WENDY WANDERINGS Rye: Full of intrigue
Rye, on the east coast of Sussex may be a small town, but it big on charm, and has a history woven into its fabric that is second to none on interest and intrigue.
A meander around the streets will bring you to Turkey Cock Lane and may leave you wondering it got its name. Once upon a time there was a monastery near Turkey Cock Lane, situated on cobbled Conduit Hill. The story goes that one of the monks from the Austin Friars monastery fell in love with a peasant girl living nearby He watched her everyday and became so besotted, that he attempted to woe her with his beautiful singing voice. After a while she gave in to his charms, and the couple decided to run away together. Unfortunately the couple’s plans were discovered and the monk was grabbed and dragged to a cell outside the town walls. For his punishment the entrance was bricked up and, with no food or water, he was left to die a long and lingering death. Devastated the girl returned to her home, and pining for her monk, she turned her face to the wall, and died of a broken heart. It is said that the ghosts of the couple meet in the lane, where her beloved monk tries to sing to her, but now he sounds like a turkey gobbling, the very sound he made as he was gasping for air in his bricked up prison.
One of the prettiest and most atmospheric streets in the town must be Mermaid Street, once the town’s main road, and filled with an assortment of timber framed houses. The Mermaid Inn is probably the most famous smuggling pub in Sussex and is where and the infamous Hawkhurst Gang would smoke their pipes, loaded pistols on the table openly boast and their exploits. The cellars date from 1156 when the original Inn was built and it would have been constructed of laths, wattle and daub and plaster, and the Inn keeper of the day would have charged one penny a night for lodgings. The black and white timber-framed and tiled building was reconstructed around 1420, retaining its old cellars and was again renovated in the 16th century. But the Inn is known most of all for its hauntings and it has been named the most haunted pub in Britain. In all there are 31 rooms, spread over several floors and eight have 4-poster beds. Room 1 is said to be haunted by a white or grey lady who sits in the chair by the fireplace. In the morning when guest’s wake they are puzzled to find that clothes put on this chair overnight are wet, despite no windows being open. In room number 10 resides the ghost of a man whose passion is to walk through the bathroom wall into the main room, and has frightened many a guest or three. The Elizabethan room, number 16, was once a scene of a duel involving two men, both wearing 16th century clothing. It is said that after fighting their way through rooms, one man finally ended up being killed in this room, before being dragged into another room and thrown down the trap door to the cellar below. This room is also haunted by the girlfriend of one of the Hawkhurst gang who was killed
by another of the gang because she knew too much and he was afraid she would
expose the exploits of the men. Another member of the gang, Thomas Kingsmill has
number 17 named after him. Here the ghost of George Gray’s wife, another gang
member haunts a rocking chair, but the chair had to be removed from the premises
because it kept disturbing too many guests. An American guest staying at Room 19
became so terrified at seeing a man, dressed in old fashioned clothes sitting on his
bed, that he spent the rest of the night in an adjacent room with a mattress pulled
around his head!
In the dining there is beautiful 17th century oak chair that is carved to look like a devil.
It is said to have once belonged to a witch’s coven, and is cursed was well as been
very unlucky. The Landlady said that a party of school children came to the Mermaid
on a tour and learn about its history, and one little girl misbehaved throughout the
entire tour and when they were explaining about the chair, and told the children not
to touch it, this little girl immediately jumped up and sat on it. The following day the
landlady received a call to say that the child had broken her leg! Fate or accident? I
will leave you to decide.
Next week we shall stay in Rye and explore the sad tale of James Lamb, and the
disaster of the Rye life boat crew.