Designed by Andrews Jelfe and built in 1742, the present Rye Town Hall is the third known to have existed on the Market Street site (the first of which was burned to the ground by the French in 1377). It is a Grade II* Listed Building and is, therefore, in the top 4% of Listed Buildings in the country. Additionally, it is located within the Rye Conservation Area and is situated in a sensitive location adjacent to a Grade I Listed Building, St Mary’s Church – the bell tower of which can be seen from all approaches to the town.
Rye Town Hall is considered to be Andrews Jelfe’s most important work as an architect. Unusually, his original scale model of the Town Hall survives to this day in the Town Hall attic – a fascinating space housing a range of historic artefacts and curios including the Rye Pillory and renowned Rye Gibbet Cage.
The Rye Pillory was last used in 1813 when a publican was put in it for aiding the escape of General Philippon, a French prisoner of war. The pillory was placed on the beach, and the face of the culprit, when undergoing punishment, turned to the coast of France.
The Rye Gibbet Cage contains the remains of John Breads, a local butcher who was executed and hanged in chains for the murder of Allen Grebell (the Deputy Mayor) in St Mary’s churchyard in 1742. The murderer’s body was exposed in the cage for many years on Gibbet Marsh, the remainder of the bones being removed by animals or piecemeal by superstitious persons in the belief that the drinking of their infusion in water was a cure for rheumatism.
The case of John Breads has a unique place in English legal history: his trial was presided over by the Mayor of Rye – the very man John Breads had actually intended to murder in the churchyard!
Nowadays Rye Town Hall provides modest office accommodation for Council staff and is used for Council meetings, weddings and other ceremonies, and by organisations for meetings and fundraising events.