Tradition? Who needs it?

The outgoing mayor, Cllr Rebekah Gilbert hands over to her successor Cllr Andi Rivett

Last week an Opinion piece from one of our readers suggested that the annual Mayor Making ceremony was not only outdated, but also embarrassing in the 21st century. As a regular writer of this column, I could have told the author that it is never a good thing to mess with Rye’s traditions and that he would receive plenty of opposition to his suggestions.

And, indeed, so it has proved, with more comments to this particular article than have been seen following any other for quite a while.

This is a good thing. One of the objectives of Rye News is not only to report on local goings-on, but to stimulate comment and discussion on matters affecting the town and those of us who live, work or visit here. Traffic, parking, property developments and housing are all matters that can usually be guaranteed to attract controversy. But of all subjects, our traditions, which after all, play such a large part in making the town what it is, are regarded by many as sacrosanct.

Quite apart from sentiment, there is good reason for this. Tradition emphasises continuity, and while change may sometimes be necessary and sometimes even a good thing, continuity brings about stability and stability is not only reassuring but it is what enables the majority of us to live our lives in peace and security. I would argue, for example, that one of the main reasons why this country, for almost 600 years, has remained free of revolution and disaster that we have seen in almost all other European countries and even the United States over that period, can be attributed to the stability of our (unwritten) constitution as demonstrated by the monarchy, parliament and with all the traditions attached to them.

In our little world here in East Sussex, much the same applies. Why does our mayor wear a rather old red coat, to say nothing of a funny hat that went out of fashion over 200 years ago? Why not just be comfortable in jeans and a sweater with a badge saying ‘I’m the boss’. Wouldn’t that be a lot simpler?

Maybe it would. But the mayor is elected each year to be effectively the leader and public face of our community and the chairman of the, also elected, town council and it is surely right that this position should be given both publicity and respect. If it was simply that a group of anonymous people in jeans and sweaters elected one of their number to wear a plastic badge and chair their meetings, would anybody really care who they were and what they did? And if nobody cared, how long before that council ceased to exist and there was no longer any official body to try and influence local and national governments many miles away, and who care little about our small town and those who love it and make their lives here.

Tradition is important – it is so much more than just dressing up in funny clothes. It makes us who we are and what we are. It gives us a central point about which our lives and livelihoods revolve and along the way it also gives us a bit of fun. Goodness knows, in times like these we can all do with something to raise our spirits. And to clear up one point raised in the comments: children are in no danger of being burnt by the hot pennies, they are quite cool by the time they hit the ground. The only danger might be to the fingers of those that throw them from the Council Chamber windows!

If the Mayor Making tradition goes, what of our other traditions? Should we abandon Bonfire night because it was once an anti-Catholic demonstration hundreds of years ago? What about Remembrance Sunday? Should we scrap the parade and wreath-laying in case someone from a country that we fought against might be offended? Let’s forget Christmas in Rye celebration, High Street decorations and the Christmas tree on Strand Quay in case it offends a non-Christian. And as for all those cobbled streets, they could be a danger, we should get rid of them.

Of course we have to adapt as the years move on, and Rye has done that, but removing one tradition is the start of a slippery slope and we need them, they are who we are. Long live tradition! Long live the Rye we know and love!

Image Credits: Kenneth Bird .


  1. Some good points there, as you say, where will it end?
    Why not scrap the entire council and save money? You can’t pick and choose which bits of tradition you want to keep, this country thrives on tradition, I’m not sure what the difference is between throwing money to the urchins in the street in Rye and the Queen handing out maundy money to pensioners in a church, one of the richest women in the country handing out money in a building owned by one of the riches land owners in the country to poor old pensioners.

  2. I don’t really think there’s really a comparison Tony between the Queen handing out Maundy Money and the Rye Mayor Making ceremony for whole host of obvious reasons!

    Anyway, the main point is surely that traditions can be good and enjoyable or, perhaps, not so good anymore and in need of change (or being done away with altogether). It can’t be an argument to say that simply because we’ve always done something, that something cannot or should not be changed. If we didn’t make changes to most things we do we would not progress but stagnate and eventually wither!

  3. Tradition like everything else needs assessing for its effect and there seem to be many arguments for keeping it where it supports local democratic power and accountability, which as has been said before was gravely reduced in the early 1970’s local government re-organisation when Rye town council lost many of its powers. Its been reported that this has led to planning decisions not being taken locally, now leading to a proposal from outside Rye for the area where Rye Hire trade having its use changed for new housing. As a user of Rye Hire I would like to say please let such successful and very useful local businesses continue and not be displaced by such plans, as we would then have to possibly go as far as Hastings for such a range of useful services that we can get locally and conveniently in Rye now. For new housing near Rye town centre there is already a site awaiting development at the back of the Queen Adelaide, so if that were used for housing to include an area of affordable housing, then the existing businesses in Rye, already having suffered from the long Covid closures, would have more potential customers to support them onward and through this difficult period, without disrupting such existing local Rye businesses.

  4. Yesterday I attended a music/fundraising event at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Brookwood near Woking, which served as a timley reminder why we maintain (and hand on to the next generation) some traditions associated with our past – and sadly our present. I agree with John’s notion that tradition is only the surface representation of a longer, deeper collective history, which binds us as a community or society. Reflection is an asset.
    Perhaps the critical, sceptical shop owner may have chosen the wrong town – or the right town but for the wrong reasons?

  5. Michael the site behind the Adelaide already has planning permission, sadly with no plans for affordable housing as the developers said the site would be unviable if they included them in the development, many will feel Rother district council have been conned by allowing this,especially as they will probably not start building until the 5 year rule to start building is nearly up,and the rate house prices are going up in the town, they will double their money.

  6. Any community that is at all interesting has some distinctive customs that help to unite the residents. Perhaps it is block parties or holiday parades or costume balls. In my neighborhood in Washington it is using the no-longer-needed call boxes to the Fire Department to display historical pictures of the neighborhood. One of the reasons I spend several weeks in Rye every year is that it has delightful local customs that make it different from other places. Four generations of my family share my enthusiasm for Rye.

  7. For those who like traditions and customs, the long Jubilee “weekend” starts with two this Thursday June 2 in Rye. From 1.30 (lunchtime) at the Town Hall, by St Mary’s at the top of the hill, Ryebellion Drummers will be followed by patriotic songs from the Rye Singers, and Martin Wimbush will read poet John Betjeman’s “Jubilee Hymn” before, at 2pm, Rye’s towncrier joins in a nationwide “Jubilee Cry” – and the day closes with beacons lit around the country at 9.45 pm, including Rye’s at the top of Udimore Road on the edge of town.

  8. John, yes I did not know the details of the Queen Adelaide proposal. We should insist that such developments include affordable housing. We should also insist there is no need to re-allocate the Rye Hire area as it is a functioning area of Rye for residents now, while that earlier planning permission is still not developed and fulfilling its function yet. On a wider and longer term discussion on tradition, we have suffered greatly due to insufficient attention to our history including the appropriate details of our past, so we can properly appreciate and understand it and its influence for our and our children’s future. This has now got so far out of order that there is going to be a new history curriculum by 2024 for schools, which needs to have full input from parents now, to ensure that it is an appropriate guide for our children in todays world. This year is probably now going to be a turning point with war in Europe, due to grave decision making failures earlier when the cold war was supposed to have ended. This was despite it being clearly stated at the time that if the Iron Curtain was taken down but it remained up in our minds, then nothing would change, which has unfortunately happened to a high degree! So we need a parents discussion to ensure a greatly improved history to assist our children much more effectively than at present. Rye being a strongly historical town can ably assist in that advance, now overdue.


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