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Conservation Society Photograph Collection

In December 2018 the Society was able to purchase two postcard albums from Rye Auction Galleries.  Containing 357 cards from a number of different manufacturers they illustrate Rye from the turn of the 20th Century to the 1970s. The earliest postmark is from 1902.  They cover the streets and buildings of the town, mainly in photographs but with a good selection of reproductions of watercolours and etchings.  Many can be dated from their postmark or the publisher’s imprint and some have interesting and sometimes cryptic messages.  Who, for instance, was the Mr Hermitage that one writer was so anxious to hear singing?  There are two cards written by First World War soldiers billeted in Rye, and one addressed to Mr Sweatman, a Rye resident whose occupation was an early example of nominative determinism; he was a blacksmith.  Another appears to be a blackmail threat.


Judges of Hastings still produces postcards.  (Another local maker, Shoesmith and Etheridge, who produced cards under this name and the “Norman” imprint, ceased production in the 1960s.  The Francis Frith archive contains 106 Rye photographs.  The other widely-known manufacturers, Salmon (Sevenoaks) and Valentines (Dundee), are no longer in the postcard business.  The Valentines archive to 1967 is held by the University of St Andrews.  Several Rye firms produced cards; Deacons was one; another, C. Holland, a photographer in the High Street, was vain enough to include his shop as the central vignette of a multi-view card.


Many of the views are what one might term “popular.  The Mermaid Inn and the Old Hospital are heavily represented, as is Mermaid Street, St Mary’s church, the Ypres tower (or castle) and the Landgate.  There are no cards showing Market Street or East Street.  Watchbell Street has a number of cards.  Upper West Street is shown on several looking towards the church (one with the trees artfully trimmed to show the West window) but none looking west to Lamb House, and no cards show the old Garden Room.  There are several river and sunset scenes, but why the steep steps leading up to Hilder’s Cliff merit a card is a mystery!  I would not have been impressed to receive that one.  There are distant views from all compass points, and one view from Rye Hill shows a train of cattle trucks in the station, presumably ready to load up from the market.


The cards provide an interesting perspective on what has changed in Rye, and what has not.  Some views of the church pre-date the construction of the War Memorial in 1921.  The paths in the churchyard itself were hedged, and heavily pruned trees surrounded it.  There was a great deal of ivy climbing up houses.  Very few were painted white.  The church’s East window is the pre-1939 version, although the individual panels cannot be clearly made out.  A view down West Street towards what is currently Barclays Bank shows it has a first floor bay window; the Santa Maria has yet to undergo a facelift.  In Church Square what is now No 44 appears to have been two houses.  The Mermaid Inn itself is shown in some cards before the entrance from Mermaid Street was widened.  Nos 2 and 3 Mermaid Street can be seen in views looking east; they, and the cluster of buildings in Gun Garden were destroyed on the second World War.  An aerial view on a card postmarked 1920 shows these latter very clearly; some look perilously close to the cliff edge!  The bank by the steps leading from Gun Garden to Fishmarket Road was just grass.  The terraces in South Undercliff are unobscured by the Bournes and Jempsons warehouses and the development along Rock Channel.  The fishing quay is but a couple of huts on the bank.  Today’s windmill is relatively modern; one card records that the old one burnt down in 1930 and the new mill sits further from the River Tillingham.  A card of Rye Station by A H Homewood of Burgess Hill (the back design indicates it was from a series produced in 1908) shows three tracks.


However many views are just the same; much of the citadel is as it was at the beginning of the 20th Century and some shops may have changed their name but remain in their longstanding trade, such as Simon the Pieman at the top of Lion Street.  Not for nothing did a guidebook from the 1930s complain that Rye was overrun by tea shops and antique businesses.




Useful resources




Shoesmith and Etheridge  

A J Goodes:                 


Swain Castle series    

The Picture Postcard Co


The Wrench                

A H Homewood:         

Francis Frith                

Raphael Tuck:             

Woolston Bros:          




The London View Co 





A R Quinton                

Hayward Young          

Frank Rousse              

Horace van Ruith       

R Gallon                       

Wilfrid Ball                  

Laurence Perugini     



Dr Andrew Bamji

Norman House

West Street, Rye

We are in the process of sorting the collection  but in the meantime here are an initial batch of photos and cards mostly taken in and around Mermaid Street.

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