Thoughts from Rye Cemetery

Giant Pines guarding the cemetery

Walking past Rye Cemetery, one does not imagine there is an entire world beyond those towering pines that guard the gateless gateposts. The ancient trees hold clues to the history of this place. If only they could speak.

The resting place of Howard Gull Stormont

Daisies and nodding fluff-filled dandelions have now replaced the daffodils and snowdrops, which had filled the crevices around the fallen and standing stones at Rye Cemetery. So many names gone with the rubbed off rubble and crumbling headstones. Those that remain, readable and proclaiming their presence are Mary Stormont with her artist husband, Howard as well as EF Benson the author of the Mapp and Lucia books, two-time Mayor of Rye and son of an Archbishop of Canterbury (with a hefty tombstone in traditional style).

Mary and Howard Stormont

Dog walkers and those seeking quietude are among those who cut across this extraordinary piece of land to walk down from Rye Hill to Love Lane, taking in the Tilling valley. It is beautiful, like paintings etched under clouds by sunlight.

There is a Pauper’s chapel, not in use anymore, which stands proud braving the elements. Opposite this chapel is a ruin, across another wide girthed pine tree that looks like it has witnessed all the comings and goings in Rye. The Highborn chapel nearly burned to the ground and was lost to history therefore.

Recently I have felt concern as red and yellow bollards have popped up, as if propping up a fence around the Paupers’ Chapel, like so many unwanted gravestones. I shuddered. Is the building now condemned? The other day I stopped to ask one of the Maintenance team. David said that he had walked into the gothic-style chapel the previous month and nearly been bludgeoned by a falling brick. These are not our modern red bricks, but heavy stones the size of a Britannica Encyclopaedia!  The building is therefore awaiting an assessment. The brickwork directly above the lintel area of the main door has severe structural damage to it. “Is it condemned then?” I asked. David said the official review is outstanding, while his colleague reminded us, “It is a listed building after all!”

As a listed building, RDC has responsibility

So, as I dig up the past, taking the short cut, which leads us dog walkers past pretty views down to Love Lane, this jaunt through the silent pathways that have been tread by the great and the good, and all those wishing to pay their respects to the dead, I’m reminded that they are never forgotten.

The Maintenance team from Rother District Council have just trimmed the overgrowth among the stones, and the remainder will be tended this week. The Rye Union Workhouse stood here, there is a plaque declaring its poignant past. The children’s burial area is overgrown with the colours from both satin imitation florals, and real potted hyacinths and pretty hedgerows.

Rye Union Workhouse plaque

Our movements are so often motivated. I lost our first child. A daughter, today she would have been sixteen. Her remains rest in the Garden of Remembrance at Golder’s Green. I can’t visit as often as I’d like. I saw a woman in her seventies alight from a car right beside EF Benson’s historic graveside. She was attending a much smaller site, laying stones on meshing to avoid unwanted weeds springing through. She said how she can’t come as often as she likes as she has moved away from Rye Hill. I found myself telling her about my child and promising to oversee the resting place of her mother and child brother, lost in the last world war.

This is a place that has stood witness to so much. The gravel crunches with the sound of untrodden steps I feel, as I watch my Labrador strain against his lead looking longingly at the squirrel scooting up the monkey puzzle tree. From his drone-level view the squirrel looks out across this spread of people past and I wonder about the future of these historic bricks.

Monkey puzzles baffling squirrels

Image Credits: Anwesha Arya .


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