Tempest in a Teapot

When my daughter Bea and I were in England, I took her to the picturesque little town of Rye.


Rye was a Cinque Port, charged in 1155 by Royal Charter to provide ships for the royal navy, and rewarded with tax-exempt status and other privileges.

Rye was situated on the coast until The Great Storm of 1287 silted the harbor, and transformed the coastal port into a river port, two miles inland.

The town’s history is colorful, with smuggling, and raids by and against the French, just across the Channel. It’s also said to be the most haunted town in England. There’s the ghost of the girl who fell in love with a smuggler and was murdered by him for her indiscretion.  Turkey Cock Lane is haunted by the ghost of the monk bricked up alive behind a wall for trying to elope with a local lass. The mysterious boy wrapped in a shroud, and a pair of duelers reenacting their last fatal sword fight are just a few of the ghosts who frequent The Mermaid Inn.   So many stories!

Every house has a story.   In Rye, as with everywhere else in England, they like to give their houses a name.  White Vine House was very pretty.

On a narrow cobbled lane called Mermaid Street stands The Mermaid Inn, which dates back to 1156.

 It was remodeled in anticipation of a visit from Queen Elizabeth I.  On a previous trip, I stayed at The Mermaid in a room with a plaque on the door boasting that the Queen Mum had once spent the night in that very room.  I think I can truthfully say I have slept in the same bed, looked out the same window and, at least for a little while, sat on the same throne as Queen Elizabeth II’s mum!

The Mermaid Inn was so famous that the house across the street was known simply as “The House Opposite.”


We discovered an unusual house, with two front doors.  The owners called it, “The House With Two Front Doors.”  (Well, of course, they did!)  They even had the name painted on it in shiny gold paint.

The neighbors who lived next to The House With Two Front Doors also had a house with one distinguishing feature, a bench built into one side of the porch.  Maybe they thought the neighbors were getting too high and mighty, with their spiffy gold-painted signs and their highfalutin name.  In what seems a clear case of one downmanship, they too gave their house a name, and put up their own sign to let passersby know they were looking at “The House With the Seat.”

I want to know all the stories–big ones like The Great Storm that changed the whole coast of England overnight, compelling but heartbreaking ones like the Mary Stanford Lifeboat Disaster, in which the entire heroic rescue crew was drowned in a storm, trying to save survivors of a shipwreck who had already been saved.  Some of my favorite tales are the Tempests in the Teapots.  Those you won’t find in tour guides or history books, but you might be fortunate enough to stumble upon one.  A local told us stories about watching the filming of Cold Comfort Farm in Rye.  Afterwards we took afternoon tea in the teahouse where one scene was filmed.

Stories live all around us. Some fall into our lap like ripened fruit from a tree.  Others are hiding in nooks and crannies, waiting to be ferreted out.  Often we are left to speculate over the missing details–not unlike trying to read tea leaves in the bottom of the tea cup.  Who hid in the priest hole over the fireplace at The Mermaid Inn?  Who was left to mourn the seventeen lads lost in the Mary Stanford disaster?  Do the occupants of The House With Two Front Doors and those of The House With the Seat ever sit down together for a cup of tea?

All images and words c2013 by Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Old-fashioned.



  1. scillagrace says:

    I practiced telling Mary Hafford’s story at the living history museum today. One of the interpreters remarked, “I wonder what these immigrants would think if they knew we were telling their histories 150 years later?” Made me wonder, too. If it were me, I would just hope the listener would learn something about the joy and compassion of being a living human…and learn about their own life through that.

    1. What an interesting thought, Scilla. And what a great job you have! thank you again for bringing something extra into the conversation, as you always do!

  2. It seems the best is in the past. Beautiful post. Love, Micheline

    1. Dear Micheline,

      There certainly is an endless treasure of stories from our past, just waiting to be discovered and shared, as you so aptly do on your blog. So much human emotion packed into those stories, hope and love, tragedy and bitter tears, and so many of them stranger than fiction.

      Thank you for your visit, and for taking the time to share your thoughts.


  3. dogear6 says:

    I enjoyed the stories and pictures very much, especially the House With Two Doors and its next door neighbor.

    Your last paragraph was great – that’s exactly what stories are! One of my biggest frustrations is trying to record our family history, then someone (usually loudly and publicly) informs me that I don’t know what all happened and I got it wrong. I’ve taken to suggesting that they help write it then and not leave it up to me to do alone. Because otherwise, I do speculate to fill in the missing pieces.


    1. Dear Nancy,
      Two people can be writing down the very same incident, in which both were eye witnesses, and they would still have completely different interpretations of the events. The ones who write it down get to have their say, so you gave good advice–that they should write down their version too. And I am glad you are doing so. It is one of the greatest gifts you can give your kids. If they aren’t interested in family history right now, they probably will be, but most often when that happens, it’s too late to ask about the past from the people how ere there living it. Sometimes, too, interest skips a generation, but you are the link that will complete the chain for future generations. Good for you!

  4. Jamie Dedes says:

    I don’t think I’ve seen photographs of Rye before. They’re lovely … and I do appreciate the custom of naming a house. I enjoyed how you sumed this post.

    Naomi, you must have incredible organizational skills to be able to pull out the right photos for each post from what must be an enourmous collection.

    Beautiful! 🙂
    Thanks for the visit to Rye.

    1. Dear Jamie,

      For years I have been taking photos for the family, and for my own pleasure. I probably have 30, 000 photos on my computer, and my dear brother is helping me get a lifetime of slides and prints onto CDs so that I can draw upon them as well, without having to track one down to a box in the storage room.

      I was a late convert to digital photography, but now I don’t know how I managed without it! But one reason I only post about once a week is because it takes awhile to hunt down just the right photo to help illustrate what I want to say. Most often I respond to a challenge, which helps to narrow my focus.

      Thank you for the visit,and for taking the time to comment.

      1. Jamie Dedes says:

        Oh my. 30,000. Thee’s got to be a book or two in that! 🙂

      2. Definitely a scrapbook or two, Jamie!

      3. Jamie Dedes says:

        Haaaaaaaa! 🙂

  5. elisaruland says:

    I love the old seaside towns located throughout Europe, but this is the first I’ve learned of an oceanfront village turned riverfront. Either way, Rye looks lovely through your eyes, Naomi. I wonder, if you could name your house, what would it be? I’m stumped, and can’t think of a name for our home, but if I had make a choice tonight, it would be called Messy Heap on the Hill!

    1. Dear Elisa,

      That was the year of horrific and destructive storms. Rye wasn’t the only coastal port that suddenly found itself inland. It was luckier than some, who found themselves high and dry, without even a river to help them access the coast.

      Your question really made me laugh! I hadn’t thought of what I might call my house. I spent hours in the garden this afternoon, weeding, prepping the beds for veggies, and listening to the birds sing. If I had to choose a name today, I think I would call it “Crone’s Nest.”

  6. Naomi says:

    I love the tradition of naming houses – it seems to bring out so many stories. Love this post. Thanks.

    1. Hi Naomi,
      Thanks so much. I love that tradition too. In the hardware stores there, they have templates you can choose from, with all kinds of pretty enamel designs, and they will apply your chosen house name to it, so that you can display it on you house or gate. I have thought of doing that, but never settled on a name, or got around to it.

  7. Thank you for sharing your walk about. It was very enjoyable, and very informative.

    1. Hi Charlie,
      Thanks so much for coming along! I really appreciate the visit, and the time you took to comment.

  8. I wonder if there’s something in the water that so much mayhem has caused the place to be known for how haunted it is. Ha ha.

    1. Hi Tess,
      That’s an interesting question! People have been around so much longer over there, and the buildings have been lived in by so many more people that there is probably more of an accumulation of ghosts than we have in our relatively new settlements. But I do wonder why Rye should have more than any other ancient town in England.

  9. pattisj says:

    Picturesque is the perfect description for this area.

    1. Thank you! It was like a perfect little toy town! I read somewhere that Mermaid Street was used as the setting for the movie, Horatio Hornblower, starring Gregory Peck.

  10. rutheh says:

    Wonderful tour of an intriguing town. The two front doors is a fun shot. I enjoyed sharing your trip with your daughter through your photos. Looks like a nice place to spend time together.

    1. Thank you, Ruth. We had so much fun. We got to spend spring break there, and got to see Canterbury, Dover, Hever and Bodiam Castles. Next time I would love to take her to Shaftesbury, where my novel is set, and show her the actual places and landmarks I wrote about in that book.

  11. Pat says:

    This is a great post, Naomi. Wonderful pictures with great stories to support them. Thanks for taking me along.

  12. Hi Pat,
    Thank you! I am always so happy when you can coma along for the ride! I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

  13. Amy says:

    Beautiful post, Naomi. The town looks so poetic through your lens. Great stories.

    1. Thank you, Amy. I really appreciate your stoping by, and taking the time to comment.

  14. ShimonZ says:

    Ah, the marvelous stories of history. And what an inspiration it must be, for a story teller like yourself. I loved the post… and would enjoy it even more, having the opportunity to drink tea in a nice, comfortable room, and hear you go on with the stories, filling in those little details…

    1. Dear Shimon,
      Thank you so much. I am passionate about history, and all the stories it has to offer, whether I have to dig for them, or they are out in the open, ready to be heard, learned, read. I would love to sit down with you over a cup of tea, and hear some of your stories.

  15. janna hill says:

    Thank you so much for this mini (mind) vacation Naomi.

    1. Dear Janna,
      I’m so glad you could come!

  16. restlessjo says:

    Such a pretty little town, Naomi, and did my eyes deceive me but wasn’t that blue skies behind the Mermaid Inn? In England! So much history in that part of the world, and you tell it so well. 🙂

    1. It was a beautiful sunny day, which was a pleasant surprise. I think of their weather as very similar to that of Seattle’s–often wet and gray and temperate. But we are having a warm sunny day here in Seattle, so it can happen! Thanks so much for your visit, Jo, and for another infusion of positive energy! It is always a treat when you stop by.

  17. I want to go to there!

    Thanks for all of the great info and for bringing Rye to life for those of us who haven’t been.

    1. Thanks for coming along for the ride!

  18. Sarah Raplee says:

    Beautiful photos and I really enjoyed learning a bit of history. What a wonderful trip!

    I agree that stories are all around us. I love finding out the small bits of history in local museums, too.

    Enjoyed your post.

    1. Dear Sarah,
      We saw a couple of little museums in Rye. At the visitors’ center, we watched a “sound and light show,” in which the history of the town was narrated while spotlights highlighted a model of the town. Ypers Tower is a castle that was used as a jail and, for many years, as the town mortuary. As you can imagine, it too is said to be haunted.
      Thanks so much for your visit, and for taking the time to comment.

  19. And that’s what makes you such a compelling storytelling and writer – that thirst to know what’s behind each facade.

    1. Dear Cathryn,
      Thank you so much for your visit. It takes one to know one! I don’t know anyone else who can find enough heartwarming stories to maintain four inspiring blogs all at once!

  20. viveka says:

    Thanks for bringing back all nice walks and great lunches .. in Rye, when I lived in Brighton … I often spent a free day in Rye, Such a lovely and beautiful post, where time stand still … it was like you had walked in my footsteps – or me walking in yours. Love and enjoyed this so much.

    1. Thank you so much for your visit, and sharing your thoughts and your story. It is a very fun place to take a day, and follow your nose. There is something interesting around every corner!

  21. Roy McCarthy says:

    Lovely post Naomi. England has so many stories to tell and you have told this one so well, and with such compelling pictures. I’ve never been to Rye – or heard much about it – but next time I’m in that neck of the woods I’m there for sure. A pint or three at the Standard Inn and a night at the Mermaid Inn, wooo!

    1. Oh, Yesssss!!!!! Thanks so much for the visit, Roy, and for taking the time to comment.

  22. My Tropical Home says:

    Loved the stories behind the stories! And the photos too. Enjoy your weekend!

    1. Dear Mary,
      Thanks so much for your visit. I hope you and the kids had a good weekend! Give them a hug for me.

  23. Rye is 31 miles east along the coast from where I live! And my husband has run two workshops for the Royal School of Church Music in Rye parish church. I love the cobbled streets and the olde worlde feel about the place. Didn’t know about the house with two front doors, thought. Rye is so quaint and, in may ways, stuck in a time-warp (in a positive sense of the word).

    There is a history of smuggling attached to my parish church, too, with a smuggler’s door leading from the local pub through to the Old Parsonage. I adore history, myths, legends, and haunted houses.

    1. Dear Sarah,
      Wow! You live in such a beautiful area. I guess that whole coast was a smuggler’s paradise. It was actually pretty ‘Watch the Wall My Darling’ scary, and there are a lot of grim stories. I’m with you, though–history, myths, legends, and haunted houses all hold a fascination for me. And you live right in the midst of an incredibly rich storied land.

  24. Laurel Leigh says:

    Hi Naomi!
    Thanks for the armchair tour to Rye. I love the house with two front doors. It’s like a Neil Gaimon story is just waiting there.

    1. Dear Laurel Leigh,
      Thanks for coming along. There is definitely a story there!

  25. rabirius says:

    Looks like and interesting place to visit.

    1. It is so quaint and pretty that you wouldn’t even have to know a bit of its history to enjoy it, but it does make it so much more interesting.

  26. Stunning photos. I enjoyed the tour!

    1. Thank you so much! I appreciate your visit.

  27. nutsfortreasure says:

    Wonderful and so is the award I have over here for you 🙂

    1. Dear Eunice,
      Thank you so much! I am honored. I loved what you said about it in your post. It has stayed with me.

      1. nutsfortreasure says:

        🙂 Wonderful as I always say what I mean and mean what I say HUGS

  28. Kourtney Heintz says:

    Gorgeous photos. I feel like I just took a nice walking tour through Rye. 🙂

    1. Hi Kourtney,
      Thanks so much for stopping by, and for taking the time to comment. Hey congratulations again for your great news!

  29. diannegray says:

    I love these pictures and the story of Rye, Naomi. Thank you for taking me on this tour! 😀

    1. Hi Dianne,
      Thanks so much for coming along! I appreciate your visit, and your taking the time to comment.

  30. Jo Danehy says:

    Thanks for sharing Naomi. I loved the photo’s and will remember “Rye” to visit if I ever go to England.

    1. Hi Jo,
      I hope you do get there one day. Thank you so much for stopping by and taking the time to lave a comment.

  31. yogaleigh says:

    Your photos are so good! Looks like such a charming place.

    1. Thank you! I appreciate your visit, and the generous comment. (I have a sister named Lee, and her handle is leecarlsonyoga.)

  32. frizztext says:

    “…Stories live all around us. Some fall into our lap like ripened fruit from a tree. Others are hiding in nooks and crannies, waiting to be ferreted out. Often we are left to speculate over the missing details–not unlike trying to read tea leaves in the bottom of the tea cup. Who hid in the priest hole over the fireplace at The Mermaid Inn?”

    1. Thank you for the visit, Frizz. So nice to hear from you.

  33. Madhu says:

    A delightful post Naomi, about what seems to be a charming place. Those fascinating stories are what I love most about travel and you excel in their telling 🙂

    1. Thank you, Madhu. I love to visit a pretty town, but it is really the stories that help make a place memorable and meaningful to me. It was one of the things that first drew me to your blog. I loved the stunning photography, but you also include history and personal stories and background to give the photos meaning. Thanks for your visit, and for taking the time for your very sweet comment.

  34. Laurel Leigh says:

    Reblogged this on Dear Writers and commented:
    Dear Writers:
    A little while ago I came upon Naomi Baltuck’s blog, Writing Between the Lines. She tells amazing stories with photos and words and I’ve been meaning to reblog her but have had a hard time picking which one to use! Tempest in a Teapot features a house with two front doors that is delightfully Neil Gaimon-esque, so this is the one I chose. I also love her pics of Manhatten and Mexico. Be forewarned, you could get lost in this blog for a while! XO Laurel Leigh

    1. Dear Laurel Leigh,
      Thanks so much for the re-blog, and for your very kind response!

      1. Laurel Leigh says:

        My pleasure. Your blog certainly brings me a lot of enjoyment and inspiration, so I hope even more people come to visit your site.

  35. Love Rye and everything about it. My wife wants to see London this Summer. I need to keep in touch for a list of awesome places to go. Her cousin will be tour guide but you have your family has an adventurous spirit and I bet all places you went were beautiful.

    1. Oh, a trip to London would be so exciting, and there are all kinds of say trips you can take from London. I would be happy to share suggestions about places to go, either in London or outside the city. I am sure whatever she does, she will have a wonderful time. I hope she can visit Hever Castle, Bodiam Castle, and Canterbury. Rye is beautiful, and the White Cliffs near Beachy Head are impressive. Battle is steeped with history. She could stay a year, and never run out of things to do, and to marvel at!

  36. adinparadise says:

    What a quaint and lovely town. Your photos are beautiful, and the history very interesting. I love “The house opposite” story. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much. I too love those little quirky stories as much as the great big ones.

  37. sue says:

    All of the questions that you have about the stories you heard … can become new stories in your mind! Spin them and write and let us read!

    1. Dear Sue,
      I love speculating! So many of the stories start out with simple observations, but when you through a little ‘what if’ into the pot…
      Thanks so much for visiting. I love to hear from you. Probably time for us to sit down for a cup of tea!

  38. yaisage says:

    I know Rye! Last time I visited England, I was trying to get from my aunt’s place in Hastings back to my home town, Deal. Halfway there, the train stopped – they were having a “slowdown strike”. Rather than sit for a couple of hours, I got off the train, found a phone and called my cousin in Deal – “Help!” She told me to walk to Rye and wait by the river, and someone would come to pick me up. I was early enough to look around Rye a bit, then I went to the river and waited until a bread delivery van stopped and the driver asked, “Are you the cousin from America? I can take you to Deal.” Apparently he picked up bread from a bakery in Rye (rye bread?) for his shop in Deal. So I arrived home in dubious grandeur, smelling very yeasty.

    Deal is lower than the sea and losing its beach as years go by. The next town to the east of us is Sandwich (yes, that’s where the Earl of Sandwich invented our favorite snack). It used to be on the coast but is now five miles inland.

    I have a book called “Smuggling in Kent and Sussex 1700-1840.” If you would like it, I could mail it to you? It’s full of stories about the smuggling era and includes a picture of the Mermaid Inn in Rye. Our house in Deal was one of those with an entrance to the tunnel system through which smuggled goods were brought inland.

  39. Wow, Anne!
    That is so cool! I love your story about the bread truck. What a wonderful place to be stranded! You are a lucky duck to have a cousin over there that you are still in touch with. Did you get to go into the tunnel in your cousin’s house? I would love to read the book about smugglers in that area, but don’t mail it–I’d love to come and pick it up and take you out to lunch. I’ll e-mail you about a date. Thanks so much for sharing your story! I hope to see you soon.

  40. I have Lived in England for 5 years but have not heard of Rye. What a great post to introduce its charm and history! Looking forward to reading more of your travels. Warm wishes from simple cherishes!

  41. Beautiful photos! I really want to go to England.

  42. I have fond memories of visiting Rye with you and Con. I am reading a novel that takes place in the town of Rye at the beginning of World War I. It’s called The Summer Before the War. It made me think of our visit there. I’d love to go again!

    1. Hi Lee,
      I’d love to as well. Those were a couple of very fine very fun trips. I was just looking at them a few days ago, and was enjoying some reminiscing too.

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