- Explore the home of famous Victorian actress Ellen Terry and see relics of her personal and professional life from centuries ago.
- Catch a summertime show in the iconic Barn Theatre, a monument to Ellen Terry’s legacy.
- Have a stroll in the stunning flower gardens and orchard that decorate Smallhythe Place in blossoms throughout the year.
If you’re looking for things to do in Kent that the whole family will enjoy, why not visit Smallhythe Place? This gorgeous country property was once Ellen Terry’s house, the famous Victorian actress. The cottage has since been transformed into a National Trust Museum where visitors can learn more about the life and times of this iconic woman. Don’t forget to catch a show in the Barn Theatre and cap off your day with a stroll in the stunning gardens. There is something here for all the family to find interesting.
Before the property came into the hands of Victorian actress Ellen Terry, Smallhythe was a well-known shipbuilding community. The area dates as far back to the 1400’s with the house being built in the late 15th century; this place was a busy hub that attracted visitors from all across Britain who were looking for a boat. Famous customers include King Henry IV and later King Henry V, who both commissioned ships here. The business continued for centuries until the decline in 1636 when a great storm diminished the river near Smallhythe. Large ships could no longer pass through, so the business became obsolete.
It wasn’t until 1899 that Ellen Terry came into possession of the house at Smallhythe Place. She used it as a place of respite from her massively successful career in London and lived happily in it for 30 years. Upon her death, Ellen’s daughter Edy Craig transformed the house into a museum and passed it on to the National Trust Kent in 1947. She personally arranged the rooms and all the pieces to make it look and feel as authentic as possible. The display in the museum today does not differ much from the original collection; this keeps it feeling homely and welcoming to visitors.
The Museum at Smallhythe Place has many rooms and over 9,500 artefacts that give insight into Ellen Terry’s life and personality. Visitors can walk through the house and examine the furniture and photographs as they please. Guests of the Museum can learn more about Ellen’s personal life and story in the Terry Room. Here there are many meaningful mementoes and records relating to Terry’s family, her professional achievements and her personal hobbies.
The Dining Room shows insight into how Terry entertained her guests and the many connections she had in the world of theatre and stage. The Lyceum Room, formerly a bedroom, displays many photographs of Terry on stage as well as props and pieces from the Lyceum Theatre where she often worked. The Library is an organised collection of Terry’s 3,000 books that were strewn all over the house while she lived there. The most personal room would have to be the Bedroom. Conserved from its original state, this area focuses entirely on Terry’s personal life with portraits of her family along the walls and her writing desk in the corner. It is not hard for the imagination to run wild and picture Ellen Terry living comfortably here. Children and adults alike will love taking a step back in time and seeing what life was like for the affluent in Victorian times as well as getting a personal insight into the personality of this wonderful woman.
Another major highlight of Smallhythe Place would be the Barn Theatre. To keep her mother’s legacy alive, Edy Craig transformed the large barn nearby the house into a fully working theatre in Kent in 1929, with the idea to host a show every year in honour of Ellen Terry. The tradition still stands to this year as the Barn Theatre hosts multiple shows a year to modern audiences. Renowned British actress Joanna Lumley has assumed the role of Patron of the Barn Theatre, so the public can be sure the Victorian showroom is kept busy and fresh. From Shakespeare to pantomimes and everything in between, there is always something exciting in store here that everyone in the family is sure to enjoy.
The Garden at Smallhythe Place is another wonderful aspect of this location that will bring joy to all the members of the family. Filled with colourful flowers that bloom periodically throughout the year, there is never a dull time for visitors to come and smell the roses. The Orchard here was planted by Ellen Terry’s third husband and still to this day it produces over 30 different kinds of apples along with other fruit like pears and plums. Visitors can take a stroll along the duck pond and then finish off the day with a fun game of croquet on the lawn—a perfect way to round off a day filled with culture and history.
What to know before you go
- Smallhythe Place is open every Wednesday - Sunday from 11am - 5pm during March - October.
- The Tea Room is located in the garden and serves hot and cold refreshments to the public.
- There are also designated picnic areas for those who prefer to bring a packed lunch.
- There are toilets, including wheelchair-accessible toilets available on site. There are no baby changing facilities available.
- Smallhythe Place is partially wheelchair accessible. There is ramp access into the Museum and Tea Room; however, there is limited mobility in the upper floors. Some areas of the garden may be difficult to manoeuvre around due to uneven paths. Please note that in rainy weather the outdoor paths can become slippery.
- Dogs are permitted in the garden; however, they must be kept on a leash at all times.
How to get there
- Rye and Appledore are both the closest rail stations; both about eight miles away from the museum.
- There is a bus route from Rye to Tenterden regularly that has a stop outside of the museum.
- In terms of parking, there is a designated car park at Smallhythe Place which visitors can avail of for free. There are no allocated spaces for blue badge holders.