Smallhythe Place

Smallhythe Tenterden Kent TN30 7NG

From the outside, this is a quintessential English cottage, all wooden beams, leaning walls and crumbling plaster, with a rambling cottage garden, an orchard and a stream running through the grounds. It's an utterly charming vision – and once you add to that the fact that this was the home of unconventional Victorian stage actress Ellen Terry, filled with her effects and theatrical memorabilia, you have a quirky, fascinating day out.  Wandering through the crooked rooms, floorboards creaking underfoot and mullion windows letting in shafts of softly diffused sunlight, you can peruse cabinet upon cabinet of programmes, jewellery, costumes, posters and stage make up, photos, paintings, playbills and diaries, all relating to Terry's rich and rather bohemian world. Star of the show is the actress's notorious "beetle wing" dress, a shimmering green sheath, sparkling with real Jewel Beetle wings, that she wore when playing Lady Macbeth in 1888 – a performance that was, by all accounts, groundbreaking in its naturalism. A panel nearby will remind you where you may have seen this stunning robe before –  in John Singer Sargent's dramatic Pre-Raphaelite painting of 1889, portraying Terry with ghost-white face and red lips, thick auburn braids tumbling over her shoulders and pale arms raised in dramatic appeal.

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