1956 - 1961
I would like to know who John Cheston is.
Genteel it may be, but the village of Rye delights in its grimy past, writes Richard Tulloch.Four hundred years ago, John Cheston decided to demolish his house overlooking the cemetery of the Rye Parish Church of St Mary. He'd just removed the first roof tiles when a cry came from the burghers below: "Desist, thou scurvy varlet! [Or words to that effect.] Thou despoileth our streetscape and wrecketh our potential tourism industry."The city fathers invoked a 1606 heritage law, thus sparing Mr Cheston's house and securing Rye's future as a centre for artists, writers, musicians and miscellaneous bohemians. It has become a perfect location for filming British costume dramas and is a very popular short trip destination from London.Rye claims to be England's best-preserved village and who am I to argue, not having seen the other contenders. The Ryers (or "Mud Heads" as they're uncharitably known in the rest of Sussex) have been particularly sensitive about building conservation since 1377, when some rowdy Frenchmen cruised across the English Channel, literally set the town alight and nicked the church bells as souvenirs. A heavily armed delegation paid France a return visit and brought the bells back. Rye was restored to its former glory and now boasts more historic buildings than any town in Britain.The village is almost too cute to be true. An elegant white windmill neatly balances the cluster of black wooden huts where fishermen used to hang their nets. Steep, narrow streets wind between houses with the Tudor timber frames and slate roofs we tourists love. The battlements of Ypres Tower and Landgate Arch and the aforementioned St Mary's church are striking remnants of the town's medieval past.Rye was once a major harbour for warships, an important member of the Cinque Ports, and was given the title "Rye Royale" by Elizabeth I. But eventually the sea gave up the battle against the silt and beat a retreat. Now at low tide, small fishing boats lie on their sides in a muddy channel while sheep graze on the Romney Marsh between Rye and the nearest beach, several kilometres away.
I was always told that "John Cheston" was the name of a great Cathedral bell. I presume from Westminster or some great cathedral, and that there was a tradition of bells being named after church patrons who paid to have them made. I was told that in the 1970s by a grad school music teacher.
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