A fascinating afternoon at Rye Harbour

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Members of Hastings and St Leonards Museum Association enjoyed a fascinating visit to Rye Harbour on April 29 to learn more about the history of the village and particularly the tragic story of the Mary Stanford lifeboat.

Our marvellous hosts were Kt and Martin Bruce from Rye Harbour RNLI, to which 50% of the proceeds of our ticket fee was donated. We met at the Church of the Holy Spirit for a fascinating talk about the history of the church and its place in the life of the village as well as its importance as a memorial for the seventeen lives lost in the Mary Stanford lifeboat in 1928.

Many of us had not seen the interior of the church before and we were fascinated by the design of the barrel-vaulted roof, resembling an upturned boat, and the quality of the sound of the church organ. We were greeted by Martin Bruce playing the organ as we entered the church. Kt then gave us a most interesting talk about the background of the church and the village, including the Mary Stanford disaster and the works of Monica Edwards, the author, who lived in the vicarage at the time. Her father, the Reverend Harry Newton, conducted the funeral service of the crewmen, a ceremony which is commemorated at the church every year, in November.

Monica Edwards later wrote a novel Storm Ahead based on the Mary Stanford disaster, which she witnessed as a child. Kt showed us photographs of the funeral cards of the lost seamen which had been recently found available online.

After the talk, Martin gave us a poignant and moving rendition of his shanty about the Mary Stanford on his concertina which moved some of us to tears. Martin recently took part in the Port Isaac Shanty Festival.

We then visited the beautiful Mary Stanford memorial in the churchyard which was designed by James Wedgwood in 1931. The design is a tall cruciform arched monument set on a three-stepped base at the head of a large collective grave that holds the remains of the lifeboat crew. A sculpture of a standing lifeboatman in a sou’wester and holding a rope is set on a plinth to the front of the arch. Plaques to each of the lost men are set into the base around the central area. There are a number of other interesting headstones and memorials in the churchyard which are well worth visiting too.

We then walked down to the village to see the pebble memorial next to the RNLI lifeboat station, which is a wonderful collaboration of local people who designed and painted individual pebbles to commemorate the Mary Stanford crew.

Many thanks are due to Kt and Martin Bruce for an excellent visit which has inspired us to find out more about the history of Rye Harbour village.

Hastings and St Leonards Museum Association was formed in 1889 and is believed to be the oldest such museum friends group in the country. In 1892 the association opened the Hastings Museum in the Brassey Institute, now Hastings library, and was responsible for the administration and funding of the museum, for mounting displays and collecting exhibits.

In 1905, Hastings Corporation took over responsibility for the museum, since when the association has continued to play an important role, including the organisation of lectures and special visits, such as this one to Rye Harbour. By doing this we raise much needed funds for the museum, enabling the purchase of exhibits and materials. We also support the activities of the museum on a day-to-day basis through our association committee.

If you would like to join the friends or find out about our future events do visit our website www.hslma.org.uk. We also have a Facebook page so you can follow our news and activities. Future events include the Robert Tressell walk in Hastings on May 14 and a Rye town walk on June 17. We also have a talk about the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on September 2 at 3pm at the Hastings Museum. If you would like to book a place in advance for any of these events, please email us on HStLMuseumAssoc@gmail.com

Image Credits: Kt bruce .

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