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Things to see and do at Smallhythe Place

Visitors in the cottage garden at Smallhythe Place, Kent
Visitors in the garden at Smallhythe Place | © National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

Step centre stage at Smallhythe Place and discover the theatrical world in this 16th century house and cottage gardens.

What Smallhythe Place has to offer

Smallhythe Place, near Tenterden, was built in the early 16th-century when Smallhythe was a thriving shipbuilding port. The house was later purchased by renowned Victorian actress, Ellen Terry, in 1899.

A year after her passing in 1928 her daughter, Edith Craig, transformed the house into a museum which now displays a fascinating personal and theatrical collection that reflects Ellen's extraordinary career and unconventional private life. It is a unique destination to visit particularly with its thatched Barn Theatre and vibrant cottage garden.

Visitors can trace the changing fortunes of its 500-year history and learn about its national significance through its museum, theatre, and garden.

The house

Smallhythe Place was an essential part of the valuable history of the region’s medieval shipbuilding at the hamlet of Small Hythe, and later became a sleepy backwater farmhouse. Inside the house, visitors can enter a museum dedicated to Ellen with a collection of artifacts about her incredible acting career and life.

The Beatrice Dress from Much Ado About Nothing

Two costumes from an 1882 production of Much Ado About Nothing, held at London’s Lyceum Theatre, are on display in the costume room. Two costumes in gold velvet were worn by Ellen and actor-manager Henry Irving for the play’s famous wedding scene, and a third in elaborate floral brocade and velvet with feather fan by Ellen.

The garments were made from luxurious stamped silk velvet with elaborate trimmings and fine detail by Auguste et Cie, a costume company run by designer Patience Harris. Hours of conservation work were undertaken by textile consultant Zenzie Tinker and her team at her studio in Brighton to improve the look and structural integrity of the costumes, including cleaning of cuffs and collars, and re-attaching loose embellishments such as pearls and beads.

Other memorabilia on show includes Ellen’s script for the play, with her handwritten notes in the margins, and an original programme.

Find out more about visiting the museum

The stage and audience chairs at the 17th-century Barn Theatre at Smallhythe Place in Kent
The stage at the 17th-century Barn Theatre | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

The Barn Theatre

The 17th-century Barn Theatre was the brainchild of Ellen’s daughter, Edy Craig. Throughout her time at Smallhythe, Edy wished to convert the barn into a theatre, but her mother would not allow it. After her mother passed away in 1928, Edy held the venue’s first performance the following year.

The garden

The colourful and serene cottage garden will delight visitors wandering through its lush greenery. After visiting Ellen at Smallhythe, critic E.V. Lucas commented: ‘There was something of wildness in her nature, something wilful and untamed, something almost fey, which assorts well with this brave old house, with these rich beams, these windows.'

This vivid description is reflected in the nature of the bright outdoor area with its blooming rose garden and old wildflower bed, which is at its best in late spring and summer.

Find out more about the garden

The tea room

Located next to the entrance to the Barn Theatre is our tea room.

The room's architecture is designed to resemble the Barn in which it is nestled, providing vistors with a unique lunching experience.

Enjoy a cup of tea from one of our beautiful china tea sets, nibble on a delicious slice of cake or a light lunch whilst experiencing views of the Kent countryside.

Also available in the space is a range of second-hand books. Settle down at one of our tables, grab a book and spend an afternoon getting lost in a literary world. All the proceeds from the sale of books goes towards the funding of conservation projects here at Smallhythe Place.

All the books we sell have been generously donated by visitors, volunteers, staff and friends of Smallhythe Place. We'd like to thank everyone for their generosity and we're always happy to accept more, so if you have some books that you'd like to pass on, please let us know.

A corner of the tea room at Smallhythe Place
A corner of the tea room at Smallhythe Place | © National Trust Images/Caroline Penn
Traditional Kentish house and barns reflected in pond in foreground beneath blue skies

Discover more at Smallhythe Place

Find out when Smallhythe Place is open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

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Three visitors looking at a display in the Lyceum room at Smallhythe Place

The museum at Smallhythe Place 

Find out about the Victorian actor Ellen Terry as you browse through the rooms in the house, which have been lovingly turned into a museum packed full of artefacts from her life.

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The garden at Smallhythe Place 

Discover this charming cottage garden surrounding the house, with borders packed full of flowers, an orchard underplanted with bulbs and roses tumbling over the front of the house.

The exterior of the house at Smallhythe Place with the pond in the foreground

Our work at Smallhythe Place 

Find out about the work we do in the winter months to maintain and conserve the museum, house, theatre and garden at Smallhythe, ready for the next season, including costume conservation.

Exterior of the 16th century house at Smallhythe Place with exterior timber beams and climbing red roses

The history of Smallhythe Place 

Discover the history of Smallhythe Place, from a centre for royal ship building to the home of Ellen Terry, one of the most famous Shakespearean actors of the Victorian times.

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Volunteer opportunities at Smallhythe Place 

Join the volunteer team at Smallhythe Place working to preserve and share the story of actor Ellen Terry’s historic home.

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Weddings and venue hire at Smallhythe Place 

Hire the unique Barn Theatre venue in the Kent countryside for your weddings, events, and functions.

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Houses and buildings 

Historic buildings are a treasure trove of stories, art and collections. Learn more about what makes these places so special and plan your visit.

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Houses and buildings in Kent 

We look after a range of houses and unusual buildings in Kent, from the home of a great politician to a moated manor with 700 years of history for you to uncover.