HYTHE, a market town and watering-place, one of the Cinque Ports, and a municipal and parliamentary borough of Kent, England, 67 m. S.E. by E. of London on a branch of the South Eastern & Chatham railway. Pop. (1901) 5557. It is beautifully situated at the foot of a steep hill near the eastern extremity of Romney Marsh, about half a mile from the sea, and consists principally of one long street running parallel with the shore, with which it is connected by a straight avenue of wych elms. On account of its fine situation and picturesque and interesting neighbourhood, it is a favourite watering-place. A sea-wall and parade extend eastward to Sandgate, a distance of 3 m. There is communication with Sandgate by means of a tramway along the front. On the slope of the hill above the town stands the fine church of St Leonard, partly Late Norman, with a very beautiful Early English chancel. The tower was rebuilt about 1750. In a vault under the chancel there is a collection of human skulls and bones supposed to be the remains of men killed in a battle near Hythe in 456. Lionel Lukin (1742–1834), inventor of the life-boat, is buried in the churchyard. Hythe possesses a guildhall founded in 1794 and two hospitals, that of St Bartholomew founded by Haimo, bishop of Rochester, in 1336, and that of St John (rebuilt in 1802), of still greater antiquity but unknown date, founded originally for the reception of lepers. A government school of musketry, in which instructors for the army are trained, was established in 1854, and has been extended since, and the Shorncliffe military camp is within 21 m. of the town.
Lympne, which is now 3 m. inland, is thought to have been the original harbour which gave Hythe a place among the Cinque Ports. The course of the ancient estuary may be distinctly traced from here along the road to Hythe, the sea-sand lying on the surface and colouring the soil. Here are remains of a Roman fortress, and excavations have brought to light many remains of the Roman Portus Lemanis. Large portions of the fortress walls are standing. At the south-west corner is one of the circular towers which occurred along the line of wall. The site is now occupied by the fine old castellated mansion of Studfall castle, formerly a residence of the archdeacons of Canterbury. The name denotes a fallen place, and is not infrequently thus applied to ancient remains. The church at Lympne is Early English, with a Norman tower built by Archbishop Lanfranc, and Roman material may be traced in the walls. A short distance east is Shipway or Shepway Cross, where some of the great assemblies relating to the Cinque Ports were held. A mile north from Hythe is Saltwood Castle, of very ancient origin, but rebuilt in the time of Richard II. The castle was granted to the see of Canterbury in 1026, but escheated to the crown in the time of Henry II., when the murder of Thomas à Beckett is said to have been concerted here, and having been restored to the archbishops by King John remained a residence of theirs until the time of Henry VIII. It was restored as a residence in 1882. About 2 m. N.W. of Saltwood are remains of the fortified 14th-century manor-house of Westenhanger. It is quadrangular and surrounded by a moat, and of the nine towers (alternately square and round) by which the walls were defended, three remain.
The parliamentary borough of Hythe, which includes Folkestone, Sandgate and a number of neighbouring villages, returns one member. The town is governed by a mayor, 4 aldermen and 12 councillors. Area 2617 acres.
Hythe (Heda, Heya, Hethe, Hithe, i.e. landing-place) was known as a port in Saxon times, and was granted by Halfden, a Saxon thegn, to Christ Church, Canterbury. In the Domesday Survey the borough is entered among the archbishop’s lands as appurtenant to his manor of Saltwood, and the bailiff of the town was appointed by the archbishop. Hythe was evidently a Cinque Port before the Conquest, as King John in 1205 confirmed the liberties, viz. freedom from toll, the right to be impleaded only at the Shepway court, &c., which the townsmen had under Edward the Confessor. The liberties of the Cinque Ports were confirmed in Magna Carta and later by Edward I. in a general charter, which was confirmed, often with additions, by subsequent kings down to James II. John’s charter to Hythe was confirmed by Henry IV., Henry V. and Henry VI. These charters were granted to the Cinque Ports in return for the fifty-seven ships which they supplied for the royal service, of which five were contributed by Hythe. The ports were first represented in the parliament of 1365, to which they each sent four members.
Hythe was governed by twelve jurats until 1574, when it was incorporated by Elizabeth under the title of the mayor, jurats and commonalty of Hythe; a fair for the sale of fish, &c., was also granted, to be held on the feast of St Peter and St Paul. As the sea gradually retreated from Hythe and the harbour became choked up with sand, the town suffered the fate of other places near it, and lost its old importance.