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History of Hythe

Hythe comes from the Old English ‘hyð’ meaning a 'landing place on a river, an inlet port'. Although, Hythe is by the sea, the name refers to a landing place on the river Limen. The Domesday Book records Hythe as Heda or Hedae.

Hythe parish church is a Grade: I listed building, dedicated to St Leonard, and built around 1100. In 1175, they expanded the church with a larger nave, and added the north and south aisles in the 13th century, and the north and south transepts in the 14th century. Also around that time, they rebuilt the chancel to provide a bone store, eventually holding 2000 skulls and 8,000 thighbones. In 1481, there is a record of five bells, although, by 1697, this had risen to six. In 1739, an earth tremor brought the tower down with a party of visitors waiting for the sexton to unlock it, so they could climb to the top. Fortunately, no one lost their life, and the parishioners rebuilt the tower in 1750, with six bells and a clock.

In 1799 Edward Hasted described the Hythe church as a ‘fine handsome building, consisting of three isles, a north and south cross, and three chancels, with a tower steeple at the west end, in which are six bells and a clock. The church stands on the side of a high and steep hill, a considerable height above any of the town, having a very large church-yard adjoining, mostly on the west and north sides, in the middle of which is a large open well of water, under a cove of the quarry stone. There is a very handsome flight of many stone steps up to the church, given by William Glanville, representative in 1729. The room over the porch at the entrance, is the town-hall, where the mayor and other members of it are yearly chosen. The tower, built in the room of the old one, which suddenly fell down in 1748, was rebuilt, and the church repaired, by a brief. It is a very fine one, of excellent masonry of quarry stone, with ashlar quoins and ornaments, and has four turrets on the top. The middle isle has, not long since, been paved with Portland stone, and new pewed. There are two galleries; one built at the charge of the parish, in 1750; the other by Hercules Baker and William Glanville, representatives, in 1734. In the middle hangs a handsome brass branch. This isle has a row of small upper windows on each side, being an upper story in the choir fashion. The south cross, at the time the tower was new built, and the church repaired, was taken down by the family of Deedes and rebuilt by them, with a vault of its full size underneath, for their burial, which was finished in 1751, at their own charge; for this, and for appropriating to themselves and servants four pews in this isle, they obtained a faculty. This cross isle or chancel is paved with Portland stone, and is separated from the south isle by an iron railing. In it are several monuments of the Deedes family. On the west side of the north cross, there appears on the outside to have been an antient door-way, the arch over it being circular, with zig zag ornaments, &c. The ground on the outside is nearly up to the spring of the arch, and there are no appearances of it on the inside. The three chancels are very antient indeed, much more so than the isles, from which there is an ascent to each; the pillars in them are inclustered with small ones of Bethersden marble, and both the arches and windows very beautiful and lofty. The middle or high chancel has a grand approach, having eight steps to it from the middle isle, and three more towards the altar. The windows are very light and losty, especially the three at the east end, which are remarkably elegant. There are, round the upper part of it and on the south side, small double arches and Bethersden pillars, similar to those on the sides of the choir in Canterbury cathedral. The whole is new paved with Portland stone. The north chancel, which, as well as the opposite one, has a rise of steps from the isle, has no inscription in it. The pillars of both these chancels have an unusually large base, of near three feet high, and about five feet square, upon the surface of the pavement’.

In 1802, Thomas Mears I, recast the bells into a ring of eight. In 1861, Thomas, Mears II cast two trebles to make 10. Unfortunately, the trebles did not fit in becoming obsolete, and scrapped in 1891. In the 1880’s, the architect John Loughborough Pearson carried out alterations and restoration to the church. In 1901, public subscription paid for a new clock in memory of Queen Victoria. In 1992, Whitechapel added two treble bells to make ten, which rang for the first time on Christmas Day of that year.

In about 1050, the five ports of DoverSandwich, Hastings, Romney and Hythe joined together to provide ships and men for King Edward the Confessor. They became known as the Cinque Ports (after the Norman French word for five). In return for providing naval and ferry services, these towns received many rights and privileges. Hythe held the oldest charter, granted in 1278 by Edward I, other charters included Richard II dated 1392 and Elizabeth I in 1575.

In the following centuries, the town continued as a south coast port, albeit in slow decline. The harbour began to silt up, despite strenuous dredging efforts, and gradually became impossible to use. 

In the 18th century, Napoleon threatened invasion, which led to the construction of the 
Martello Towers and the Royal Military Canal.

Hythe railway station opened on 16 July 1927, as the northern terminus for the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway’s line to Dungeness.