Mayor leads way to save Landgate

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Rye's Mayor by the Landgate, whose future is still very uncertain

The neglect of Rye’s much loved Landgate Tower is not going to be put right with the small amount of money Rother District Council allows for its maintenance, the town’s mayor said on Monday. If we wanted to save the one remaining town gateway – built in 1340 – we would have to do it ourselves. The town had to reach out to fans of the famous arch all over the world. To ask all those who admired it, photographed it, loved it, to be real friends. We need to form the Friends of Landgate, she said.

The friends, she told fellow councillors, would be a group dedicated to raising sponsorship. She even suggested the possibility of a town lottery to support the tower.

After the council committee meeting she expanded on her ideas that had gained immediate support.

“How do people see it?” she asked.  “As an ancient and iconic monument, famous all over the world?  As a magnificent relic of bygone days, steeped in history and mystery? The gateway to Rye, immortalised by hundreds of artists and photographers over hundreds of years? Or as a much loved, precious and treasured asset, essential to the charm and magic of Rye?”

It is all those things, but people had to look again, she told Rye News.

“Crumbling stones, unprotected from weather and knocked about by careless oversized vehicles. Roofless except for the ‘bird proof’ netting from which hang the tattered grisly remains of pigeons and gulls which died unspeakable deaths. A clock that stands silenced at a time long forgotten, broken lighting that fails to reveal the magnificence by night. A single flag flutters defiantly, protesting at the gentle but inevitable decay.”

She went on: “Our Landgate faces an uncertain future. Rother District Council can provide an ever diminishing budget for the maintenance of ancient buildings district-wide and there is no prospect of an increase that could come near to restoring and maintaining the arch.

“Other ways need to be found to support and preserve it for the future. We need to appeal for help and reach those who truly treasure this unique building. Friends of the Landgate! There must be millions of them globally who will have visited Rye and walked beneath those stones. We need them now. Our Landgate needs its friends.”

Currently, the monument is allotted £2,000 a year by Rother, the policy, resources and general purposes committee heard at the town hall on Monday, though Cllr Sam Souster thought it would be difficult, given the way in which expenses were logged at Rother, to find that £2,000 in the accounts.

Rother councillor David Russell told the meeting that this year that sum had not yet been spent: “Hence its poor appearance.” The budget for all Rother’s ancient monuments as £8,000. Landgate was earmarked a quarter of that. Russell said a condition survey of the tower  has been ordered by Rother and this would bring us up to date on the nature of the liability.

In an email to Cllr Mary Smith before the meeting Russell wrote: “The budget available for all the district’s ancient monuments is very small: and there is a clear need for external funding for any major works which may prove necessary. Safe access to the arch is difficult without further restoration. Then there is the clock and floodlights to consider.”

In a letter to Richard Farhall,  the town clerk, before the meeting, Alan Bolden of Campaign for a Democratic Rye, asked: “Has  anyone visualised the chaos in our town if the arch was suddenly declared to be dangerous, or actually blocked, and therefore the archway would be closed to all?” He went on: “Pedestrianisation would then become a sudden and stark reality all through the Citadel. Oh, that’s unthinkable. Is it? Could a workable one-way system be run with The Mint and Market Road being the only reasonable points of entering and leaving?”

Councillors decided on Monday to reconsider the maintenance of the tower once they have read the condition survey commissioned by Rother. They also decided to seek a group, or individuals, who would be interested in helping to look after the town’s prominent landmark. This could include setting up a Friends of the Landgate Tower charity, adopting or sponsoring the tower, making a donation, fundraising, or offering gratis/discounted professional services.

The Rye News flyer which was sent to our subscribers three weeks ago
The Rye News flyer that was sent to our subscribers three weeks ago

Photo montage: Tony Nunn