smith, 1847.

Read the Book - Free
Download the Book ( 26 MB PDF ) - Free

Origin of the Name of Rye

Many are the conjectures that have been hazarded as to the origin of the name of Rye; we have ourselves heretofore ventured on some, which we are free to confess we now think erroneous. We shall mention the various etymons that have been suggested, leaving our readers to decide for themselves as to their plausibility.

The modern name of this ancient town is always written Rye, formerly sometimes Rie, and sometimes Rhie, also in Latin Ria and Rhia. The old name seems to have been Rie or Rhie, probably previous to the Conquest, after which, when all public records were kept in Latin, the name was latinized into Rhia or Ria. Camden derives it from Rive, Norman, Ripa, Latin, a bank. Jeake has the following observations on this head: "I cannot conclude," says he, " to derive its name from Rie, the corn so called (as Rieton in Warwickshire, in the opinion of Dugdale), because as the soil thereabout is not very proper to bear it, so the people there are generally averse to it. Nor will I affirm the name came from the rivulet Rie running by the foot of Winchelsea Hill; nor from Rhe or Rey sometimes used for a river, though the river of Rother on the east, and the creek of the sea, like a river running up on the west into the country between Peasmarsh anil Udiiner, called yet Tillingham Water, from a farm on Peasmarsh side, which it washeth, meeting together with the said llee and running out to sea at the southeast (and formerly more south) side of the town, might be supposed to have first occasioned the name. But it seems to me rather to take the name from the British word Rhy, signifying a ford, or as some say a bay; in reference to the former importing the place where the rivers of llother and llee were yet fordable; and to the latter the situation of the town in the bottom or middle of the bay made by the sea, between the cliff at Beachcy and those at Folkestone, from whence the sea over against Rye, arid near the shore, is still called Rye Bay."

The late Mr. Curteis, of Windmill Hill, derived it from the Greek word Reo, to flow.

Dr. Meryon is of opinion that it takes its name from the old French word Rie, a bank of the sea, and to this we give our adhesion. This word "Rie" also means water, as St. Mary Overy in London, is said to mean "over the rie," or water, a ferry having formerly been here, the profits of which were settled on the Priory at its original foundation, as we learn from Seymour's ' Survey of London.' When Queen Elizabeth left Rolvenden, in 1573, she is said to have been bending towards "the Rye, in her way to Dover.

It may be observed here, that all these different etymons very nearly resemble each other in their original meaning. Thus, the Greek Reo, to flow, relates to water; Rive, Norman, Ripa, Latin, and Rie, old French, signify a bank adjoining to water; while Ree, Rhe, or Rey, Saxon, means a river, and Rhy, British, a ford or bay, all equally having relation to this element. But they are not all equally applicable to the site of the town as it was when it first had a name given to it. The original word Ripa, Latin (whence Rive, Norman, and then Rie, old French), would very well apply to its character of an insulated rock in the midst of the waters; but Ree, Rhe, Rey, Saxon, a river, would not be appropriate, as at that period the sea at all times of tide flowed round the base of the rock, and no river was then visible here; the Rother and Exden having flowed into the ocean at Lyma, and the Brede with the Tillingham, much higher up the country than Rye. The British word Rhy, a ford, was also inapplicable, as no ford m those early days existed; while the word Bay would not be so descriptive of the nature of the spot as Rie, a bank or cliff, which it really then was.