The Landgate, the ancient monument with a grade 1 listing and considered a prime example of 14th century town defences, has been in urgent need of work on its structure. The roof and parapets were removed in the 18th century and the two drum towers linked by an archway with a chamber above have been poorly maintained in recent years. Access to the high street runs right through it and it forms an important gateway into the town of Rye.
The structure itself is owned by Rother District Council (RDC) and the road by East Sussex County Council. It has been kept as a controlled ruin since the removal of the roof, three centuries ago. As it is a landlocked structure, access to it is very limited. As always, the need for repair has had to be balanced by the availability of the funds.
The deadlock over ownership and funding has at last been broken, with the offer of £70,000 on the recommendation of RDC council officer Brenda Mason, who has sadly, from the point of view of the Landgate, left the organisation. This was in turn supported by Rye Town Council and the Rye Conservation Society by raising £7,000 towards the overall costs.
Urgent work outlined in the Thomas Ford and Partners “ Outline Vision Document” report published in October 2016, and finally circulated in 2017, is now to be put in hand, with necessary safety work started last Monday, October 15. It has been agreed that there will be a clean of the interior, which so shocked Councillor Lord Ampthill earlier this year, when he went inside it for the first time. Both drums and the interior passage will see the removal of pigeon droppings and other debris.
Whilst it is not possible to provide a roof, until agreement can be reached on whether the building remains a controlled ruin or another use can be found for it, new anti-pigeon netting will be fixed across the two drums, the upper room and all the openings, once debris has been removed.
From the outside, one rotten flagpole will be taken down and the fibreglass one checked and secured. All the vegetation, including the buddleia sprouting from the top, will be cleaned off from the inside of the structure.
The tops of all the walls will be checked, weathered and secured if necessary, and the clock housing will have a safe internal access built. Reports of the manner in which the clock was accessed and wound in the 1970s will never again be attempted, by climbing along a narrow ledge to reach the mechanism.
The recommissioning of the Victorian clock will not be part of this initial work, and will need further fundraising efforts.
All this work will be carried out, internally, by a team of steeplejacks, abseiling down the building. There will therefore be no scaffolding requirement, and little obvious external change will be seen, except the flagpole and the removal of all the vegetation. It will be completed by November 9 2018
It is hoped this emergency work will concentrate minds on what might be the possible future use of the building by RDC, Rye Town Council, the Conservation Society, the Museum and the Friends of the Landgate. Funding has been found from reserves to carry out these necessary repairs and this helps the timing for forward planning, In any case, The structure will now be safer for townspeople and visitors.
A Coastal Regeneration Fund bid was made by Graham Burgess, the Property and Investment Manager at RDC, shortly after he came into post this year. The outcome of this will not be known until November and details will be the subject of a further article nearer the time of the announcement.
Image Credits: Gillian Roder .