Rye House has had a varied and vibrant history. Habitation of the area can be traced back as far as Saxon times and there being a settlement on the site known then as ‘atter eye’ Saxon for ‘at the island’.
It is most noted for the construction of a fortified manor house on ‘the Island of Rye’ by Sir Andrew Ogard an ex-patriot Dane in 1443. It is one of the first buildings constructed using brick in this country and the house formed the hub of what was a large estate for its time. Rye House is also known as one of the finest medieval moated sites in Hertfordshire and is a Grade I listed building.
Inside the building there is a staffed information point and visitors can discover the history of the Gatehouse through various displays. There is also a a winding staircase which takes you to a viewing platform where you can take a close look at a fine example of a “Barley Sugar Twist” chimney, along with views looking over the Lee and Stort valleys.
The remains of this castellated mansion are near Hoddesdon on the left bank of the river Lea—the old name of which was the Ware—distant eighteen miles from London. Henry VI. granted a licence to Andrew Ogard and others to impark the manor of Rye, and to erect a castle with loopholes and battlements. The manor was also called the Isle of Rye, from its being constantly flooded by the river. Ogard died in 1454, and the property passed from his family (temp. Henry VIII.) to Sir Edward Baesch, Kt., by whom it was afterwards sold to Edmund Field, and in that family it has continued to almost the present day.
The chief, if not the only, interest attaching to this residence is its connection with the Rye House Plot, formed in 1683 for the assassination of King Charles II. and his brother, the Duke of York, on their road from Newmarket to London. The isolated situation of the house, half a mile distant as it was, from any others, and standing on a narrow by-road from Bishops Stortford to Hoddesdon, constantly used by Charles on his journeys to and from Newmarket, together with the defensible nature of the buildings, made this Rye House a convenient and suitable place for the villany proposed.
It was tenanted by one Richard Rumbold, formerly an officer of Cromwell’s own regiment, who had fought at Dunbar and Worcester, and at that time a maltster and a sturdy Republican, who was stated by the king’s evidence to be the prime mover of the plot. This was alleged to be as follows : Forty or fifty well-armed men were to be distributed inside the walls and malthouse alongside the lane, and under the hedge opposite ; some of these were to fire on the postillion and at the horses with their blunderbusses, and the bulk of them were to attack the escort of soldiers guarding the royal coach, while certain men were detailed to fire into the carriage. The narrow lane leading to a bridge over the river, with a hedge and fence on one side and the long range of granaries and stables on the other, was to be blocked by an overturned cart, while the garden and other walls had holes and windows from which a number of men might fire in safety. The conspiracy leaked out, and an accidental fire at Newmarket causing the King’s return at an earlier hour than was expected, disconcerted the conspirators and prevented the execution of the plot, which otherwise would probably have been successful. The discovery of the alleged plot was used by Charles as a ground for attacking his Whig enemies, and was soon followed by the trial and execution of Russell and Sidney, “in defiance of law and justice,” while some politicians were sent to the gallows, and many quitted the country. Among the latter was Rumbold, who, two years later, accompanied the Earl of Argyle in his unfortunate expedition to Scotland, where, being taken prisoner in an attempt to cut through a body of militia sent to capture him, was carried, mortally wounded, to Edinburgh, and was there within a few hours, hastily tried, convicted, and sentenced to be hanged and quartered.
The Rye House was a square brick building with an inner courtyard and a large hall. It was mostly pulled down early in the last century, and only the gatehouse remains, a red brick structure with a Tudor arch over the entrance, showing the Ogard arms still. There is a watch turret on the summit. For many years this building was used as a workhouse, but of late years it has been kept as a show and a place of entertainment for the London East-enders. It contains some old oak and some ancient furniture, among which is the Great Bed of Ware, spoken of by Shakespeare, removed from the Saracen’s Head at Ware. The malthouses of Rumbold have been turned into refreshment rooms. (Castles Of England, Sir James D. Mackenzie, 1896)