Jo’s Monday Walk: Smallhythe Place

This week for Jo’s Monday Walk we are visiting Smallhythe Place near Tenterden, Kent.

Walking Down the Road

Smallhythe Place, the home of Ellen Terry, is located on a rural road. Coming from a narrow, graveled, country lane from the Bullein Barn B&B, Smallhythe Place was at the end of it. Everyday we were amazed at all the cars parked here and the visitors going to the cottage. It was so convenient we thought we would save it to the end of our stay and walk there!  This is not a big estate like some of the other National Trust properties we toured. This was a smallish house sitting on a smallish property. When we did visit, what a delight it was! As with all the National Trust properties, the hosts of this property made you feel so very welcome and were so knowledgable! I did not know a thing about Ellen Terry!  First, let’s look at her cottage which is surrounded by flowers! The cottage, which you can also tour, is now a memorial to her.

One day, in 1899, Ellen Terry, the actress, was out for a buggy ride in the country (this is well away from London) with Henry Irving, (the manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London’s Covent Garden), who was also her theatrical partner for twenty-four years. Upon seeing a cottage at the side of the small lane near Tenterden, she made up her mind that this was where she wanted to live and die. So, she bought the place. She lived there until her death in 1928. The half timbered house was built in the late 15th or early 16th century. The house was originally a “Priest House” and then called the “Port House,” because of its location on the River Rother, which is now just a trickle along the side of the house. At one time this place was a thriving shipyard, the Old English word “hythe” means “landing place.” It is far off the beaten track, even now. She definitely wanted her peace and quiet, away from the crowds!

Ellen Terry As Lady MacBeth

The cottage leans a tad!

Smallhythe Place , Tenterten, UK

The Grounds around her cottage……..

Around the Back

The back door……….

The Old Gray Door

Going in…….

Inside the Cottage

My favorite was the hooked rug……..

Inside the Cottage

We get a view from an upstairs window……you can see the other manor houses along the road as well!

From a Window Looking Out at the Garden

In her personnel life she was very thrifty. She was beautiful until the end and had beautiful clothes, but recycled them, dying her dresses new colors, adding a new feather here or there. Why buy new clothes when the old ones were perfectly fine? One of her most popular dresses, for the theatre, was the “beetle-wing gown.” Ellen Terry wore this green, shimmering dress, made with the wings of 1,000 beetles, as she performed as Lady Macbeth. The dress transformed the beautiful red-headed actress into a cross between a serpent and a medieval knight and was the talk of the town after the first night. John Singer Sargent painted Terry wearing it!  Oscar Wilde loved it! Edith Terry commented, “Is this not a lovely robe? It is so easy to wear, one doesn’t have to wear a corset!”

In 2006, the fragile knitted dress with the beetle wings, which had been preserved as part of Terry’s spectacular collection of theatre memorabilia, was falling apart. Beetle wings were regularly found lying at the bottom of the display case. Henry Irving’s, Macbeth, ran for more than six months to packed houses and the costume was re-used on many later tours also. It bore the scars of being tramped on by others, snagged on scenery, and torn from the jewelry Terry wore on stage.

With donations to the National Trust, a 110,000 pound restoration was met and the dress is again on display at her home at Smallhythe Place. Most of the money came from visitors’ donations at her 16th century, chocolate-box cottage.  An antique dealer in nearby Tenterden, donated additional beetle wings….. which the beetles shed naturally. The gown arrived at the studio of specialist textile conservator, Zenzie Tinker, in Brighton. She soon realized that she was dealing with the remains of two identical dresses, that had been patched together, when both were too badly damaged to wear.  Hundreds of beetle wings were repaired by gluing green-dyed Japanese tissue paper on the reverse side of the gown, and then stitching the beetles in place!

Lady MacBeth Beetle Dress
Up Close of the Beetle Dress  

When Terry died in 1929, her daughter, Edith Craig, opened the home as a memorial to her mother and then the National Trust took over the property when Craig died in 1947. Smallhythe Place is filled with mementoes  of Terry’s career in the theatre. In 1929, Craig set up a barn on the grounds, as a theater, where William Shakespeare plays are performed every year on the anniversary of her mother’s death. This is continued even today.  Now let’s stroll through the small garden…………

In the Garden
This Way and That

I loved the acknowledgement of the unwelcome plant! Silverweed!!!!!

The Sign!
And the Side
The Shed in Roses
The Shed in Roses and other Out Buildings
The Thatched Shakespeare Theatre

PS Ellen Terry was the Princess Di of her day…….she was a rock star and everyone loved her…..She also had a very soft heart and never cared one hoot about money, and she had plenty of it!  When Ellen bought this house her daughter wanted to marry, but Ellen told her she needed her too much (because she worked with her on the stage) Her daughter responded by moving in with Ellen and bringing two additional woman friends, in a ménage a trois. Then, her daughter put up a wall that separated them : a side for herself and her friends and one for her mother. Ellen supported them all, for the rest of her life from her lonely side of the cottage…….

Then there was her son…..He managed to have 13 children with 8 different women and Ellen supported all the women and all the children. When, he finally married and had two more children, she took care of them too. Ellen worked in the theatre as long as she could and in her later years, did lecturing around the world and even took up acting in the film industry in the US.  Her only comment, “Am I to do one night stands for the rest of my life?”

Ellen Terry led a remarkable life, becoming one of the premier actresses of her day, admired for her beautiful voice, sensitive interpretations and striking appearance, right up to the end. Her death mask, on display, in her home proves it! She was very generous with her money, tried to help everyone, and was loved by all! Who could fault her?  Visiting Smallhythe Place, in Kent, will be an honor you never forget! Enjoy! See you next time!

25 Comments Add yours

  1. Dr B says:

    That’s a good tale and a real classic English cottage from the era. Beetle wings ……… blimey! Did you visit Chapel Down one of our most famous vineyards just a mile or so away?


      1. Dr B says:

        Excellent read, but no tasting notes on all of the wines you tasted, especially our English wines like Bacchus, Phoenix, Dornfelder ……..


      2. You know I know nothing about that! I am just now starting to pay attention!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Dr B says:

        Keep practicing!


  2. restlessjo says:

    What a dress! And what a character, Cady! I knew the name but nothing else about her. And I love the slope on that thatch. 🙂 🙂 Thanks so much for this lovely post! You’re ahead of me today but I’ll include it in my next walk. Sorry- I’m tricky to keep up with sometimes! I was running very late on this one and didn’t have time to visit the Reader this morning. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Are you the Jo of “Jo’s Monday Walk”? I am a Jo, too, restless to get outside in my own garden now burrowed under a foot of snow. Lovely to look at from the library windows, however, as the forms give shape and reveal the basic design.


      1. No “Jo’s Monday Walk” is the name of Jo’s blogging site from Portugal. Every two weeks she posts a walk and folks are encouraged to post a walk too. My walks always tend to have a single purpose in mind as I need to be going somewhere! Other wise, it would be my same ol’ walk around the neighborhood and you’d get quite bored! Jo is a lovely gal and has great walks!


      2. restlessjo says:

        That’s me, Jo! I’m walking with trees today. Come on over 🙂 🙂


    2. Yes, so your walks are every two weeks? I want to keep up posting with the right day! And, I thought I was off last week!


      1. restlessjo says:

        They were weekly, Cady. Then I decided on a blogging break, but didn’t take it. But I cut back to fortnightly walks because they’re the most time consuming thing I do and it allows me time to do other stuff. So no break at all for you this week? Have you just deferred it? 🙂 🙂


      2. Yes, we bumped it to next month hopefully! I have a lot going on in March, however, so we’ll see! But, I could do the Cheekwood Garden then( the tulips and other bulbs might be a showin’) since I’ve missed the orchid show now! Bummer!


      3. restlessjo says:



  3. maristravels says:

    Been there, done that, seen that. Being a lover of theatre, Terry’s home is one of my favourite places to visit and as I have friends in Cranbrook nearby, I visit it when I stay with them (which hopefully, will be on the cards again soon). You got better pictures there than I did so I was thrilled to read of your tour of the house. Isn’t the thatch just lovely? But so expensive to maintain (mainly insurance). I have a friend who lives n a thatched cottage and it’s becoming a real drain on her finances.


    1. Yes, I would think it would be expensive to keep! But, oh so fabulous, to me, to live in one! Smallhythe Place has to be one of the best preserved and I am so glad they did…..It is just perfect! Everything about was perfect! I only used a few of my photos from here!


  4. Sue says:

    Ah, I’ve never visited….thanks for the Virtual Tour, Cady!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. margaret21 says:

    Well, fancy my visiting here for the first time with an American blogging friend! I enjoyed this Virtual Visit very much, but you’ve encouraged me to try to aim for a real one.


    1. Yes, Margaret, Tenterden is lovely and we based out of there and did oodles of garden tours! We stayed in a B&B that was just down that little lane!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. So quintessentially Elizabethan!! House and grounds reminded me of the setting for ALL IS TRUE, the imaginative film about Shakespeare in retirement and his efforts to revive/rebuild the herb garden. Your photographs of the garden inspired me to go out early and begin an early spring revival of my own herb/rose garden. Alas. All covered in snow at least a foot deep! No Monday walks for this Jo. I’ll do the laundry and dream on . . . .


    1. Jo, that is a lot of snow! We had some this week too (OMG) and had to cancel my Valentine/B-day weekend away! BUMMER! But, I thought “Oh Well,” I’ll go next month and maybe see some tulips and nice bulbs at Cheekwood! We are supposed to get RAIN all week now!


  7. Toonsarah says:

    I love this and didn’t even know about it, despite living not so very far away and visiting that area fairly regularly! It’s now firmly on my ‘must see’ list 🙂 The beetle dress looks amazing and the garden so pretty! Thank you for introducing me to it 🙂


    1. Sarah, for some reason in my mind you are from Australia! I have to re-think you are from the UK…….I think it is all the fabulous exotic posts you have! I meant to ask you… you go in a group usually or pick the places on your own and go?


  8. I went to school near here but never visited, thanks for introducing me to it! Also I never knew Hythe meant landing place, and my Mum lives in a place called Hythe (on the coast in Kent)! Lovely post, that dress is incredible but I hope no beetles were harmed in the making of it (originally).

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I don’t think I could bring myself to wear a dress made of beetle wings *shudder*. Edith Craig (with Cicely Hamilton) wrote a play in favour of women’s suffrage called A Pageant of Women. We (Glasgow Women’s Library) adapted it to include Scottish women a few years ago and I had a part. It was great fun!


  10. endean0 says:

    I live quiet near, and so have visited on several occasions. Always seem to find something different every time I go. It is really worth checking out. The other thing which always amazes me is that not far from the house there used to be a small port. The hythe part of the name is a derivation of the saxon word Hithe, meaning a landing place or small port for boats. When you look at the topography today it’s surprising. I believe that shipbuilders nails and tools have been found in the grounds of the house.


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