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The Town of Rye: Background information when reading The Summer Before the War

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The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

The Summer Before the War

by Helen Simonson
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  • First Published:
  • Mar 22, 2016
  • Paperback:
  • Feb 2017
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The Town of Rye

This article relates to The Summer Before the War

Print Review

The charming town of Rye rests in the county of East Sussex near England's south coast. Rye's recorded history can be traced back to before the Norman Conquest of 1066. For many centuries it was an important port town set in a naturally formed bay. But this changed in the 13th century when a combination of major storms led to its main river changing course. This, compounded with ill-advised land reclamation, led to the bay silting up. For some years the bay was dredged to provide a shipping channel but with the coming of larger ships and competing ports, Rye's shipping business declined, the bay was allowed to silt up for good. The town now sits about two miles inland on an estuary that provides a haven for bird-life and a channel to the sea for small boats.

Rye city gate and wall, medieval fortification As Rye's time as a trading port came to an end, so did its history as part of England's coastal defense, protecting against the French a few miles on the other side of the English Channel. Evidence of its history as one of the "Cinque Ports" (five ports along the South-East coast – where the crossing to France is at its narrowest) can be seen in the form of Rye Castle, also known as Ypres (pronounced eepr) Tower, which was built in 1249. In return for maintaining ships for the Crown's use, the Cinque Ports enjoyed many special privileges including freedom from taxes and a blind eye turned to matters of the law such as smuggling.

Rye has been a bohemian draw for artists and writers. Henry James, Joseph Conrad, E.F. Benson, and H.G. Wells are but a few of the writers who spent time in this small town. Lamb House, once home to Henry James, remains open today as a writer's house museum.

The interesting and deep history of this vibrant market town makes it a tourism magnet. Shopping along cobbled streets, exploring nearby dunes, relaxing on the beaches, enjoying fresh seafood, and absorbing the town's overall mystery and charm have made Rye a contemporary tourist destination. The Rye Museum offers more history, information, and incredible panoramic views from Ypres tower.

Picture of Rye city gate and wall by Tlorna, Depositphotos.com

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

Article by Megan Shaffer

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Summer Before the War. It originally ran in April 2016 and has been updated for the February 2017 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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