By Chris Davson
A note of sadness tinged the annual ceremonies at Rye this year to mark the institution for the coming year for the last executive Mayor of Rye. Even the weather shed a gentle drizzle which kept the crowds of spectators to a minimum and damped the ardours of the schoolchildren patiently waiting for their chance to catch hot pennies from the windows.
Following the customary formal proceedings in the Town Hall before the full Council and an invited audience, the Mayor, Dr. Alec Vidler, the Deputy Mayor, Councillor Mrs. Elsie Philpott, and the Council were led in procession by the Mace bearers to St. Mary’s Church for a brief service conducted by the Mayor’s new Chaplain for the coming year, the Reverend K. E. Lucas. Then back to the Town Hall and the pennies started to fly. Not only the Mayor but Councillors and other distinguished guests took turns to throw the pennies. Rye children may be interested to know that these are heated beforehand on an electric ring specially provided by the Council offices for the occasion! The Deputy Mayor proposed a Toast to the Mayor and his Mayoress, Mrs. Dorothea Vidler, and wished them both a happy term of office. She expressed her gratitude for re-appointment as Deputy Mayor and reminded the company in modest terms of her long experience in and around the Town Hall. At the same time she paid tribute to the devoted work and help received from the Town Clerk and his staff. Among many distinguished visitors we saw representatives of all Rye’s churches, including Father Hill from Brede, and Rye’s Honorary Freeman, Mr. Geoffrey Bagley, and his wife. Finally, as guest of honour, and Dr. Vidler’s personal guest, we had Lord Redcliffe-Maud himself. it was as Sir John Maud, and as High Commissioner – later Ambassador – in South Africa from 1959-63 that Sir John, it is said, was responsible for introducing into Prime Minister Macmillan’s speech the celebrated phrase about the ‘Winds of Change’.
Returned to England, as Master of University College, Oxford, Sir John became Chairman of the Local Government Management Committee, and in due course of the Royal Commission on Local Government, whose recommendations have resulted, amongst many more important effects, in stripping Rye Council of all its executive powers; and for this Report he was created a Life Peer under the style by which we know him today.
In the evening the Council were hosts at the Mermaid Hotel to a banquet for the new Mayor of Rye and his Mayoress, for the Mayor and Mayoress of Bexhill, Councillor and Mrs. Harold Morgan, and for the Chairman of Battle Rural District Council, Mrs. Wilson. Following an excellent meal and speeches the tables were moved aside for dancing while the Maces kept watch from the high table. But first we heard Lord Redcliffe-Maud toast the Mayor and Corporation of Rye in a charming, gracious and erudite speech he expressed his pleasure at being present and counselled Ryers to avoid too strong a sense of nostalgia – which he detected – for the fact that this was the last time on which their own ‘chief magistrate’ would preside at this table. ‘In a sense you’re right,’ said Lord Redcliffe-Maud, but the ‘wind of change’ was blowing towards a fresh marriage of democracy and efficient government. He was quite sure that the ceremonies of Mayor-making, processions, etc. would continue and he felt that such ceremonies even when they no longer had a functional purpose were still enjoyable. For example, he himself was ‘High Bailiff and Searcher of the Sanctuary’ of Westminster Abbey. It was good that these curious survivals should continue.
Responding, the Mayor welcomed his colleagues -also about to ‘walk the plank’-from Battle and Bexhill. He particularly admired the flowers at Rye Town Hall which had been contributed as a gesture by Bexhill and which had been much appreciated. It was time for all three bodies to become friends and this was a sign. He much appreciated the honour which Lord Redcliffe-Maud had done by coming to the ceremony today. Finally the Mayor put in a plea for the revival of Rye Bowling Club. He well remembered that in the old days there had been a bowling green on the Cricket Salts and, although not himself an active sportsman, he might even be prepared to take a hand himself with the bowls if this popular sport could be revived.
Alderman Scotcher gave a trenchant and stimulating toast to the guests, and Mr. John Lester replied with a scintillating display of verbal fireworks.
Lord Redcliffe-Maud had serious advice, however, about the Council’s properties. He reminded Rye that their Ancient Charter had been neither abrogated nor suspended. it was for them to argue and indeed to fight vigorously and promptly to decide the future of the properties and open spaces which have been entrusted to their care over so many centuries and which, if proper precautions are not taken, may pass to Rother District and away from Rye’s parental care. (It seemed as if Lord Redcliffe-Maud might perhaps be referring here to such matters as the ownership and protection of the Salts.- Editor.)
Will it all happen again next year? And will it be the same? And who will pay for it? We shall see.
“Rye’s Own” July 1973
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