The Mermaid Inn is a grade II listed building in Rye, East Sussex. Its cellars are thought to date as far back as the 11th century. However, the main structure dates from the 16th century. Many famous names have been associated with the Inn down the years. Queen Elizabeth 1st was said to have dined there, also Her Majesty the Queen Mother when she was named as the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports during her visit to Rye in 1982. Many famous writers and actors have also been associated with the Mermaid, including Dame Ellen Terry and Rupert Brooke.
Nevertheless, the Inn has had a long and chequered history having harboured many unsavoury characters; most notably the nefarious Hawkhurst Gang who virtually ran the premises in the 1730s and 1740s. These were a highly organised band of smugglers whose territory stretched from Kent to as far away as Dorset.
Their central base of operations was the Oak and Ivy Tavern in Hawkhurst, Kent, but the Mermaid was an ideal secondary base due to its proximity to the Sussex coast.
The Mermaid is believed to be haunted by at least five different spirits, which probably qualifies it as being the most haunted inn in the whole of England. Both staff and guests have recounted their ghostly experiences in absolute earnest. It is, however, hard to say which is the most terrifying account of paranormal activity; certainly the most dramatic involved the spirits of two men having a duel in Room 16.
A lady guest awoke in the night to hear the clashing of steel and saw two men, in doublet and hose, fighting each other. She then woke her husband who also witnessed the ghostly combatants. As their swords clashed, one man seemed to drive the other into a far corner of the room, whereupon he thrust his sword through the man. In that instant, the two men disappeared through the wall.
Possibly the most disturbing paranormal event involved members of staff taking part in a séance. Although they were all willing, they also remained highly sceptical. The gentleman conducting the séance warned them that as things progressed his face would begin change. This induced further scepticism and seemed almost ludicrous. However, things soon took on a different turn. Within a matter of minutes his face began to distort and appear to grow much larger on one side. The staff looked on in amazement. As he began communicating with a spirit in one corner of the room, he asked each member of staff to approach the area. As they did so they all noticed an extreme drop in temperature. They were then instructed to reach out and put their arm through into where the spirit was said to be. What happened next astounded each member of staff beyond belief. As they stretched out their arms each watched in amazement to see the lower part of their arm literally disappear.
It is often thought that spirits remain trapped twixt this life and the next due to a sentimental attachment to place that they have loved during their lifetime. Room 17 may well have harboured one such spirit with a fondness for the comfort of an old chair.
The room is named ‘Kingsmill’ after Thomas Kingsmill, a Hawkhurst smuggler who inhabited the inn. The room was believed to have been haunted by the wife of Thomas Grey, a member of his notorious gang. Her spirit was said to favour an old rocking chair in one corner of the room, which, for some inexplicable reason, would begin rocking during the night. An icy coldness was also said to permeate the room. The incessant rocking disturbed so many guests that the chair eventually had to be removed.
Guests at the Mermaid still continue to report strange and unexplained goings on, including bizarre flashes of light and, in one instance, the dramatic appearance of a gentleman, in old fashioned attire, sitting at theend of a guest’s bed. Employees have also been subject to mysterious occurrences. One member of staff was tending the fire when all the bottles from the shelf opposite suddenly crashed to the floor. So disturbed was he by the incident that he resigned there and then.
Judith Blincow, who owns the inn and has worked there since 1980, states, “Although I have not personally seen ghosts, I certainly have met some very convinced and frightened guests.”