The Mermaid Inn – Rye, England - Atlas Obscura

The Mermaid Inn

This centuries-old hotel hides a network of secret cellars and passages once used by smugglers.  


Established in the quaint town of Rye in the 12th century, the Mermaid Inn was a popular alehouse among sailors during the Middle Ages, offering good drinks and lodging. It underwent rebuilding and renovation in the 1420s and the 16th century, and at some point its neighborhood was named Mermaid Street after it.

In the first half of the 18th century, the notorious Hawkhurst Gang of smugglers used the inn as a secondary base of operation. Their presence still remains, as there are many hidden cellars, tunnels, and passageways on the premises, one of them even leading to The Old Bell Inn on another street. In local legends, these are thought to form the gang’s secret network, although in reality most of them were simply used for storage of stolen or illegal goods.

The inn stopped operating as a lodge by 1770, and it was not until 1993, when the current owner purchased the building, that it became the Mermaid Inn once again and its function as a hotel resumed. Today, it has 31 rooms, some of which feature four-poster beds and antique furniture, and its AA Rosette-winning restaurant serves traditional British and French cuisine made from fresh, local ingredients.

Throughout its long history, the Mermaid Inn has been visited by and welcomed many notable people, including Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Andy Garcia, Pierce Brosnan, Charlie Chaplin, Lord Alfred Douglas, Ellen Terry, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, and even Elizabeth I. Part of the 1983 film Yellowbeard was filmed here as well.

The inn is widely known for its status as a haunted hotel, too, at least five of the rooms having spooky stories of their own. A lady in white has been seen sitting beside the fireplace in the James Room, the Kingsmill Room’s now-removed chair would often rock independently, and the spirits of Hawkhurst smugglers are said to roam through the premises at night. While the current owner has not experienced any ghostly phenomena herself, she claims to have met quite a few guests frightened by something they had seen in their rooms.

Know Before You Go

You can book a room or a table on the hotel's website.

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January 21, 2020

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