A short way from the historic town of Tenterden lies the village of Small Hythe. This village, although now completely landlocked, had close ties to the Cinque Ports Confederation. Small Hythe was a famous shipyard in medieval times, using timber from the great Wealden Forest. Although it is difficult to imagine when looking at the modern landscape of Kent, the county used to be an archipelago of deep channels and small isles, the names of which exist to this day, such as the Isle of Thanet, and Small Hythe’s neighbour, the Isle of Oxney.
It is not known when a chapel was first built in Small Hythe, but we do know that by the end of the fourteenth century a small chapel stood on the site of the current church. Very few records of this building remain, and so we know almost nothing about it: the material used, the dedication, or who served there. It is thought that it was licensed as a chapel to help ease the strain of the growing congregation of St Mildred’s in Tenterden. After many years of struggle between the residents of Small Hythe and the authorities, the village was given a license for their own chaplain who would be an extension of the vicarage of St Mildred’s in Tenterden.
However, only eight years after this in 1514, a fire tore through Small Hythe, taking the chapel and half the village with it. After this, the current chapel was constructed. Built of bricks, with distinctly Dutch looking, stepped gables at each end, it is believed that both the bricks and builders were sourced from the Low Countries. The church itself has a very plain design, with no aisles, chancels, or additional altars. It does however, have some beautiful and rare treasures inside. The wainscot paneling around the church is believed to be some of the oldest oak paneling in the country. There are also some beautifully illuminated pieces along the walls of the church created by Christopher St John, who lived with Edith Craig, the daughter of celebrated actress Ellen Terry.
Ellen Terry lived at Small Hythe Place for nearly thirty years, and attended the church. She died on the 23rd of July, 1928, at the age of 81. Her funeral was a happy occasion, where the attendees wore summer dresses and sang the jollier hymns. She was cremated, and placed in a silver urn in the actor’s church, St Paul’s, Covent Garden.
Taylor, A. H. The Chapel of St John the Baptist, Smallhythe. Archaeologia Cantiana. 30. 133-192. 1914. https://www.kentarchaeology.org.uk/arch-cant/vol/30/chapel-st-john-baptist-smallhythe Accessed 19 May 2021.
Zeleny, Rachael Baitch. “Painting an Ethos: The Actress, the Angel in the House, and Pre-Raphaelite Ellen Terry.” Rhetoric Review, vol. 32, no. 4, 2013, pp. 397–418., www.jstor.org/stable/42003466. Accessed 29 April 2021.