In 1874 the Crown Inn, Rye was host to a customer known as the nobleman organ grinder. For a bet he was visiting every county in England living off the proceeds of the street collections. The following [edited] report appeared in the Rye Chronicle of 1874:
This mysterious individual, about whom we have heard so much, since he first made his appearance in the southern counties, visited Rye on Monday last, and created no small amount of interest, as well as conjecture as to the truth of the story of his enterprise.
Arriving in the town on Sunday, with his donkey and cart, it was his intention to make one of the principal establishments, (the George) which professes to provide “accommodation for man and beast”, his head quarters, but, we understand, the worthy proprietor did not care to take in the organ grinder, illustrious as he is, therefore, he was compelled to seek shelter under the roof of the Crown Inn, where the hospitable host and hostess, Mr and Mrs Wright, entertained him in a manner which elicited his entire satisfaction. On Monday, after going the round of the town, and replenishing the resources upon which it is stated, he and his donkey must live for three years, in accordance with the conditions of the wager, he took his departure in the afternoon en route for Tenterden, Ashford, Canterbury, &c. The Graphic of December 6 1873, contains a faithful engraving of the noble grinder and his donkey and cart (pictured below), surrounded by an admiring crowd, and refers to him as follows:
“Although the age of eccentric bets has almost passed away in this terribly dry, matter-of-fact, nineteenth century, and we no longer hear of gentlemen standing on London Bridge selling sovereigns for shillings, and other doughty wagers made after the third bottle of port, we now and then find an amusing instance of the love of human nature to out-do other people, be it in climbing up the topmost peak of an Alpine peak, or marching the length and breadth of a continent with a displayed standard. The last instance of the ‘betting’ mania comes from the sister isle, which for the past fourteen months has been in a fever of excitement concerning a certain amateur organ grinder, who is confidently asserted to be a nobleman in disguise. He refuses his name to the curious, but owns to the fact that he is not what he seems, and has wagered to ‘grind’ his way through every county in the country.”
* The pubs of Rye, 1750-1950 by David Russell is available in Rye from the Heritage Centre, Strand Quay; Adams, 9 High Street, The Queen Adelaide, 23 Ferry Road, or online. Other books by David Russell are The Pubs of Hastings & St Leonards, The Swan, Hastings and Register of Licensees for Hastings & St Leonards
Main photo: Lynda Russell