Hythe (St. Leonard)

HYTHE (St. Leonard), a borough, parish, and one of the cinque-ports, having separate jurisdiction, in the union of Elham, and locally in the hundred of Hythe, lathe of Shepway, E. division of Kent, 33 miles (S. E. by E.) from Maidstone, and 67 (S. E. by E.) from London; containing 2265 inhabitants. This place, which is of great antiquity, was noted for the security of its haven, from which circumstance it appears to have derived its Saxon name, signifying "harbour." In 456, a sanguinary battle occurred on this part of the coast, between the Britons and the Saxons, when many were slain on both sides: their bones, whitened by long exposure on the sea-shore, having been collected, were deposited in the crypt under the chancel of the parochial church. Hythe, from its maritime importance, was constituted one of the cinque-ports, rated at five ships, with a complement of 21 men each, for the service of the king, and invested with ample privileges. In 1036, the town, with the manor of Saltwood, was given to the see of Canterbury, the archbishops of which built a castle at Saltwood, about a mile to the north. In the early part of the reign of Henry IV., according to Lambarde, "Hythe was grievously afflicted, in so much, beside the furie of the pestilence which raged all over, there were in one day 200 of the houses consumed by fire, and five of the ships with 100 men drowned;" the inhabitants impoverished and dispirited by this calamity, thought of abandoning the town, but were prevented by the interposition of the king, who released them for a time from their services as inhabitants of a cinque-port. At the Reformation, Archbishop Cranmer exchanged the manor of Saltwood, and the town of Hythe, with Henry VIII.; and they continued vested in the crown until the 17th of Elizabeth, who granted the place at a fee-farm rent of £3 to the inhabitants, whom she incorporated, by the style of "the Mayor, Jurats, and Commonalty of the town and port of Hythe." Since the maritime survey made in that reign, the haven has been entirely choked up with sand, and the beach is now nearly three-quarters of a mile from the town.

Hythe consists principally of one long street, running parallel with the sea, and intersected nearly at right angles by several smaller streets: the houses are irregularly built; those on the higher grounds command a fine view of the sea, Romney-Marsh, and the adjacent country, which abounds with romantic scenery, and affords numerous pleasing walks and rides. The town is much frequented during the season for bathing. At the entrance from the London road are the barracks, in which about 50 of the Royal Sappers and Miners are stationed. The theatre, a small building, is opened occasionally, and there is a public library. The coast is defended by a range of strong forts and a line of martello towers, erected during the late war with France. The Royal Military canal from Hythe to Rye affords a facility of conveyance for goods; a passage-boat plies daily on it, and the South-Eastern railway runs near Hythe. The market is on Saturday, and a corn-market is held on Thursday; fairs take place on July 10th and December 1st. Under a charter granted in the 20th of Charles II., the corporation consisted of a mayor, 12 jurats, and 34 common-councilmen, aided by a recorder, town-clerk, two chamberlains, and other officers; but by the act of the 5th and 6th of William IV., cap. 76, the government is now vested in a mayor, 4 aldermen, and 12 councillors, the total number of magistrates being 9. The municipal borough comprises 1717 acres, and the parliamentary 2622. The town formerly returned two members to parliament, but now sends only one; the mayor is returning officer. A court of quarter-sessions is held before the recorder; and petty-sessions occur on the last Thursday in the month: a court of record is held on alternate Saturdays. The county magistrates for the division hold a meeting here on the third Monday in every month: the powers of the county debtcourt of Hythe, established in 1847, extend over part of the registration-district of Elham. The court-hall is a convenient building in the centre of the town; the market-place was formed by Viscount Strangford, in the reign of Charles II. There is a small borough gaol and house of correction.

The living is annexed to the rectory of Saltwood. The church is a spacious and handsome structure, partly Norman and partly early English, with a tower at the west end in the former style, and a central tower of the latter character. It has been repaired and renovated by the present rector, the Archdeacon of Canterbury; and contains some monuments of considerable antiquity to the family of Deedes, one of which is to the memory of Julius Deedes, who represented the borough as a baron in parliament, and was mayor of Hythe, in the time of Charles II. Under the chancel is a very fine crypt, beautifully groined, and having a door on each side with highly-enriched mouldings. Over the porch is a large apartment used as the town-hall, in which the mayor and other officers of the corporation are chosen. Formerly there were two other churches, the sites of which were taken by government when the canal was cut. Here are places of worship for Independents and Wesleyans. St. Bartholomew's hospital for four men and eight women, was founded by Haimo, Bishop of Rochester, about 1336, and is endowed with land producing about £270 per annum. An almshouse for nine persons, called St. John's Hospital, is also endowed with landed property; and there are some other charitable benefactions. Near the end of Stane-street, the Roman road from Canterbury, is the ancient port Lemanus, or Limne, where the remains of the walls of that station are still visible.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.