What’s in a name?

Unusual name

Lockdown in Rye has got compensations as we are more than fortunate to be in easy distance of so many wonderful walks without needing to drive anywhere.

Most footpaths are well marked around Rye, and many signs recently refurbished or replaced.  Rother District Council provides a good mapping service to stop us getting too lost.  You can download maps you want onto your phone to easily find where you’d like to go.

Signpost to find the way

It’s also fun to find out more about where we live.  Many people think Dumb Woman’s Lane refers to a stupid female. Some of the road names around Rye have obvious associations, Deadmans Lane for instance leads to the graveyard.  But Dumb Woman’s Lane attracts attention and is a photo opportunity for tourists, perhaps because it could be interpreted as quite insulting.

Most people would be likely to assume that dumb woman was a slow, uneducated woman perhaps a former village idiot, but the story behind the name is something quite different.

We must always remember that this area was once on the main route for smugglers bringing, lace, brandy and tobacco into England from the 14th through to the 19th Century.  Many local place names have associations with this illustrious part of our history.  The dumb woman may have been a poor hapless woman who witnessed the contraband being hauled up the lane and had her tongue cut out so she couldn’t report the crimes she saw.

Another possibility is that a mute woman who lived on the lane dispensed herbal remedies in the area, so the street was named after her due to her significance in the local community.

Whatever the truth about how the lane was named, the walk along South Undercliff to reach it is certainly worthwhile. The bluebells along the adjoining Float Lane leading up to Udimore are stunningly lovely and at their best just now. To see them is a reward for your efforts!

Image Credits: Mags Ivatts .


  1. I have heard a tale that it was named after a witch who lived on the lane She had her tongue removed so she couldn’t curse anyone.

  2. West Undercliff is the road off Udimore Road leading to the footpath that does, indeed, walk along the bottom of Cadborough Cliff

  3. Dead Mans Lane was named due to the “Dead Men” being carried down the lane from the Gallows Bank Into Rye the hanging site Gallows Bank was over the road from the top of Dead Mans Lane most likely where the houses are built, this was an area called Salt Ness.

  4. Bunny Hawkey, who for many years lived near Three Chimneys the cottages at the top of Dumbwoman’s Lane, had another interesting theory about the origin of this very unusual name. It too was connected with smuggling. One of the cottages was occupied during the nineteenth century by the Whiteman family, which was known to be much involved in smuggling. Arrested and charged with this offence, at least one member of the family was convicted and sentenced to deportation to Australia, where he later settled down and started a family. In Udimore Church visitors’ book there are occasional entries by some of his descendants over here on a visit to his former home. During the years when smuggling was rife, if you had married into the Whiteman family, when the excisemen came round making enquiries, did you talk?


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