DAVID ARNOLD - When Ypres Tower was Rye’s mortuary

Ypres Tower in Rye. Locals often refer to it as 'Wipers' Tower.
Ypres Tower in Rye. Locals often refer to it as 'Wipers' Tower.

Nobody knows for sure when this impressive fortification in the attractive port of Rye was built though the likelihood is that it was constructed at the same time as the town walls and gates in the late 14th century.

The original name for the edifice was Baddings (or Baddyngs) Tower. In 1430 it was leased to minor nobleman John de Ypres who wanted to live in it as his private home. Townsfolk later took to calling it Ypres Tower and the name stuck.

In the late 15th century the building became the town’s prison and for the next 330 years the Sergeant-at-Mace assumed the post of Gaoler.

Upkeep of Ypres Tower wasn’t always a priority and at one time the town authorities considered having it demolished, such had been the cumulative effect of neglect. Prisoners were held in the building until 1891.

The lower floor became a mortuary, albeit an untidy one, a situation that caused former Mayor John Neve Masters to write to the Town Clerk in 1895: “Whose business is it to keep the Mortuary clean? I found this morning that it had never been cleaned out since use. The table is dirty and stinking. Fish are lying about.” This protest notwithstanding, the Ypres Tower remained a Mortuary until 1959. Incidentally, the inhabitants of Rye were in the habit of calling it the “Wipers” Tower long before British soldiers in the Great War gave the name of the Belgium city of Ypres the same pronunciation.