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Rye, Intriguing Sussex Town

By Wendy Hughes

 

Mermaid Street, Rye

Located on the east coast of Sussex, Rye may be a small town, but it’s big on charm, and  history.
A wander around its streets will bring you to Turkey Cock Lane and may leave you wondering how it got its name.

There used to be a monastery near Turkey Cock Lane, 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 every day and became so besotted that he attempted to woo her with his beautiful singing voice.

After a while she fell for his charms, and the couple decided to run away together.

But the couple’s plans were discovered and the monk was grabbed and dragged into 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.

 

Turkey Cock Lane, Rye

One of Rye’s prettiest and most well-known streets must be Mermaid Street. It was once the town’s main road, and it’s filled with an assortment of timber framed houses.

The Mermaid Inn is probably the most famous smuggling pub in Sussex and it’s where  the infamous Hawkhurst Gang would sit and drink and smoke their pipes, loaded pistols on the table, and they’d openly boast about their smuggling.

The cellars date from 1156 when the original Inn was built 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 constructed around 1420, retaining its old cellars and was again renovated in the 16th century.

But the Inn is most well-known 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 some of the guests wake up they are puzzled to find that clothes put on this chair overnight are wet, despite no windows being open.

In room number 10 is the ghost of a man who has been seen walking through the bathroom wall into the main room, and has frightened many unprepared guests.

The Elizabethan room, number 16, was once a scene of a duel involving two men, both wearing 16th century clothing. After fighting their way through several rooms, one man finally ended up being killed in this bedroom, 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 member of the gang because he thought she knew too much and he was afraid she would expose the men.

Another member of the notorious 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 rocking and disturbing too many guests.

An American guest staying in 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 over his head!

 

Mermaid Inn, Rye

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 as well as being very unlucky. The Landlady said that a party of school children came to the Mermaid on a tour and to learn about its history, and one little girl misbehaved throughout the
entire tour. When they were explaining about the chair, and the children were told not to touch it, this naughty 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.

 

Mermaid Inn dining room