The county of Kent is known in the UK as the Garden of England. It’s warm, sunny climate, green rolling countryside and proximity to France and London have ensured that its importance in the economical and political history of England as whole has been prominent.
Rochester is a city sitting on the Medway River, just 20 miles south east of London, and offers an array of historical and retail attractions to visitors from around the globe.
The Home of Charles Dickens
Of particular note is the love that the writer Charles Dickens had for the town. Having lived in the area as a child, he later returned to as an adult, living in Gad’s Hill Place from 1856 until he died in 1870.
While the streets of London were deemed the location for many of his novels, it was actually Rochester and nearby Chatham that were the real source of inspiration that fuelled his fertile imagination.
Every year Medway council organises the Rochester Dickens Festival, when Dickens loyalists, lovers and supporters are invited to the city to stroll the streets dressed up as various characters from the novels.
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Rochester Cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of Rochester and Mother Church of the Diocese of Rochester. Built as a place of worship in AD604, it has overseen changes in the local landscape for over 1400 years. The current building dates back to the 12th and 13th centuries.
The cathedral is surrounded by both public and secret gardens which can be explored by booking onto an organised tour. The gardens are maintained, with lawns so beautifully nurtured and green they could be mistaken for artificial grass in Rochester.
Eastgate House is a 16th century town house in the centre of Rochester that was the inspiration for Westgate in Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, and the Nun’s House in the Mystery of Edwin Drood.
The building was recently awarded part of a £2.2 million Heritage Lottery Funded project for refurbishment. Many of its original features were carefully and sympathetically restored
Restoration House is a classic example of Elizabethan architecture, and is so named because it housed King Charles II on the eve of his restoration after landing in Dover in May 1660.
After staying overnight in Rochester, he then travelled back up to London, and was proclaimed King on 29th May 1660.
Dickens used the house as an inspiration for the home of Miss Haversham in Great Expectations.
Built in 1687, the Rochester Guildhall is one of the finest examples of a 17th century civic building England. Of particular note id the 1.52m weather vane that is mounted on the Guildhall’s roof, created to resemble a fully rigged 18th century warship.
The vane was put on the roof in 1780, and its gilded copper and lead alloy construct has ensured that it has withstood two and half centuries of weather.
The Guildhall is the home of Rochester’s museum and visitors can delight in exploring a wealth of the city’s history, including a full size reconstruction of a portion of the Medway prison hulk, a 200,000 year old axe, and Roman artefacts uncovered in local archaeological digs.
There are actually four bridges that cross the Medway in Rochester – the Old Bridge, The Service Bridge, The New Bridge and The Railway Bridge. The Old Bridge is a beautiful cast iron bridge that will be of particular interest to anyone who is interested in the history of engineering, particularly in urban construction.
It was first opened in 1856, but it was soon discovered that it was not entirely fit for purpose, requiring renovation work within 50 years of opening.