Heavenly explorations

A newbie’s view of Rye part three

In the third of our monthly series of articles describing how one couple finds their new life in Rye, we discover why they spend so much time in church

All is still

As you may recall, we moved to Rye from London just before Christmas, 2014. Not knowing a soul in the area, and simply relieved that the 15-month process, AKA nightmare, was over, initially, we were more than content just to enjoy being in our new home.

Ypres tower, from St Mary's "...the best views in Rye..."
Ypres tower and beyond, from St Mary’s  – the best views in Rye

Non-working days would drift lazily by as we pottered about the town, finding the shops that we needed and discovering the pubs that we liked. Quiet evenings would pass with the crackling warmth and light of a real log fire – something I had very much missed in my Wimbledon flat.

This peaceful reverie would only be broken by visiting friends and family – a welcome incentive to stir ourselves just enough to drive to Camber Sands and show off the beach.

Top views

My partner and I are most definitely not church-going folk. But, as a unit consisting of a professional archaeologist and a trained historian, we are fascinated by the architecture, decoration and past of religious buildings.

On sunny days, therefore, we delighted in taking our visitors up to the roof of St. Mary’s. The 12th-century church rightly boasts that it has the best views in Rye.

In particular, the vertiginous vistas bring to life the description of Rye coined by Henry James: “the little old, cobble-stoned, grass-grown, red-roofed town, on the summit of its mildly pyramidal hill”.

St Michael's, Playden
St Michael’s, Playden

A couple of quid very well spent.

From the top of St Mary’s you can see the spire of another local Norman church: St Michael’s, in the neighbouring parish of Playden.
Mentioned in the Doomsday Book, the church retains its Middle Ages simplicity in a charming semi-rural setting.

St. Michael’s is but a short walk for us, and an excuse (as if that was ever required!) to pop in to the nearby King’s Head Inn on Rye Road.

But with yet more visitors landing on our doorstep, we were drawn further afield

To Romney Marsh

As you probably know, Romney Marsh is home to about a dozen churches – functioning buildings and ruins. However, one in particular took our fancy.

St Augustine's, Brookland "....like no other church......"
St Augustine’s, Brookland, like no other church

St Augustine’s in Brookland is like no other church building we’ve ever seen – and it’s a striking testament in wood and stone to the treacherously unstable character of the Marsh.

The nave piers are most irregular, as if the Church or its masons had partaken of too many ales at the Royal Oak next door! Hence the church has buttresses inside.

It’s famed for a thirteenth-century wall painting of the martyrdom of St Thomas Becket, which nicely captures the brutal slaying of the “turbulent priest”; its lead font is also a rarity.

But the most bizarre and memorable feature of the church is outside. A free-standing wooden bell tower sits next to the main building. It’s as if a child putting together a construction toy had suddenly been distracted by its parent calling them to the tea table. Quite extraordinary.

No doubt we’ll find more treasures on future expeditions. In the meantime, as fans of history and archaeology, I believe that we can count ourselves blessed.

Photos: Simon Kershaw

Image Credits: J. Minter .

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  1. Alas like so many, Mr Kershaw and his partner do not appear to have visited the stunning Church in Iden- part of the Rye Team and just two miles north of the town.
    If they had they would have been amazed .


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