The Mermaid Inn is a Grade II historical inn located on Mermaid Street in the ancient town of Rye. One of the best-known inns in southeast England, it was established in the 12th century and has a long, turbulent history. The current building dates from 1420 and has 16th-century additions in the Tudor style, but cellars dating back to 1156. The inn has a strong connection with the notorious Hawkhurst Gang, smugglers, who used it in the 1730s and 1740s as one of their strongholds: Rye was a thriving port during this period. Some of the smugglers, their mistresses and other characters are reported to haunt the inn.
In the early 14th century, Rye was one of the most important ports on the South Coast, and with the start of the Hundred Years War with France, was very vulnerable to attack by raiding French warships. In 1339 the French attacked the town, and burnt 52 houses and a mill. It was at about this time that the mayor and corporation made a start on the town walls and gates, aided by ‘murage’ granted by the King. The Landgate dates from about 1340, during the reign of Edward III. Built of stone rubble, the two towers have moulded plinths.
St Mary's has been one of the most iconic features of the skyline for more than 900 years. Held under a Royal deed by the Abbey of Fecamp in Normandy and an important member of the Cinque Ports Confederation, work on a church which befitted the powerful town began in the early 12th century. In 1377 the town was looted and set on fire by French invaders. The church was badly damaged and the bells carried off to France. The following year, men from Rye and Winchelsea sailed to Normandy, set fire to two towns and recovered much of the loot, including the church bells - one of which was subsequently hung in Watchbell Street, to give warning of any future attack. St Mary's is open every day of the year, except for Christmas Day, from 9.15am - 5.15pm in summer and 9.15am - 4.15pm in winter. The Tower, which is open every day (weather permitting) has become a popular place for marriage proposals!
The 'new' clock was installed in about 1561-2 and was made by the Huguenot Lewys Billiard. It is one of the oldest church turret clocks in the country still functioning. The pendulum, a much later addition, swings in the body of the church. The present exterior clockface and the original 'Quarter Boys' (so called because they strike the quarters but not the hours) were added in 1760. Today, if you wish, you can climb the church tower where you will see the 8 bells now hanging there. These are not the same bells that were stolen in 1377 as they were re-cast in 1775 and new bells added.