Thursday, 18 April 2013

Rye Observations

I just got back from Rye in Sussex, a town so stuffed with history that it hardly has room for anything modern. I stayed at the Mermaid Inn, which is a lovely (if rather pricey) establishment, formerly favoured by smugglers. In the pic below you can see the sign of the Mermaid. The sign was knocked off by a van on Wednesday, but quickly replaced. The Mermaid, of course, has a resident ghost, but did not manifest itself to me. This is a regular non-event when I stay in a historic inn or some such.

Mermaid Street, Rye

Rye is a lovely town, and well worth a visit. If, as we did, you have transport, you can use it as a base to visit other places of interest. But just around the corner from the Mermaid Inn is Lamb House, which was home to not one but two famous authors of supernatural fiction - Henry James, and E.F. Benson. The house is a National Trust Property, and it was nice to look around. Especially interesting is a gallery of sketches of all the visitors when James was in residence, among them Wells, Conrad, Kipling, and Bernard Shaw. The only one shown without a great deal of facial hair is the young Virginia Stephen, soon to be Woolf.

It is notable, though, that while Benson stayed at Lamb House for far longer than James, and was three times Mayor of Rye, he gets a lot less coverage. This seems especially unfair given that, right next to Lamb House, you can find the Church of St Mary, which has two magnificent stained glass windows donated by Benson. He was a merely 'popular' author, I suppose, while James was a proper intellectual. But it may be that Benson's Mapp and Lucia books - and the TV series based on them - attract more visitors to Rye than James' reputation, if overheard chatter is anything to go by. (And while the National Trust material at Lamb House tells you that Benson is buried in St Mary's churchyard, he is not. His grave - which is modest and easily missed - lies in the municipal graveyard about half an hour's walk away. It is cared for by the Secretary of the E.F. Benson Society, who was kind enough to guide us to it.)

We also saw Kipling's grand country residence, Bateman's. This is a huge place and you really should set aside the best part of a day for it. We spent a short time perusing the author's Rolls Royce, examining his Nobel Prize, and generally poking about a huge quantity of material that brings home just how significant Kipling was. His reputation has bounced back from the post-war era when he was seen by some - quite unfairly - as some kind of proto-fascist. The house is a fine 17th century building in its own right, and Kipling furnished it with period furniture etcetera as well as taking the extensive grounds in hand. 'Our England is a garden that is full of stately views' - well, his England certainly was.

Then there's Edith Nesbit. The author of 'Man-Size in Marble' lived near New Romney, a half-hour drive from Rye (and her neighbour was a young Noel Coward). She lies in St Mary in the Marsh churchyard, where her second husband put up a simple wooden marker - she wanted no headstone. The original marker has understandably weathered since 1924 and now stands inside the church porch. The Nesbit Society replaced it with a new one in 1998, which is rather nice.

A short-ish drive from St Mary takes you to Brenzett, where the church contains two marble figures that inspired Nesbit's most famous ghostly tale. The two 17th century gentlemen - father and son - who lie in effigy at Brenzett Church are nothing like the villainous knights of 'Man-Size in Marble' - but a member of our party noted that one had, at some point, lost a finger, which was carefully replaced. From such small facts stories may sometimes grow.

All in all it was a splendid excursion for A Ghostly Company, thanks to much excellent planning by companions Kate Haynes and Tom Atkinson.


Oscar Solis said...

I decided to look up Rye in Sussex on Google (try saying that real fast). It brought to mind something I've thought: I don't think there is anywhere in Great Britain that doesn't look good in a photograph.

It's wonderful to visit where all these authors lived. To be able to walk around the grounds and take in a bit of the atmosphere. I suppose I'm romanticizing it all. My closest link to the authors of supernatural fiction are two books, one autographed by Richard Matheson, Christian Matheson, Peter Straub. The other by Edward Gorey. Still, one of my hopes is to go to Great Britain and visit those sights.

But, hey, I can at least console myself that the infamous Winchester Mystery House is only a few hours away <:)

valdemar said...

Believe me, there are many British towns that look terrible from any angle, including Earth orbit. Check this out:

Funny, I romanticise America and think: how wonderful to be able to just go to somewhere like Providence, Rhode Island. Goes to show.