Friday, July 4, 2008

Rye, Sussex

Henry James, Rye’s most famous resident, was an American novelist in exile who observed his countrymen and his English neighbours with acuity and who set down his observations in increasingly convoluted prose. In one of his essays he hinted that his adopted town, clustered around a church on a rocky outcrop, was like ‘a miniature Mont-Saint-Michel’. Well, Rye is not quite as dramatic as the looming island monastery of Brittany, and perhaps James was giving in to his love of elaboration – and to the tendency, so frequent once in writing about England, to compare the country’s beauties to more famous places in France or Italy. But James was right to draw attention to the way Rye dominates the neighbouring marshes from its rock, and the church and tower act as a focus for the town’s upward-looking form.

So, to celebrate the church, here is a picture of the clock at the top of the tower. The figures are the ‘Quarter Boys’, plump gilded putti who strike their bells on the quarters. This ornate timepiece is in a way typical of the town, many of whose buildings boast that extra flourish that lifts them beyond the ordinary – a balcony with white-painted railings, perhaps, an ornate bay window, or a carefully patterned bit of tile-hanging. It’s also, I hope, typical of this blog, which for about a year now has tried to showcase some of the telling details I’ve encountered on English buildings.


Peter Ashley said...

I always poke my nose in when passing Rye church, just to see the huge clock pendulum swinging in the air underneath the tower. Shades of Edgar Allan Poe in sunny Sussex.

Peter Ashley said...

And Happy Birthday to the English Buildings Blog, one of the more enlightening places to visit on the intraweb.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you for your kind comments. I meant to mention the pendulum, but it slipped my mind.