21 July 2015

Lost in time and place on
a walk by rivers and canals

Enjoying the boats and barges at the moorings by the Rye House in the Lee Valley (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015; click image to enlarge)

Patrick Comerford

Between the meeting of the trustees of the Anglican mission agency Us (USPG, the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) on Monday morning [20 July 2015] and the opening of the annual conference late in the afternoon, I decided to go for a walk in the countryside and in the Lee Valley.

I thought I was going to walk along the banks of canals and rivers and end up at Dobb’s Weir, where the Fish and Eels is a country pub in the Vintage Inn chain, with views out onto the river, the weir and the canal locks.

However, I forgot to take my map with me, took a wrong turn, and ended up on a smaller canal bank that eventually led to me to Rye House on the northern edges of Hoddesdon.

The gatehouse is all that survives of the 15th century Rye House, on the edges of Hoddesdon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

I knew of the story of the Rye House plot, but had never visited Rye House until I took the wrong turn, at the wrong journey on my afternoon walk.

Rye House was once an extensive building that stood for about 450 years, but all that stands today is the a gatehouse, which is a Grade I listed building.

Rye House was first built by Andres Pedersen, a Danish soldier who took part in the Hundred Years’ War. He moved to England in 1433, and eventually became Sir Andrew Ogard.

In 1443, he was allowed to impark part of the Manor of Rye, the area then called the Isle of Rye, in the parish of Stanstead Abbots, and was given a licence to crenellate what became Rye House. Over 50 types of moulded brick were used in building Rye House.

In 1517 William Parr was living at Rye House. After the death of their father, Rye House became the main family home of the Parr family, including Catherine Parr, who later married Henry VIII, and her sister, Anne Parr, until 1531. By 1577, it belonged to Frankland family, who sold it to the Baeshe family in 1619.

The house was bought by the Feilde family in 1676, when Edmund Feilde was MP for Hertford MP.

In 1683, Richard Rumbold was the tenant of Rye House when it became the setting of the Rye House Plot to murder King Charles II, and he was one of the accused conspirators.

The Rye House Plot was a plan to assassinate King Charles II and his brother the Duke of York, later King James II. The plotters were tried in in a series of trials, and there was a brutal state response.

After the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, some former republicans and MPs, feared Charles II’s links with Catholic France were too close. And anti-Catholic fears began to spread, stoked by the heir’s conversion in 1673, and rumours of plots and conspiracies abounded.

At the time, the tenant of Rye House was Richard Rumbold, a republican and Civil War veteran. The plan was to conceal a force of men in the grounds of Rye House and to ambush King Charles and the Duke of York on their way back to London from the horse races at Newmarket.

The royal party was expected to make the journey on 1 April 1683. However, a major fire on 22 March destroyed half the town of Newmarket, the races were cancelled, and the royal party returned early to London.

The gatehouse of Rye House … but did the plot ever exist? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Although the planned attack never took place, the plot was uncovered the suspected conspirators were rounded up. Twelve conspirators were executed – some were hanged, drawn and quartered, some were hanged, two were beheaded and one was burnt at the stake. Two were sentenced to death but later pardoned, 11 were imprisoned, nine were exiled or fled to the Netherlands or Holland, one escaped from the Tower of London, one cut his throat in the Tower, and many more were implicated. The final trial was that of Charles Bateman, who was hanged, drawn and quartered in 1685.

Many historians suggest the story of the plot may have been largely manufactured by King Charles or his supporters to allow the removal of most of his strongest political opponents. Popular reaction to the vengeful excesses in its suppression later contributed to Williamite Rebellion of 1688.

By the second half of 18th century, Rye House was falling into decay, and by 1795 some of this brickwork had gone. All that was left standing was the gatehouse.

By 1834, the gatehouse had become a workhouse. Later, Henry Teale (1806-1876) developed the site into a tourist attraction, after he bought the gatehouse and 50 acres in 1864, and the features he developed included a maze and a bowling green. But in 1885, an affray broke out between Catholics and Orangemen visiting Rye House, and it led to questions being raised in the House of Commons.

The site was cleared and the gatehouse restored in the 20th century for Lee Valley Park. The gatehouse has been used as a museum and is supposed to be open in summer days, although it was under lock and key when I arrived on Monday afternoon.

The 15th century brickwork on the gatehouse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The gatehouse is a tall, two-storey rectangular block standing on the inner edge of the moat. It dates from the 15th century, is built in red brick in English-bond with some diaper ornament in the black headers, and has carved stonework to the string courses and the main entrance and a crenellated parapet to the roof.

A hollow moulded stone string course runs around the building at the base of the parapet and is decorated with grotesque heads at intervals. A similar string runs around the top of the stair-turret with a head at each corner.

The corbelled first floor chimney rises above the parapet in a tall composite barley-sugar shaft with a moulded cap and base.

The gatehouse has been described as “an example of mediaeval bling” – part of a structure designed to project power, prestige and wealth.

Rye House … the public house may date back to 1443 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Rye House has given its name to a local pub beside the gatehouse, at the Rye House Quay on the River Lee. It was a delightful spot to linger awhile with a glass of white wine in the afternoon sun in the large garden with adjacent mooring spaces, watching the boats pass by on the river.

A glass of wine by the river at Rye House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The Rye House was recently refurbished but claims to date back to 1443. Certainly it was there in 1600, when it was known as the Kings Arms. It was still known as the King’s Arms in 1845, perhaps an allusion to Charles II and the Rye House plot.

The pub was renamed the Rye House by 1851, and in the 1850s and 1860s, it was known at times as the Rye House Tavern, and other times, until at least 1929, it was even called the Rye House Hotel.

From Rye House, I decided to find my original bearings and make my way back along the banks of the canal and the River Stort to see if I could find my way to Dobb’s Weir or to Broxbourne.

I followed the signposts and the footpaths, but still lost track of which side of the river I was on, whether I had crossed the Meridian, or whether I was in Essex or Hertfordshire.

Boats on the Lea Valley in the afternoon sunshine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Pleasure boats and barges passed me by, and I passed moored barges at Feilde’s Weir and boats waiting to get though the lock before I eventually arrived at Dobb’s Weir.

The Fish and Eels at Dobb’s Weir … the innkeeper was once a former workhouse chaplain (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The Fish and Eels has decking and a balcony facing onto the waterfront. The pub, which is part of the Vintage Inn chain, claims to date back to at least the 17th century when it was known by Izaak Walton. In the 1800s, it was owned by the Christie family brewery who used it to sell Christy's Hoddesdon-brewed ales.

Landlords of this riverside inn in the past include the Revd Samuel Thackery who became an innkeeper in 1906 after he had been dismissed as the chaplain of a workhouse and sought and failed to convert it into a temperance house.

Time was moving on, however, and I resisted the temptation to spend another little while by the river. I had walked over 12 km by the time I got back at High Leigh in time for coffee before the conference opened.

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