History

Taking a step back in time

Learn more about Ellen Terry 

If you're interested in learning more about our most famous residents; Ellen Terry and Edith Craig, then please click on the link below to view the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s database, compiled by Professor Katharine Cockin from the University of Hull.

The house through the years

Smallhythe Place has had a varied 500 year history from the early shipbuilding days. 250 years as working farm then 30 years as the home of Ellen Terry, and finally the theatrically important museum you see today. 

Royal medieval shipyard

Smallhythe was one of the most significant shipyards in medieval England, between the 13th to mid 16th centuries. Royal ships were built here for Henry VI and Henry VIII. Smallhythe is now landlocked 12 miles from the coast.

Barn Theatre - A theatrical history

Over 80 years of theatrical history, the thatched barn built in the late 1600s houses an 80 seater theatre. We put on a full and varied programme of public shows and events from March to October.

Dame Ellen Terry 1847 - 1928

Victorian actress Dame Ellen Terry led an extraordinary and unconventional life. She was the leading actress of her time with a career spanning 65 yrs. She married three times and had two illegitimate children.

Edith Ailsa Craig 1869 - 1947

Edith Craig was a prolific theatre director, producer, costumier and activist in the women's suffrage movement. She set up the museum at Smallhythe Place and converted the thatched barn as a memorial to her mother

The lucky letter case

Ellen Terry was a role model for many women of her era

Ellen Terry was a role model for many women of her era

Ellen Terry’s life included a 64 year stage career, three marriages and one elopement. She was a famous actress, performing for war charities during World War One and was ahead of her time in many ways.

One day, in 1917, she gave her little leather wallet to a soldier on a train who had given up his seat for her. Inside the wallet was a postcard showing a portrait of her. On the back of the postcard she wrote:

‘This old letter case has brought me luck I have had it for 24 years – will you mind it and keep it for luck. My best thanks for giving me your seat.  I have not even a cigarette to give.’

Susannah Mayor, house steward tells us more of the story: ‘The soldier was killed and his effects were returned to his family. The letter case was donated to Smallhythe, Ellen’s home, in 1980 by the daughter of the young soldier’s fiancé. Sadly we do not know the name of the soldier. The postcard is heavily creased and stained by what could be blood or coffee.’

 

Edward Gordon Craig 1872 - 1966

Edward Gordon Craig was an influential modernist theatre practitioner, actor, producer, director and scenic designer. Living a bohemian life style he had many prominent friends and at least 13 illegitimate children.

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