The Ypres Tower is thought to have been built in 1249 as part of the town’s defences and is the oldest building open to the public in Rye. The Tower has had a chequered history (see History of Ypres Tower) and as you look round the inside you can see some of those changes in the blocked windows and doorways.
From the balcony you can look over what was once one of the largest and most important harbours in the country. In the C16th it was England’s seventh busiest port; now there is farmland where once there was sea. There are good views from the balcony in all directions, and guides to tell you what you are seeing.
In the Tower are various exhibits. In one cell there is medieval pottery made in Rye, which was very fine in comparison with pottery of a similar date made elsewhere. This probably reflects the prosperity of the town and also the skills brought from France, when the town was part of the lands belonging to the Abbey of Fecamp in Normandy.
This is a noble and lofty tower standing at the S.E. angle of the town walls of Rye, and adjoining one of the old gates of the town. It was built by William d’Ypres, a Norman Earl of Kent, and so obtained his name. In 1245 it is mentioned as “Rye Castle.” A drawing of the old structure, taken in 1784, shows a tall square building with high round towers at the angles, one of them, which contains a spiral staircase, overtopping the others. The building formed perhaps a guard-house and watch-tower on the old walls of Rye, at a period when the sea flowed close beneath them, or if built before the town was walled, it was sufficient to shelter garrison from marauders. The common name was “Wipers Tower.” William d’Ypres was captain of mercenaries to King Stephen. (Castles Of England, Sir James D. Mackenzie, 1896)