Rye Castle is a three story 13th Century quatrefoil plan tower. It is located in the centre of the town overlooking the River Rother. The tower is the last intact part of the town's wall and has been used as the town hall, prison and museum.
Ypres Tower, as it is also known, was built by Peter de Savoy in the mid-13th Century. It was originally the main fortification for the town.
Ypres tower is a square tower with rounded corner turrets.
All the towns along the south east coast of England were threatened by a possible French invasion and regularly had to fend off French raiding parties.
In the 14th Century King Edward III made a series of grants to upgrade Rye's defences. The town was walled in stone and the Land Gate was built. Ypres formed part of the south-east corner of the enclosure.
Rye was originally an 'Antient Town' attached to Hastings and responsible for helping to defend England against the French. With the addition of the new fortifications it became a full member of the 'five ports'.
The Cinque Ports were a major French target due to their key role in the Hundred Years War. They were critical in providing men and ships for invasion fleets and the towns enjoyed considerable freedoms in return.
The French attacked Rye repeatedly throughout the early 14th Century. Until in the 1370s the French took control of the Channel under Jean de Vienne.
In 1377 Rye suffered a devastating attack. Much of the town was razed to the ground and its inhabitants slaughtered. The local people blamed the Mayor and thought there had been a traitor in the tower. The Mayor, amongst others, was killed by the enraged townsfolk. The tower was also no longer to be used to defend the town.
The Corporation continued to use the tower to hold meetings and as a prison, until they eventually sold it to Jean de Ypres (hence its name) in 1430.
In 1518 the town bought the tower back again and it was put to use as a prison once more.
The town also bought the land around the tower and set about turning it into gun batteries. The town supplied heavy ordnance for the new batteries and a gate was added to the tower. By the time of the Spanish Armada in 1588 the town was a heavily fortified artillery position.
In the 17th Century the naval threats from the Continent subsided. The guns were replaced with a bowling green and the land was even let out for the grazing of rabbits.
The early-18th Century saw a significant resurgence in the threat from France. The gun platform was extended to upper and lower batteries and a new barracks was constructed on the site.
The Second World War saw more changes to Rye. The town was an invasion target for the Nazis and so it was heavily patrolled during the war and no one was allowed in without a suitable pass. Heavy guns were installed in a number of locations and barbed wire and other coastal defences were placed along the beaches.
During WWII the barracks beside the tower, which had held the museum, were destroyed in an air raid. The museum was reformed in 1954 and took on a let at Ypres Tower.
Today the Rye Museum Association undertakes the care and preservation of the tower. It also houses part of the museum exhibition in the tower and opens it up to the public.
The museum hosts a range of exhibitions on local history and Rye's role as a Cinque Port as well as a medieval herb garden in the former exercise yard. The museum stages talks on local history and historical events throughout the year.
The museum can cater to schools groups and has a number of exhibits geared towards children. Other groups can be accommodated by arrangement. Facilities on site include toilets, including disabled toilets. Due to the nature of the tower, disabled access is limited.
Status: Heritage Site / Museum
Owner: Rye Museum Association
Tel: +44 (0)1797 226 728
Opening Times: April to September Daily 10.30am-5pm / October to March Daily 10.30am-3.30pm
Entrance to Rye Castle
Rye Castle and Gun Garden