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Shapes, materials and buildings of Rye

Rye has a unique collection of buildings which have changed and developed over the centuries.  As new materials were introduced, new houses were built in available spaces, or buildings were adapted, making Rye a fascinating mix of architectural styles. The Slide Show below shows a selection Rye’s unique buildings. Place the mouse over the image for information.

The gallery below provides images and information about the different shapes, materials and colours of Rye.


Many streets in Rye have a gentle curve which prevents the eye from seeing the whole street at once.  The curve stimulates interest and entices the visitor to walk further to see what is around the corner.


Several buildings in Rye on corners or at road junctions follow the shape of the road.  Rather than have the usual geometric right angle they have curved or shaped corners or ends.  This was probably to use every square inch for the building.  It produces some interesting building shapes and blends the building into the street.


In several places in Rye there are glimpses, caught between buildings, of the open countryside which surrounds Rye.  In other places there are lookouts with seats, notably Hilder's Cliff and at the end of Watchbell Street where the open countryside forms the view. These views are fundamental to the historic character of the town. 


Several streets in Rye have prominent buildings at right angles to the street which visually close the view at the end.  Notable examples include the Old Grammar School when looking down Lion Street and Rye Church, with its clock and quarter boys when viewed from Lion Street.  Similarly in West Street the view is of the West window of the Church from one direction and of Lamb House from the other.


The rebuilding of the summer house, bombed during the war, where Henry James wrote some of his most notable works, would be of great benefit to the town and restore the focus of the view looking up West Street.


Rye is famous for its cobbles but they need constant attention.  Modern vehicles, especially with power steering, tend to loosen them.  Replacing the cobbles after such damage or following works on underground services tests the skills of the repairer.

Sometimes the result is concrete with a few cobbles pushed in like currants in a bun, or concrete is poured over everything.  There must be sufficient cobbles for the job and they must all be of similar size and colour.

Pavements of Rye

Many pavements in Rye must have been costly to install because there is no local stone.  To make them safer many stones were scored to reduce slipping when walking in the rain in leather soled working boots with nailed studs.

Images and text by John Griffiths, Rye Conservation Society


In 1377 most of the timber houses in Rye were destroyed when the French set fire to the town.  They were rebuilt using timber, notably oak frame construction, because there was a plentiful supply of wood but no good local stone.


The form of construction generally followed that of the "hall house" found in this part of south east England of which there are a number still surviving in Rye whilst small "fishermen's cottages" were crowded into parts of the town nearer the river.


The form of construction was a sturdy timber frame of large section oak, often pre-assembled on the ground and then hoisted into the vertical.  The first floor was frequently cantilevered out beyond the wall of the ground floor.  This spaced out the holes needed to form the joints between the ground floor posts and the first floor posts.  This jetty also left more space between the houses at street level.