Descendant of a Huguenot family which had established a bakery in the High Street, Samuel Jeake senior (1623-1690) was Town Clerk of Rye for ten years, but his Nonconformist preaching led to his having to give up this post. He was summoned to appear before Charles II at Whitehall, where he challenged the king to bring him before the courts of law. In fact he was allowed to remain free, though exiled from Rye in London until restrictions on Dissenters were eased. He returned to Rye in 1687 and died in the year his son completed Jeake’s Storehouse.
Samuel Jeake junior was also a strict Puritan who sought God’s guidance on every little detail in his life. In danger of coming off his horse in a watery mire, he claimed later to have been directed by the Lord “to retire at once” before being thrown forward over his horse’s head, an instruction which he obeyed and so stayed dry. At the same time he was a great believer in astrology, and the moment he arrived home he cast his horoscope, finding without surprise that it showed water to be in the ascendant. At the age of 29 he made similar calculations in the choice of a wife, Elizabeth Hartshorn, at the time aged only thirteen-and-a-half, and seems to have been well content with the match.
The bride was a daughter of the headmaster of Rye Grammar School, and in her dowry brought with her the three-gabled 16th-century building on Mermaid Street later known as the Old Hospital because of service in that capacity during the Napoleonic wars. Samuel junior made his living as a wool merchant, and after consulting the crucial portents in the stars chose the most auspicious date for building a storehouse for his wool on the other side of Mermaid Street – now called Jeake`s House. A plaque high on the wall records the time and date of the foundation stone laying, together with the horoscope showing the aspects of the heavens at the time.
AT MID-DAY ON JUNE 13, 1689. THE FOUNDATION OF THIS WAREHOUSE WAS LAYED, THE HEAVENLY BODIES BEING IN THESE POSITIONS
The adjoining building, known as Quaker’s House, was sold to the Baptists in 1753, but was in such a derelict state that it was pulled down to make way for the present chapel. In 1853 Jeake’s storehouse was converted into a school by the Baptists, but in 1909 was sold on again and converted into a dwelling-house, while the chapel became St Mary’s Men’s Club.
The American poet, novelist and critic Conrad Aiken, Pulitzer Prize winner, bought Jeake’s House in 1924 and the Men’s Club in 1928. He was visited here by many famous contemporaries including T.S. Eliot, E.F.Benson (then the occupant of Lamb House just round the corner), the artist Paul Nash (who is remembered by a plaque at the top of East Street), Malcolm Lowry, and Radclyffe Hall (then also living in Rye and creating great scandals). Aiken’s first floor study in what he referred to as his “deeply cherished home” overlooked “A mile of green Romney Marsh and the blue edge of the channel.” Aiken also wrote about Jeake’s “By how many noble or beautiful or delightful spirits had it been lighted and blessed! Lighted by love, lighted by laughter, the kind of light that never goes out.” Today the combined premises, together with neighbouring Elders House, have become the property of Jenny Hadfield who undertook the mammoth task of restoring derelict parts of the buildings.
Also born in Rye was Jenny Hadfield’s father John Burke, novelist, historian, and winner of an Atlantic Award for Literature from the Rockefeller Foundation. John has had over 150 books published and provided much of the historical and topographical background for this website. Watch your local booksellers for his latest literary work.