I was intrigued to read last week’s missive about St Mary’s Rye Clock from my good colleague Richard Comotto of Winchelsea. His speculations have caused much vexation here in the Antient Town.
Is the Rye clock the one purchased in 1388 by survivors of the great plague in our neighbouring town? In their wretched state in 1560/61 and prior to the demolition of parts of their church in the 1570s, was the clock sold on with other town chattels by the Rector and Jurats of Winchelsea? What part did the wily Huguenot Lewys Billiard play? Did he make a new clock for Rye as some report or just fit a second hand one from Winchelsea? What does the £30 bill suggest?
What does all this mean for a claim for our famous clock to go to St Thomas the Martyr to ring bells across the surviving 21 quarters of Winchelsea? Will those in Rookery Lane ever look up to see quarter boys, or, in a spirit of new diversity, boys and girls, striking above them? Alas there are no answers to these questions, but one might speculate about much bigger issues.
Will global warming see water rise to former levels, thereby restoring Winchelsea to its earlier glory as a wealthy port? Will the same inundations maroon Rye and result in the sort of corporate poverty experienced by the good burghers of Winchelsea in the 16 century? Will Ryers and incomers alike ever be tempted to sell off their famous chattels?
We just do not know, but until that time, as one of the guardians of our famous clock, I pledge to meet, upon some future arrangement, any citizen of Winchelsea and to climb the giant tower of St Mary’s Church, shoulder to shoulder as we did in 1378, during the joint venture to take back our bells from the French. On arrival in the bell ringers’ chamber, we will sip on a goblet of fine Gascon wine, drawn freshly from a cellar in Winchelsea. We will recall all our joint endeavours from 1588 to 1940 while gazing with awe and wonder on the refurbished medieval mechanism. In great comradeship, we will put aside any niggling disputes and ponder together on what might have been, once upon a time………….
Col: Anthony Kimber, of the Ancient League of Friends of St Mary’s Church,