Hythe, Kent

 Hythe shown within Kent
Population 14,516 (2011)[1]
OS grid referenceTR158350
Civil parishHythe
Shire countyKent
RegionSouth East
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post town HYTHE
Postcode district CT21
Dialling code 01303
Police Kent
Fire Kent
Ambulance South East Coast
EU Parliament South East England
UK ParliamentFolkestone and Hythe
List of places

Coordinates: 51°04′18″N 1°05′02″E / 51.0716°N 1.084°E / 51.0716; 1.084

Hythe /ˈhð/, 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 Kent. The word Hythe or Hithe is an Old English 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 promenade. Hythe was once defended by two castles, Saltwood and Lympne. 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 was patron of Hythe Civic Society, and the hounds of The East Kent Hunt are kennelled in nearby Elham.

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 the central Cinque Port, sitting 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, and in 1400 the plague further reduced the population.

Hythe has no coat of arms; but the corporation seal represents an antique vessel, with one mast, two men in it, one blowing a horn; and two men lying on the yard arm.[2]

Hythe is also the birthplace of Mackeson Stout, a type of beer.

Hythe Ranges is a military training ground that takes up a large section of the Hythe shoreline. Access to this section of the shore is restricted when red flags are showing.

The Royal Military Canal and Martello Towers

View of Hythe ca. 1830, showing the military canal and four Martello towers near the shoreline. Source: Ireland's History of Kent.

The Royal Military Canal runs across the northern edge of the marsh, to Winchelsea. Running under Stade Street, the canal, intended to repel invasion during the Napoleonic wars of 1804 to 1815, gives central Hythe its character. Now shaded by trees, the canal, 30 feet (10m) wide, passes into the marsh from the middle of the town. The canal begins at Seabrook and runs through Hythe it follows the original Haven that was once Hythe's harbour as far as the Light railway thence across Romney Marsh to Winchelsea. Its 26-mile length can be walked.

Also built around the same time as a defence against possible invasion by Napoleon were the Martello Towers. In total 74 of these towers were built between Folkestone and Seaford. The walls were up to 13 ft (4 m) thick, and each tower held 24 men and had a huge cannon mounted on the top. They were named after a similar tower at Mortella Point in Corsica which the Navy had captured from the French. Although never needed for their original purpose they were later used to combat smuggling and also as signalling stations and coastal defences during the two World Wars. Three of the towers survive at Hythe; one was converted to a house in the 1930s and can be seen along West Parade, and the other two are on the beach and are owned by the Ministry of Defence.

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.

This publication may show the royal canal named as the royal military canal because that was its previous name.

The 11th-century parish church of St Leonard

St. Leonard's Church
Shelf containing skulls in the ambulatory below the chancel, commonly but inaccurately described as the crypt.

The large 11th-century church is up the hill; the tower at its eastern end was destroyed by an earth tremor in 1739 and restored in 1750. The chancel, from 1220, covers a processional ossuary (a bone store, more commonly found on the continent) lined with 2,000 skulls and 8,000 thigh bones. They date from the medieval period, probably having been stored after removal, to make way for new graves. This was common in England, but bones were usually dispersed, and this is thus a rare collection. Several of the skulls show marks of trepanning. This is one of only two surviving ossuaries in England; the other is in Holy Trinity church in Rothwell, Northamptonshire.

Other curiosities are worth looking for. On pillars on the south side of the nave are medieval graffiti depicting ships. The vestry door, on the north side of the nave, is usually unlocked; open it to see a very fine early Norman doorway. It has been suggested that this, which in late medieval times was apparently on the outer wall of the church, was once an internal wall, with the earlier Norman church a stage higher up the hill. This would make the existing chapel of St Edmund (or north transept) the original chancel, with the original nave being on the other side of the north wall. Evidence of earlier masonry is visible on the north wall. Going round into the north transept, it is clear that Roman masonry was re-used in the building of the arch, which is narrow and late Saxon in style. At the time of Hasted's 'History of Kent' this doorway was blocked up and not visible on the inside.[3]

Lionel Lukin, credited with inventing the self-righting lifeboat, is buried in the parish churchyard.

The castles at Saltwood and Lympne

Hythe was once defended by two castles, Saltwood and Lympne. 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 de Broc.

That the castle had been returned to Becket, as archbishop of Canterbury, and remained a church property until the reign of Henry VIII, when Hythe and Saltwood were to be sequestrated to the Crown, suggests that some complicity by the baron Rranulf de Broc was possible 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 Fitzurse, 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.

The 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.

School of Musketry

The School of Musketry was established in Hythe in 1853.[4]

The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway

Hythe is the northern terminus of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, running third-scale steam and diesel locomotives. The track runs parallel to the coast through Dymchurch and New Romney to Dungeness. The founders were Captain J Howey and Count Louis Zborowski. It opened in 1927. The trains run on a gauge of 15 inches (380 mm) and the track is nearly 14 miles (23 km) long. During the Second World War the service transported the Operation Pluto pipeline.

Hythe Town Band

Very little is known about the band's formative years except that reference is made in a press article of August 1890 to the formation of a 'Brass and Reed Band' from the existing town band which had, at that time, been running for at least ten years.

In August 1891 the band gave a notable public performance which prompted the following comment in the local press: The Hythe Town Band played in front of the Sea View Hotel, Seabrook, last Tuesday from 8 - 10pm. This is the first time the band has appeared in uniform, which is very similar to the undress uniform of the East Kent Volunteers, excepting that it is a little neater!

In 1894 the band's name was changed to the Hythe Town Military Band. At the turn of the century the band split up after disagreements and in September 1900 some musicians broke away to form the Hythe Excelsior Band.

By 1903 it would seem that whatever had caused the rift had been resolved, and the two bands decided to amalgamate and during that year gave 89 public performances.

A successful period followed, and by the 1920s the band had won an impressive list of competitions and medals. There had also been occasions when the band played to support public appeals, possibly the most notable being in 1912 when the band took to the streets to raise money for the relatives of the victims of the Titanic disaster.

In 1939 the band voluntarily broke up as the 'call-up' took its toll. It was resurrected in 1945 and was able to be ready to play for the VE Day celebrations.

As the Hythe Town Military Band it continued to play until the early 1990s, when the name once again changed to the current name: Hythe Town Concert Band.

Every two years, Hythe Corporation hosts the Hythe Venetian Fete, when organisations and individuals create decorated floats which travel up and down the Royal Military Canal.

Folkestone and Hythe are represented in Parliament by the Conservative MP Damian Collins, a former advertising executive and Oxford alumnus, re-elected in 2015.

Local places of interest

Sport & Leisure

Hythe has a Non-League football club Hythe Town F.C. who play at the Reachfields Stadium.


The Folkestone & Hythe Operatic & Dramatic Society owns the Tower Theatre at Shorncliffe. It is a charitable organisation which performs several shows a year.

Local media


Hythe has two paid for newspapers, the "Folkestone and Hythe Express" (published by the KM Media Group) every Wednesday and the "Folkestone Herald" (published by Kent Regional News and Media). KentOnline.co.uk (published by the KM Media Group) also has a dedicated website for Hythe news. Free newspapers for the town include the Folkestone and Hythe Extra, part of the KM Group; and yourshepway, part of KOS Media. It also has a paid for monthly Magazine "Folkestone, Hythe & Romney Life". A new free community/lifestyle magazine for Hythe, "Hythe Life Magazine" launched in the Summer of 2014.


The local radio station for Hythe is KMFM Shepway and White Cliffs Country. Hythe is also served by the county-wide stations Heart, Gold and BBC Radio Kent.

Notable people

The site of the birthplace of Francis Pettit Smith in Hythe

See also


  1. "Town Population 2011". Retrieved 5 October 2015.
  2. British History Online: Hythe, Kent
  3. Hasted The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent 2nd ed 1797 - 1801 viii 249 - 251
  4. Formation of the early School of Musketry
  5. Alison, Chapman (17 March 2016). "alison chapman".
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