Ypres Tower

Ypres Tower, East Sussex

~ History ~

1000's ~ The Saxon fishing village of Rye, almost entirely surrounded by water and within the Manor of Rameslie, is promised to the Abbey of Fécamp in Normandy by King Ethelred the Unready.

1014 ~  King Ethelred is forced to flee from the Danes who have invaded England. Luckily the Abbey in Normandy provides him and his men with shelter.

1016 ~ Ethelred dies before he is able to bestow his gift tothe Abbey. His widow, Queen Emma marries  King Canute, now also King of England. She ensures her ex husbands promise is honoured with the transfer of Rye and the surrounding area, to the Norman Abbey of Fecamp.

1191 ~ Rye is awarded the status of Cinque Port, as part of a chain of important ports across the south cost of England.

1205 ~ King John's failed campaign to defend his continental inheritance forces him to cede Normandy to France. Control of Rye and muchof the county of Sussex is confirmed as under Norman control.

1216 ~ A timber castle is reported to be in place at Rye.

1247 ~ King Henry finally restores Rye and the surrounding area of Sussex to English control, except for a small area some way inland, forever known as Rye Foreign.

1249 ~ King Henry III orders the Constable of the Cinque Ports, Peter of Savoy, the building of a stone fortress at Rye to protect the important harbour and town from the French.

1280 ~ King Edward I obtains the manor of nearby Iham on the west side of the River Rother with the purpose of building a new town of Winchelsea, which is to replace an earlier settlement near Rye which had been much destroyed by storms and conflict between King Henry III and his barons during the civil war. A great ditch, walls and three gateways are built to protect this important trading port.

The castle of Winchelsea is never built due to the funds required to complete King Edward's castle building program in North Wales.

1301 ~ King Edward I introduces the Customs Tax in order to replenish the Crown Treasury, emptied by his castle building. As a result smuggling becomes a lucrative but dangerous trade, especially along the souyth coast of England.  The first recorded warrant is issued to search for wool, hides, bales and all other merchandise and persons attempting to export money or silver.

1330's ~ King Edward III grants funds for the building of stone walls to protect the town from repeated French raids.

1339 ~ A French raid on Rye easily breaches the towns defences.

1350 ~ The Spanish attack Rye, but King Edward III and his son, the Black Prince, rout the Spannish fleet of 40 vessels in Rye Bay.

1357 ~ An Admiralty inquest is held in Rye before the deputy Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports,  to collect evidence against Simon Portier and several other smugglers for exporting uncustomed wool from the port of Pevensey.

1377 ~ The town of Rye is raised to the ground and much of its inhabitants killed by the French. The Tower is one ofthe few buildings left standing. It is later used as a Court Hall until one is built.

1378 ~ The men of Rye and Winchelsea set sail to France to avenge the devastating attack that took place the previous year. They raid and loot the French coastal towns.

1380 ~ King Edward III orders the building of strong walls and gateways to be built round the town of Rye.

1439 ~The Rye Corperation sells the Tower to Jean d'Ypres,a cloth merchant, along with other properties in Rye.

1452 ~ Jean d'Ypres sells the Tower. It soon passes through many owners over a short time including the Earl of Derby.

1494 ~ Ypres Tower is rented out and is used as the towns prison.

1518 ~ The Rye Corperation buy back Ypres Tower for £26.

1539 ~ King Henry VIII orders the building of Camber Castle  to be built on the flat area below Rye to protect the harbour.

1573 ~ Queen Elizabeth I visits Rye.

1726 ~ King George I whilst returning from visiting his continental possessions is grounded on Camber Sands and spends the next four days in Rye, being accommodated at Lambs House.

1742 ~ A local butcher by the name of John Beads, is executed and hanged in chains for the murder of the Deputy Mayor in the churchyard of St Mary's. His body is exposed in the Rye Gibbet Cage, with the remainder of his bones being removed by animals or piecemeal by superstitious locals.

1747 ~ The most notorious and formidable smuggling gang is known as the Hawkhurst Gang. They use the Mermaid Inn in Rye as one of their bases, terrorising the area of Kent and Sussex. Its members do not hesitate to torture or murder anyone who opposes their operations. The town walls and Ypres Tower offer no protection against the smuggling gangs.

The Hawkhurst gang are finally defeated by the Goudhurst Militia, made up of fed up locals led by a local soldier, William Sturt, who has recently returned from the wars. On hearing of tales of outlaw thuggery and extortion from the villagers by the local ring leader called Thomas Kingsmill, he decides to form a militia.

Upon hearing of this plot Kingsmill flies into a violent rage, declaring he will kill all of the villagers and burn every house in Goudhurst to the ground.

Sturt orders trenches to be dug, barricades to be built and he provides basic musket training for the farmers and merchants. Thomas Kingsmill arrives with his armed gang with torches, threatening the defending locals who have positioned themselves in the local inn and church tower.

Thomas declares that he will dine off the hearts of four of the captured villagers. As the gang advance Thomas's brother and two other smugglers are instantly killed by musket fire, with others wounded as they retreat. The villagers give chase, eventually apprehending all the remaining members of the gang who are executed two years later.

1822 ~ Riding Officers are appointed to tackle the enormous smuggling problem that continues to cost the Crown in lost taxes, especially in the area of Rye where 28 officers, paid just £25 a year plus allowances for their the provision of their own horses, to listen to rumours and keep watch.

The local boat builders of Rye are under constant watch, as their expertise in devising secret compartments to outwit Custom officers becomes becomes infamous.

1837 ~ The Women's Tower and four more cells are added along with a prison exercise yard to cope with the growing number of smugglers held in prison awaiting trial.

1865 ~ As a direct result of the Prisons Act Ypres Tower is downgraded to the status of a lock-up for its 12 cells.

1891 ~ Ypres Tower ceases to be used as a lock up upon completion of a new police station being built. The basement of the tower becomes the towns mortuary.


Rye Town Centre, East of Hastings




TN31 7HH

Ypres Tower in the picturesque town of Rye, surrounded by stone walls and gate towers, is like a time capsule back to medieval times and smuggling throughthe centuries. With its nearby smaller sister town of Winchelsea, also boasting defensive gate towers, this is a fabulous place to explore.

Ypres Tower looks out across what would have been sea in all directions overlooking the harbour with Winchelsea a short boat ride away. Today the sea has retreated to such an extent that Henry VIII's 16th century  Camber Castle, located on the flat marshy land below Ypres Tower, to better defend the harbour, is now entirely land-locked miles from the sea.

Rye is famous for its smuggling history which just adds to the whole experience of exploring Rye and Winchelsea.

Parking in and around Rye is limited, and the walking up steep cobbled streets can be a challenge, so make sure you have suitable footwear.