The Amazing Story of a Rye Shipyard

Mrs. Pollington nee’ Jempson of Crowborough has loaned “Rye’s Own” a wonderful photo and cuttings album recording the history of one of Rye’s most famous ship building yards. There are many previously unpublished photographs recording ship building at the yard from the 1880’s to after World War Two, when the yard built ships for the Admiralty that went to war in the Pacific Ocean against the Japanese. This is just a first installment, the album opens with a brief history of the yard written in 1946.

A History of Our Yard

“Seven Hundred years ago shipwrights of Rye were building ships of Sussex Oak for the British Navy and for the Merchant Adventurers who were roaming the world seeking new lands and new treasures.

Ship Building at Rye by Connie Lindqvist
Ship Building at Rye by Connie Lindqvist

There were Rye built boats with Lord Howard and Drake when they smashed the Spanish Armada, with Blake when he chased the Dutch; with Benbow and Rodney and with Nelson at Trafalgar.

In 1945 too, with Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser’s Pacific Fleet which helped to thrash the Japanese, there were Rye boats.

These boats were 75f.t. M.F.Vs acting as fleet auxiliaries. They were built in our yard, which stands on the same site as the old shipyards, and by our craftsmen, Rye men, many of whom claim to be direct decendants of those shipwrights of 400 years ago. Their claim would be difficult to prove, but we do know that they have the hereditory skill to build a boat sound in every limb and the ability to fashion into it the character which will earn for it a reputation for being a good, stout boat, “alive”, and worthy of maintaning the tradition of Rye. It is character worth having and, because we are jealous of this reputation, in planning out peace time programme we are choseing only designs which will do justice to the skill of our craftsmen”.

Ships were built at Rye from the first recorded history of the town. 1105 – “A fine large ship from Rye” was the first mention of Rye with the name spelled as it is today. The Rye shipyards provided many ships and men for the Cinque Ports Fleet and continued to build warships for the navy into Drakes time, though, by then ships were becoming larger and were using the deep water ports of Plymouth and the West Country. Rye gradually became less important to the navy and there was a gap of 150 years from Nelson’s time until the Second World War when the Admiralty called on the town to produce six 75′ armed MFV’s for the far eastern theatre of the War. Six vessels were commissioned and delivered.

It seems amazing that in a period when the atom bomb was being developed and used there was a requirement for traditionally built oak ships.

The exciting story of the Rye Shipyard as recorded in this picture packed album will appear in the next four issues of “Rye’s Own”.

“Rye’s Own” May 2004

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