Ellen Terry's costumes at Smallhythe Place
Tucked away in a storeroom at the back of Smallhythe Place is a remarkable collection of theatrical costumes once worn by Ellen Terry during her sixty years as one of England's most famous and respected actresses.
An actress’s wardrobe
Among the 250 pieces is the gown which she wore over 200 times as Portia in the mid-1880s and the Guinevere dress designed for her by Burne-Jones in 1895. The size of the collection is rare. Costumes as well as props were the property of the theatre and were returned to the wardrobe department to be reused. It is unusual for an actor to have kept their costumes but in doing so Ellen created a unique collection which charts her remarkable career.
In 1879 she began her twenty year partnership with Henry Irving at The Lyceum Theatre in London. It was during these years that she played many of the great Shakespearean roles; it is also from this period that most of the costumes originate.
Henry Irving was a successful actor manager and the first actor to be knighted. His productions were lavish and he insisted on great attention to detail both for props and costumes. Ellen Terry was very involved in the design and creation of her costumes; working closely with designers and needlewomen, she knew what colours and garments suited her but, more importantly, she was interested in how costume helped to create a character.
Book a tour
Every Saturday we open the costume store for you to get a closer look and learn first-thand how we care for these precious items.