Ypres Tower and part of Rye Town Wall
- Heritage Category:
- Listed Building
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
- Statutory Address:
- Rye Castle Museum, 3, East Street, Rye, TN31 7JY
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This copy shows the entry on 15-Nov-2019 at 05:58:38.
- Statutory Address:
- Rye Castle Museum, 3, East Street, Rye, TN31 7JY
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- East Sussex
- Rother (District Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
A defensive tower, probably built as a component part of the Rye town defences between 1329 and the end of the C14. The tower was damaged during an air raid in 1942 and required repair in the 1950s. It was the subject of major repairs and restoration in 1996-7 with further alterations and repairs in 2005-7. Also part of the C14 town wall.
Reasons for Designation
Ypres Tower and part of the Rye Town Wall, probably both built between 1329 and the end of the C14, are listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons:
* Date: these are substantial and significant medieval defensive monuments which fully merit listing in the highest grade;
* Architectural interest and intactness: the tower is unusual in its form being relatively small and compact, yet massively built of local stone. It is substantially intact with later phases of adaptation for judicial/prison use adding to its interest and character. While this section of town wall is only a partial survival, all surviving elements of the medieval town wall are of considerable architectural and archaeological significance;
* Historic interest (town defence): both the tower and this section of town wall are critical in the understanding of the threats posed to Rye by both sea and the French in the C14;
* Historic interest (civic/judicial functions): the tower also functioned as a prison and courtroom, and therefore was a key civic building of considerable functional importance to the town in the late medieval and post-medieval periods;
* Group value: Ypres Tower and this section of Rye Town Wall possess group value as part of the town's medieval defences with other stretches of town wall and the Landgate.
Ypres Tower was originally called ‘Baddings/Baddyngs Tower’ after the name of the ward in which it is located. The precise date of construction is not known, nor is its original function entirely clear. The evidence is discussed by Martin & Martin (2007), as is its subsequent history, so will be only summarised here (all references are fully given in that document). The first known reference to the potential building of a castle is in 1226 “…a place in England called Ria in which the king wishes to build a castle…’’ A further reference of 1249 to a grant to Peter of Savoy, Constable of the Cinque Ports “to fortify the castles of Hastings and la Rye’’ has been variously interpreted as an indication that the castle was to be built, or that the castle was substantially complete at that time and therefore needed arming. Martin & Martin note that if the former it is surprising that there is no subsequent mention of a castle at Rye, which leads them to the suggestion that it was intended but never built. The diminutive size of the tower would also suggest that it is not a castle (and it is perhaps more likely that the tower was built as part of the town defences).
While repairs to Rye’s defences are recorded in 1246 these were probably just earthworks as it is not until 1329 that grants of murage – i.e. permission to construct the walls – are recorded. Walls were required for two reasons: as a defence against the sea and against the French. The French sacked the town in both 1339 and 1377 and a murage grant of 1348 describes the town as being “surrounded on all sides by the sea’’ and that the “total destruction of the town is feared unless the same be speedily strengthened’’. There are a number of references to the defences in the 1300s including one in 1382 that the town should be enclosed with a stone wall within 3 years (this was not achieved). If Ypres Tower was built as part of the town defences then this would suggest a date between 1329 and the end of the century. Comparison is drawn with the plan of the c1300 Strand Gate at nearby Winchelsea but more so with the form of the Rye Landgate which is attributed to c1340 with 1380s modifications. Further dating clues are found in the remnants of machicolations on the tower (openings between the supporting corbels of a projecting parapet through which things could be dropped on the enemy). These are a mid-C14 introduction in England and Wales (the only reasonably verified C13 example being the very late C13 Conway Castle where works began in 1283. John Goodall (2011, 218-9) cites the machicolations at Conway as “a remarkable innovation’’ with “no clearly dated precedents for such a feature along the heads of curtain walls in either England or France’’). This would strongly suggest that Ypres Tower is of the C14 rather than the early to mid-C13.
Following the destruction of Rye’s court hall in the 1377 French Raid, Ypres Tower was used by the Corporation of Rye as a replacement, possibly also as a prison. A document of 1421 interestingly refers to offenders being “summoned to the Tower’’ rather than to the castle. In 1430 it became privately owned when it was transferred by the Corporation to one John de Iprys (who has lent his name to the tower ever since) on condition that the Corporation could again use the tower if there was a defensive need. Given the size of the building it is unlikely that it was a standalone residence but was more likely part of a holding including another building or buildings. Certainly Van Dyck’s 1633 illustration shows an attached domestic building of unknown date, as do subsequent depictions. Documents in the East Sussex Records Office cited in Martin & Martin (2007, 12) indicate that some kind of interest in the tower was conveyed to the Corporation by the then owner Lord Stanley, in 1485. In 1495 one John Newbury passed the freehold to the Corporation but full possession was not acquired until 1517. Soon afterwards a new roof and floors were added. The tower was used as a courthouse in the C16, also as a prison, before becoming solely a gaol although it is not clear at what date this became the case. The gaoler was initially the Sergeant-at-Mace, assisted by four unpaid Petty Constables, but in 1796 a full time gaoler was appointed, followed in 1799 by an assistant (Rye Castle Museum website).
In the early C19 the prison accommodation was expanded with an exercise yard added to the immediate NW of the tower in 1819; this was partially converted to a soup kitchen in the mid-C19 (Rye Museum photographic evidence). This is shown on the Ordnance Survey maps of 1872 and 1898 but had been demolished by the 1909 edition. In 1837 a womens’ prison (the ‘Womens’ Tower’), was constructed to the NE of Ypres Tower, the two being joined by a further exercise yard which is shown on the 1872 OS map as the gaoler's garden (following downgrading of the prison to a lock-up) and now (2016) presented as a medieval garden. Also in 1837 a set of two-storey cells, with two cells to each floor, were built externally to the E wall of Ypres Tower, using that tower’s wall as their back wall. Women had been held separately in prisons from the 1770s onwards but the additional accommodation at Rye was part of a wider movement in the 1830s when local corporations were individually improving prison provision; given this there was a very wide variety in the type of building erected.
The exercise yard’s N wall follows the line of, and partly incorporates fabric from, the C14 town wall. The N exercise yard wall was also employed as the S wall of a house or houses illustrated on the Van Dyck drawing of 1633-4 and shown on Ordnance Survey maps from the 1st edition of 1872. This building was demolished following Second World War bomb damage (see below).
Ypres Tower ceased to be a prison in 1891 as Rye Police Station had by then been built. It is presumed that the Womens’ Tower, yard and cells became disused at the same time. In the late C19 the basement floor of Ypres Tower was being used as a mortuary and continued to function as such until 1959 (see below).
Ypres Tower was scheduled as an ancient monument on 10th August 1923. The tower and the small adjoining portion of town wall were then listed at Grade I on 12th October 1951.
In 1942 the site was quite badly damaged during an air raid. This destroyed the roof of the Ypres Tower and so badly damaged a number of houses to the immediate N - including those built up against the town wall and 1837 exercise yard - that they were subsequently demolished. Part of the N exercise yard wall was probably rebuilt at this time.
Repairs to Ypres Tower took place in the 1950s and in 1954 Rye Museum took over the first and ground floors, adding the basement in 1959, and thus began the site’s present phase as a museum and tourist attraction. Major structural work to the Ypres Tower took place in 1996-7, funded by Rother District Council. Further repairs and alterations took place in 2005-7. The Womens’ Tower was the subject of a restoration project, partly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which was completed in September 2013. It is now also open to the public.
A defensive tower, most likely built as a component part of the Rye town defences between 1329 and the end of the C14. The tower was damaged during an air raid in 1942 and required repair in the 1950s. It was the subject of major repairs and restoration in 1996-7 with further alterations and repairs in 2005-7. The tower has been the subject of archaeological analysis, particularly internally, by Martin & Martin (2007) and the following is therefore a summary only.
MATERIALS Ypres Tower is built of iron-stained sandstone coursed rubble masonry with evidence that this was once rendered or covered in a wash. Its ashlar dressings include ironstone and Caen stone. The internal walls were limewashed with some evidence of render at the ground floor.
PLAN The tower is oriented on a NW to SE alignment but for simplicity the cardinal compass points will be used in the following description (ie as though the entrance elevation is to the N rather than the NW). The tower is square in plan, with projecting ¾ round towers at each of its four corners, and sits forward (to the S) of the line of the former town wall. Access is through a town-side (N) elevation ground floor doorway which is protected by a portcullis. In the C19 a further external doorway was created in the centre of the basement’s west wall.
The tower is of three storeys – a basement, ground floor and first floor – but the fall of the land from N to S is such that the tower’s ground floor is at the first floor level of the S elevation. Access between the floors was via a spiral staircase in the NE tower but the basement is now (2016) reached by an inserted staircase of 1959. Room dimensions are from Martin & Martin (2007, 3): the basement measures 15’11’’ square (4.85m square) and is 7’8’’ (c2.35m) high; the ground floor dimensions are not given but this is the middling room in terms of size with a height of 12’ (c3.65m), and the first floor room is the largest at 17’4'' square (5.30m square) with a height of 13’8’’ to the wallplate (it is not known whether the original roof above was flat or pitched - see below - and the latter would have provided more space). Above is the modern flat roof with parapets.
There are four corner towers or turrets with the NE one housing the stair. The other three have small tower rooms at the ground and first floor (they are solid at basement level). A garderobe projects from the NE tower’s E elevation.
EXTERIOR The PRINCIPAL ENTRANCE ELEVATION faces N towards the town. At ground floor level is a round-arched entrance with ashlar quoins (a mixture of historic examples and modern repairs). While the entrance to the tower has always been in this position (and elements of its original form can be observed internally) externally the entrance was remodelled in the C15. However, the protective portcullis above is a primary feature. The doorway was subsequently blocked and converted to a window (probably in the C17) which was subject to archaeological recording by Archaeology South-East (Martin & Martin, 2007) prior to its unblocking in 2006 and restoration as the principal entrance. Above the doorway at first floor level is a central window opening – an enlargement of the C15 or C16 - which has a segmental-arched head, ashlar quoins and has been fitted with an iron grille. The two turrets on this elevation are lit by narrow loophole openings with ashlar dressings and iron bars; there is a pair to each tower at ground floor level and a further three at first floor level, two to the NW tower and one to the north-eastern. The western ground floor window to the NE turret has been restored (and has modern quoins) as there was a secondary doorway here in the post-medieval period (illustrated as such on an engraving of 1784 by S H Grimm; see Martin & Martin op cit, 37). Just to the N of this window is a cast iron pump with the date 1881. To the east of the NE turret is a projecting garderobe at ground and first floor level, the chute of which expels to the N of the former exercise yard wall at the ground floor. The western ground floor window to the NW turret was later cut through to form a doorway (extant when depicted by Grimm in 1785) but was subsequently infilled in rubble. There are railings and hand rails to the N of the tower in front of the main entrance and to the NE (which are not of special interest).
The W ELEVATION has a C19 inserted central entrance at basement level. This has a pointed-arched surround with ashlar dressings and a solid planked door. Above is a single loophole window to the first floor (to the S), with an iron grille. The turrets are again lit by similar loophole openings as before, in this case single windows lighting each tower at both ground and first floor levels. (Many of the ground floor windows in the NW, SW and SE turrets have been blocked.)
The S ELEVATION is lit by a central window to each of the three floors. These are flat-headed and barred with ashlar dressings, and comprise a two-light opening at first floor and a single light to the ground floor and a two-light window at basement level. The latter is of unknown date but is not original: it is not shown on the Van Dyck drawings of 1633-4 (Martin & Martin op cit, A2) and is therefore presumed to be C19 when the other alterations to the basement took place. The turrets are lit by similar openings as before with two openings on each floor of each turret.
The E ELEVATION of the tower is largely concealed by the C19 cells (separately listed), but at first floor level there is now a flat roof (the roof of the cells and therefore separately listed) which can be accessed via a doorway formed from the former NE window of the SE turret. To the N of the cells is the stone roof of the garderobe which is steeply battered and falls from W to E.
On each elevation the PARAPET was raised in 2006-7. The original height and configuration is not understood. There is however archaeological evidence of the presence of machicolations, on the N, W and E sides. Evidence is inconclusive as to whether the original ROOF was flat or pitched. In the C15 or early-mid C16 this was replaced by a pitched roof (Martin & Martin suggest probably in 1552). This was in turn badly damaged by an air raid in 1942 and a flat roof was installed in the post-war repairs of the 1950s; and has been repaired subsequently. The present leaded covering (not of special interest) was part of the restoration of 2005-7.
INTERIOR The BASEMENT has an inserted modern timber staircase (which is not of special interest) and wooden ceiling (forming the ground floor above). The wall tops have been repaired and raised in brick in the C19 indicating that present ground floor level is slightly higher than the original. There are stone and brick corbels along the E and W walls, to support the floor, which are of the same date. A small modern kitchenette (not of special interest) has been added against the E wall by the stair. There is a blocked doorway in the NE corner which formerly gave access to the spiral staircase. This has a two-centred and chamfered arched surround. A doorway was inserted in the W wall in the C19. This was covered at the time of inspection (November 2015) but according to Martin & Martin (op cit, A2) has a brick segmental arch. The inserted S window has a splayed brick reveal with a flat but stepped brick and stone cill, a segmental arched head and two lights, which are of stone and square-headed.
The GROUND FLOOR is fitted with a plank floor of possible C19 date. There is a modern reception/display unit (not of special interest) to support the building’s use as a museum with the aforementioned flight of modern timber stairs (not of special interest) to the E leading down to the basement. In the W wall is a small fireplace with a stone surround; this has a segmental arched head formed of two massive Kentish Ragstone blocks. The internal dressed jambs of the main entrance, which has a shallow pointed arch in contrast with the exterior, are largely from the primary phase of construction. The central S window, which has a segmental arch, has a splayed reveal converted to a walk-in recess. There is evidence for a blocked window with a two-centred segmental-arched head in the E wall. There are original stone corbels on all walls. The doorways to the corner turrets are set forward of the turret proper with the NW, SW and SE turrets all having recesses behind the internally-opening doors in which the doors could sit when open. The original form of doorway was of ashlar with a two-centred arch and a chamfered frame. The door, to the NE turret, of some antiquity but unknown date, is double skinned, with vertical planks to its exterior face and horizontal planks facing into the turret, with iron studs. A viewing hatch with iron surround and grill is cut in and there is a massive wooden lock and draw bolts allowing the door to be locked from the inside, thus preventing access to the upper floors. The doorframe here has a timber northern jamb. Beyond, the spiral staircase with a central newel rises to the upper floors. Against the wall inside the turret is a heavy plank which is a remnant of the locking mechanism for the post-medieval external door (now removed and restored to its original window loop form). The door to the SE turret is similar. The SW turret entrance has been altered by the insertion of a timber-squared doorframe of C15-mid C16 date. The NW turret doorway is a modern replacement (and is not therefore of special interest). All turrets have simple loophole window openings (some are blocked internally). The ceilings to the turrets are domed.
The FIRST FLOOR has a large stone open fireplace in the E wall. This has a massive timber bressumer set higher than and replacing the original stone one, traces of which survive. The roof above is timber and is a modern replacement, as are the stone corbels which support it (the roof and corbels are not of special interest). Windows on this floor have modern wooden casements (not of special interest) inserted as secondary glazing. All bar the south window have chamfered segmental-arched heads and walk-in recesses, some blocked. Loop-hole windows within the turrets are largely as on the ground floor although generally slightly larger, and with varying degrees of alteration. All of the turret doorways on this floor are original and have simple two-centred arched openings, some parts of which are repairs. The NW, SE and SW turrets have a door recess internally. The NW doorway has an additional timber frame which may be from the C15 to mid C16 phase; there is similar in the north-eastern turret. The surviving doors on this floor are of planked and studded construction as on the ground floor. The turrets have domed corbelled ceilings. Floorboards in the main chamber are not dated but are clearly of some antiquity with surviving graffiti where a chequerboard for a game has been scratched on the floor. The spiral staircase in the north-eastern turret provides access to the garderobe and the roof. The doorway to the garderobe again has a two-centred stone arch. The garderobe chamber is cut into the thickness of the wall and has a part-flat and part-corbelled roof. The garderobe chute has a modern replica wooden seat.
The ROOF was not inspected.
There are modern and electrical light fittings throughout the interior, also metal bannisters added for safety to the spiral staircase. All of these features are not of special interest.
TOWN WALL On the W wall of the north-western turret is the scar of the town wall: this is circa 2.1m wide with a very small section of wall still projecting. Martin & Martin have recorded that early photos indicate it was once of greater height than the scar now reveals (op cit, Appendix A, A7).
To the E of the tower is a more substantial section of town wall which extends from the garderobe projection of the NE turret for a length of at least 6.5 metres and which then merges into and forms a part of the N wall of the former exercise yard (which is separately listed). The wall is battered on its S elevation. The N elevation has been cut back to reduce its width and was incorporated as the S wall of the adjacent house(s). The position of the loopholes in the NE turret of the tower (when compared with those to the other turrets) would strongly suggest that either the tower post-dates the wall or they are contemporary, as the window positions accommodate the wall. However, as the town wall and the garderobe projection are bonded together it would seem that they are contemporary. On the N elevation of this section of wall is an anchor which is not of special interest.
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Books and journals
Brodie, Croom, Davies, , English Prisons, (2002)
Draper, G, A History of a Sussex Cinque Port to 1660, (2009)
Goodall, J, The English Castle, 1066-1650, (2011), 218-9
Martin, D , Martin, B , Rye Rebuilt, (2009)
Rye Castle Museum website, accessed 11 November 2015 from www.ryemuseum.co.uk
Harris, R B, 2009, Rye Historic Character Assessment Report, Sussex Extensive Urban Survey (EUS)
Martin, D & Martin, B, 2007, An Archaeological Interpretative Survey of Ypres Tower, Rye, East Sussex. Archaeology South-East report; projects 466 & 2296.
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
End of official listing