I greeted the news that Roger Breeds, a former Mayor of Rye, had died with great sadness.
Roger was a supporter of Rye’s Own magazine. He regarded himself as a Ryer and so he was, for he is a direct line descendant of another Breeds who was Mayor of Rye in 1560 and 1569 and a Member of Parliament for Rye from 1563 to 1572 in the days when Rye was important enough to have two MPs.
His proven family tree of 17 generations includes many illustrious and hard working Rye Breeds and, with the exceptions of butchers, most seemed to have been a great credit to the town. Roger certainly was.
Roger Breeds was first elected to Rye Town Council in 1976 and was a councillor without interruption until a few years ago. He was mayor from 1984 to 1986 and Speaker of the Cinque Ports in 1985-86. He was elected to Rother District Council in 1987 and was a Rother councillor for eight years. He was deeply involved with planning, serving many years on both Rye and Rother planning committees.
I had the pleasure of interviewing him way back in 2000 and the answers he gave then were far seeing and as relevant today as they were then. I quote some of his thoughts here as a tribute to a great Ryer. They bear witness to his wisdom and to his love of his home town:
JH As one of Rye’s senior councillors and as a retired police special what do you think of the policing situation in this town at the present time?
RB We have a fine purpose-built police station which, when it was opened in the 60s, was teeming with uniformed officers. There were over 40 officers based on Rye plus a CID section and between 14 and 20 Specials. Constables patrolled the town day and night and each village had its own copper with a push bike who knew everyone on his patch. Today we have more men in the police force but they have all been centralised in a crazy hair-brained scheme, foisted on the police force by politicians, which seems to believe that cameras and computers can do the arrests and save money which can be spent on more administration. What a misguided lot they are. The old system worked well, the new system has failed. Rye pays one of the highest rates in the country yet our police station is closed at night and during weekends. We must demand a return to the old system of men on the ground in this town or face the consequences of more and more crime and vandalism in our streets.
JH Rye has little actual power over its own destiny. Do you think it can strengthen its influence over Rother?
RB The best thing we can do as a council is to show a united front. All the bickering among us, often amplified by the local press, and more than not on a trivial subject, damages our credibility. Rye councillors should stop scoring points off each other by tittle-tattle to the press and resolve differences in a more dignified manner. In my years on the planning committee I have found little opposition to our recommendations when we showed a unity as a council. I believe that party politics is wrong in local government. Rye was traditionally served by people who dropped their political affiliations and became an independent affiliated to Rye. This is not true today and results in councillors forgoing their own beliefs and voting with the party view which can be directly opposite to Rye’s best interests. The district council have offered several things back to our control. Toilets and other high cost maintenance items. What we should do is demand control of the car parks which would finance these things and make a reduction in the town rate a distinct possibility. To achieve anything I go back to my main point, we must show a determined and united front.
JH What is your greatest concern at this moment?
RB We have only three representatives on the district council. Not one of these members is represented on the Rother planning committee! It is bad enough that our three voices at Rother meetings are outnumbered by 39 others but having no one at all in planning meetings is a disaster that prevents Rye having any voice in important planning decisions affecting this town.
JH What about tourism?
RB I feel too much emphasis has been put on tourism. Rye needs employment and tourism makes up a big proportion of this but it is only seasonal. The town is packed with coach trippers, overloading the town. I feel we need quality not quantity. People in cars can make larger purchases than those who come in buses. I welcome anyone who comes to this old town to enjoy our environment and atmosphere but those who come for more frivolous entertainment would be better off at the seaside. The coach situation has become critical in Rye, but plans for coach parks at Rye Harbour are in the pipeline and will relieve the situation caused by Rail Track’s new policy of curtailing such parking at the station.
JH How have things changed in the river over the past 10 years?
RB In 1989 there were about 450 pleasure boats moored at Rye and Rye Harbour. This figure has diminished over the years and now stands at about 350. This is mainly as a result of new marinas like the Sovereign at Eastbourne being built. The fishing fleet remains at about the same strength as 20 years ago and merchant vessel movements have increased as a consequence of the new facilities at Rye Wharf.
JH Have you got a point you would like to put over to the Rye electorate?
RB Yes! I would urge Rye people to pay more attention to the work done by their councillors and when the time comes, select those candidates that have Rye at heart. The local council is only as good as its members. With the right people and by showing a united front we can have more influence and power over our own affairs.
* This article first appeared in the July 2000 issue of Rye’s Own. Parts of it are reprinted here with the kind permission of Jim Hollands. © Copyright 2015 Cinque Ports Magazines Rye Ltd
Photos: Jim Hollands (main) and Tony Nunn