French religious refugees first fled to Rye in Sussex (South England) soon after an Edict in 1535, banning Heretics in France. They were actively encouraged after Edward VI became King.
From 1562 Rye willingly gave shelter to large numbers of Huguenots fleeing from increasing persecution and by 1582 there were over 1500 people of French extraction living in the town. They began to take a full part in local life, with their own ministers holding services in the parish Church. In 1587 they hosted the 6th National Colloquy of the French Church in England, but later attended the English services. Many returned to France after the Edict of Nantes was passed, but some had become denizens and remained in Rye.
The present Church clock, one of the oldest turret clocks in the country still functioning, was provided in 1561, by the Huguenot Lewys Billiard.
From 1661, when Louis XIV began serious persecution of Protestants again, more Huguenots fled to Rye in large numbers. 1685 saw a further 50 Huguenot families arriving after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Many of them stayed in Rye, and some of their descendants worship in the Church to this day.
Jeake’s House originally belonged to the Huguenot Jeake family. The family’s first settler in Rye appears to have been a late 16th-century merchant, William Jeaque (a possible corruption of Jacques). His son Henry, who set up a bakery in the High Street, became the Town Clerk in the Commonwealth, and his grandson, Samuel, made his living as a merchant, using Jeake’s house as a storehouse for his wool.