History of Hythe


CenturiesHythe Is a small coastal market town on the edge of Romney Marsh in the District of Shepway (derived from Sheep Way) on the south coast of KentThe word Hythe or Hithe is an Old Engish word meaning Haven or Landing Place.

The town has Medieval and Georgian buildings, as well as a Saxon/Norman church on the hill and a Victorian seafront promnade. Hythe was once defended by two castles, Saltwood and Lympe. The Town Hall, a former Guildhall, was built in 1794, its fireplace designed by the Adam Brothers.

Hythe’s market once took place in Market Square (now Red Lion Square) close to where there is now a Farmers’ Market every second and fourth Saturday of the month. Hythe has gardening, horse riding, bowling, tennis, cricket, football, squash and sailing clubs. Lord Deedes is patron of Hythe Civic Society,Red-Lion

As an important Cinque Port Hythe once possessed a bustling harbour which, over the past three hundred years, has now disappeared due to silting. Hythe was once the central Cinque Port, between Hastings and New Romney to the west and Dover and Sandwich to the east.

According to Hasted, a French fleet approached Hythe in 1293 and landed 200 men, but “the townsmen came upon them and slew every one of them: upon which the rest of the fleet hoisted sail and made no further attempt”.

In 1348 the black death afflicted Hythe, 1400 the plague further reduced the population.

 The 11th-century parish church of St Leonard’s

 Church-web-500px1Few would disagree with the suggestion that this is one of the most impressive parish churches in Kent. Standing as it does upon a steep slope, dominating the town, overlooking the old houses jostling together and the little criss-cross lanes, apart from its archi-tectural interest, its very situation is remarkable. It is dedicated to St. Leonard, the patron Saint of Prisoners.

 The church itself is of outstanding interest, with its famous graceful 13th century Chancel, rearing up loftily like the choirs of Canterbury and Rochester Cathedrals, its unusual ambulatory, and the ossuary or charnal-house.

 The original early Norman church, built about 1090, consisted of an aisle-less nave and a small square-ended Chancel such as that at West Hythe. Traces of this early Norman work may be seen in the two round-headed windows at the western end of the north arcade.

 At a later Norman period about 1175, consider-able enlargements were made when the aisles were added by piercing the north and south walls, and inserting an arcade of Norman arches. The plan of the church now became cruciform by the addition of north and south transepts, and a new chancel was built round the earlier one.

 The third stage in development was achieved in the 13th century, when the Early English style of architecture was reaching perfection. A west tower was added, the Norman choir demolished, and replaced by the existing magnificent choir and sanctuary.

 The chancel floor was raised to its unusual height and reached by a flight of nine wide stone steps. This was in order to build a vaulted passage, or Ambulatory, underneath the sanctuary for the customary church processions. This vaulted passageway was used for centuries as an ossuary or bone-house. Here was found, neatly stacked, an immense collection of mediaeval skulls and bones, which had been disinterred from time to time when fresh graves were dug.

 n 1910, the heap was carefully re-stacked after a thorough scientific examination had been made. The thigh bones numbered about 8,000, and the skulls 590Shelf-of-Skulls. From bits of pottery, broken sandals and wooden trenchers found at the bottom of the pile, it was ascertained from the British Museum that the bones were of 14th and 15th century.

 Lionel Lukin, credited with inventing the self-righting lifeboat, is buried at St Leonards

 Hythe Castles

saltwoodHythe was once defended by two castles, Saltwood and Lympe. Saltwood derives its name from the village in its shadow. During the reign of king Canute the manor of Saltwood was granted to the priory of Christ Church in Canterbury, but during the 12th century it became home of Henry d’Essex, constable of England.

Thomas Becket had sought from King Henry II restoration of the castle as an ecclesiastical palace. Henry instead granted the castle to Ranulf.

That the castle had been returned to Becket, as archbishop of Canterbury, and remained a church property until the reign of HenryVIII, when Hythe and Saltwood were to be sequestrated to the Crown, suggests that some complicity by the baron Rranulf de Broc waspossible in the murder of Becket. It was during this time at Saltwood, on 28 December 1170, that four knights plotted Becket’s death the following day. Hugh de Moreville  was one of the knights, along with Reginald Fizurse, William de Tracey, and Richard le Breton.

From the moment Hythe came under Crown control, the senior official of the town was also a bailiff appointed by the Crown. This state of affairs (uniquely for a Cinque Port) remained until 1575 when Elizabeth I gave the town control of its affairs.

The last Crown bailiff became the first mayor. His name was John Bredgman. A brass inscription bearing his name remains in the parish church, dated 1581.

Royal Military Canal

Canal200x200The Royal Military Canal is a canal running for 28 miles (45 km) between Seabrook near Folkestone and Cliff End near Hastings, following the old cliff line bordering Romney Marsh, which was constructed as a defense against the possible invasion of England during the Napoleonic Wars.

Geologically the town developed on a succession of non parallel terraces, rising from the level ground around the Royal Canal (previously named the royal military canal) towards the steep incline upon which the parish church of St Leonard was built. From the High Street, alleys lead up to the steeper levels of the town.

The canal was conceived by Lieutenant-Colonel John Brown of the Royal Staff Corps of field engineers in 1804, during anti-invasion preparations, as defensible barrier to ensure that a French force could not use the Romney Marsh as a bridgehead. It had previously been assumed that the marsh could be inundated in the event of an invasion, but Brown argued that this would take ten days to implement and would cause massive disruption in the event of a false alarm. At a meeting on 26 September 1804, the Prime Minister, Willian Pitt the Younger, and the Commander-in-Chief of the Forces, the Duke of York, both enthusiastically endorsed the scheme. John Rennie was appointed consultant engineer, and Pitt personally persuaded the local landowners to agree to the new canal.

Construction was started at Seabrook, near Hythe in Kent on 30 October 1804. By May 1805 only six miles of the canal had been completed; William Pitt intervened and the contractors and Rennie were dismissed. The work was navvies resumed by the Quartermaster-General’s department with Lt-Col. Brown in command. Civilian  dug the canal itself, while soldiers built the ramparts; up to 1,500 men were employed in the project.It was constructed in two sections: the longer section starts at Hythe and ends at Iden Lock in East Sussex; the second, smaller section, runs from the foot of Winchsea Hill to Cliff End. Both sections are linked by the RiverRother and RiverBrede. Artillery batteries were generally located every 500 yards (460 m), where the canal was staggered to create a salient, allowing the guns to enfilade the next stretch of water. A military road was built on the inland side of the canal, and crossings consisted of moveable wooden bridges. Any troops stationed or moving along the military road would have been protected by the earthen bank of the parapet, which was piled up with excavated soil. The canal was completed in April 1809 at a total cost of £234,000; it was hoped that tolls for use of the waterway and road would help to defray the cost. In addition to these works, a number of Martello Towers were built to protect the vulnerable sluices that controlled the water level in the canal, being Towers Number 22 to 27 and 30, three of them are still standing.

During the early stages of World War II, when a German invasion was looking likely, the canal was fortified with concrete pillboxes.

Martello Towers

Martello74 Martello Towers were built along the coast of Kent and East Sussex, between 1805 and 1808 to guard against invasion by Napoleon along with other defensive measures such as Forts, Redoubts and the Royal Military Canal (which runs through Hythe).

The inspiration for the south coast implementation of these distinctive round towers came from a British attack in 1794 on Mortella Point in Corsica. The Mortella Point tower resisted attack from the Royal Navy ships HMS Fortitude and HMS Juno, resulting in 60 casualties on the British ships and the ships had to abandon the attack. It was left to the army to eventually take the tower after 2 days of heavy fighting. The tower had achieved this long resistance with only 38 men, one 6-pounder gun and two 18-pounder guns.

The name Martello Tower took a while to settle on by the English military planners, probably originating from ‘Torri de Martello’, the name given to watchtowers in parts of Western Italy, but also perhaps from one Naval officer who described Mortella Point as ‘Myrtello Point’ as the headland that the tower stood on was covered with wild myrtle. Other descriptions used were ‘sea-towers’, ‘bomb-proof towers’, or ‘Corsican towers’ and in 1803 finally as ‘Martello towers’.

The towers never actually saw active service of course, Napoleon’s planned invasion came to nothing particularly after the Battle of Trafalgar defeat for the French Fleet which forced Napoleon to look elsewhere for conquest.

Today only around 26 of the original towers are still standing, many were built upon shingle beaches and the sea has inevitably claimed them, others were demolished to make way for modern developments, for example the Promenade at Hythe/Sandgate. Several have been restored and converted into residences,

 The Canal today 

RobertInHytheThe canal is now an important environmental site. The Environment Agency is the navigation authority and uses the waterway to manage water levels on Romney Marsh and Walland Marsh. It is important for fish and other wildlife, including kingfishers, dragonflies and marsh frogs, and it passes through several Sites of Special Scientific Interest. There is now a public footpath for the entire length of the canal via Hythe, West Hythe, Bonnington, Bilsington, Ruckinge, Hamstreet, Warehorne, Kenardington, Appledore, Rye and Winchelsea.


Malt-HouseHythe is also the birthplace of Mackesson.  and in in 1907. At that time it was claimed to be a tonic for invalids because it contained milk sugar or lactose. The sugar does not ferment, so the beer is low in alcohol. Mackeson’s was called milk stout until the British Government banned the term in 1946. However, Whitbread continues the connection through a milk churn on the label. It is still the leading brand in a declining sweet stout market and was once exported to 60 countries, and was brewed under licence in BelgiumJamaicaNew Zealand and Singapore


CrossThe Cinque port Court of Shepway

A monumental cross now indicates what was from 1358 a meeting place of the confederation of the Cinque ports, several miles west of Hythe, known then as “the Shepway crossroads”. Shepway cross, erected in 1923, the monument to the Court of Shepway, is beside the Hythe to Lympne road (B2067). The lathe of Shepway was the Saxon name for south east Kent, roughly corresponding with the modern District of Shepway, comprising Folkestone, Hythe, Romney Marsh and nearby villages as far north as Elham.

Many think this monument marks where the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports held his court for Shepway, and it is referred to as the “Shepway Cross”. In fact the Shepway Cross is a civic war memorial erected in 1923. It was placed on the top of Lympne Hill because that was traditionally the site of the Court of Shepway.

Shepway Cross was paid for and unveiled in August 1923 by Earl Beauchamp, the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Davidson, attended the ceremony. The memorial now shows signs of decay. The lettering denoting the monument’s true purpose is hardly legible.

 Notable People

  • Birthplace of Haymo de Hythe, Bishop of Rochester, elected in 1317 and resigned in 1352, confessor to Edward II and founder of St Bartholomew’s Hospital (formally St Andrew’s Hospital) on Bartholomew Street in Hythe. Son of Gilber and Alice Noble, Haymo was born in 1270 and died 1358.
  • The novelist Elizabeth Bowen spent her childhood in Hythe and retired to a house on Church Steps (overlooking the parish church) where she died.
  • The novelist H.G. Wells built Spade House at nearby Sandgate.
  • Saltwood Castle was the ancestral home of Lord Deedes and later home to Lord Kenneth Clark, the art historian, and his son Alan Clark, Conservative MP, military historian and renowned diarist.
  • Francis Pettit Smith inventor of the marine screw propeller was born and raised in Hythe; a plaque is on the wall above Paydens Chemist in the High Street.
  • Charles Wakefield, 1st Viscount Wakefield,  philanthropist and founder of the Castrol Oil Company.
  • Michael Howard was Member of Parliament for Folkestone & Hythe; he lives at nearby Lympne.
  • Noel Redding, bassist with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, gave his first public performance at Hythe Youth Club.
  • Tim Murton, fine artist, former scenic artist; emigrated to Canada in the 1970s but returns every year to paint.
  • Alison Chapman Television Antiques expert on David Dickinson’s Real Deal and The Secret Dealer  has a shop here.
  • Monte Saldo, bodybuilder and strongman lived in the town.
  • Ross and Paul Godfrey, founder of the band  Morcfheeba both grew up here.
  • The novelist Daphne du Maurier lived with her family at Hythe