Remembering the past

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Rye Museum chairman Jo Kirkham, welcomes historian Geoff Hutchinson to the Museum.

The ancient and historic town of Rye, and its inhabitants, have survived much over the centuries, and in this month’s newsletter Rye Castle Museum’s chairman Jo Kirkham reminded us of that long history at a time when the castle is closed to the public because of the pandemic.

She writes: “It is always a moving experience to lay a wreath on Rye war memorial.  This year it seemed more poignant than usual as all was silent with only two of us there and no traffic.

I looked across the Gun Garden, down the river Rother to the English Channel and across the sea to Flanders Fields where so many Rye boys, whose names are carved on the stone base, lies

My eyes moved fractionally left to the castle and I thought if only its stones could tell of the traumas that Ryers have suffered over the years.

“These range from playing their part defending their Cinque Port town and indeed the country over at least eight centuries, from surviving one French occupation in 1216, the burning of the town in 1377, many threatened invasions by the Spanish, the Dutch, but more usually the French – and finally the Germans in the last century in the two world wars.

Surviving plagues

My mind then moved to different ‘survivals’ – from the Black Death in 1348 when it is said that approximately half its population perished, to recurrent epidemics of the plague – especially during the Tudor and early Stuart times which regularly took the lives of 25% – 30% of the people,  e.g. in 1563 when 771 Ryers died and, in the last week of September that year, 90 people were buried in St Mary’s churchyard.

Other outbreaks endured here were the deadly sweating sickness, smallpox, cholera, TB, diphtheria, the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, the polio cases of the 1950s and now Covid-19″.

Ypres Castle in a warm, sunny summer

Image Credits: Chris Lawson , J. Minter .

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