Castle - No
one can miss the great square keep of the Castle as it towers above the
River Medway, a daunting reminder of the history of the City. It was on
this site that the Romans originally built the first fort to guard the
bridge which connected the Imperial Route of Watling Street, leading from
London to Dover.Many
centuries later in 1087, Bishop Gundulf - one of William the Conqueror's
finest architects - began construction on the Castle where many of the
outer walls followed the same lines as their Roman originals. Now, the
Castle is well known as one of the best preserved and finest examples of
Norman architecture in England, measuring 113 feet high, 70 feet square
and with walls 11 to 13 feet thick. The Keep is the tallest in the country;
visitors can wend their way up the circular staircase leading to the battlements
and take in superb views of the City and surrounding countryside.
The castle remained
in the hands of the Archbishop of Canterbury until 1215 when it was seized
after a two-month siege by King John who used every resource available
to gain control of the castle.
Many of the
curtain walls were built in the 12th and 13th century. Entry to the castle
gardens from the Esplanade is via a mock Norman arch which was cut into
the outer bastion by the Royal Engineers in 1872. The cannon at the top
of the steps is a relic of the Crimean War.
The stark drama
of this ancient and imposing castle, which evokes a rich tapestry of historic
atmosphere, makes it well worth a visit in any season.
Cathedral - Originally
founded in 604 by Bishop Justus, Rochester
Cathedral is the second oldest in England and a regular place of pilgrimage
for historians and worshippers alike.Between the years of 604 and 1080
when it was rebuilt by Bishop Gundulf, the Cathedral withstood numerous
Viking raids. The nave and parts of the crypt are Norman; added to this
are many styles of Gothic architecture, which blend perfectly with the
building. In the crypt visitors can find an altar built for Ithamar, the
first English Bishop. Graffiti is no modern invention; explore the crypt
and you will find "holy graffiti" presumed to be the work of
monks. The Cathedral also contains a large collection of medieval wall
paintings; whilst many are now in fragments, the Wheel of Fortune in the
Quire is well worth looking out for. The exquisitely carved medieval Chapter
Room doorway, the 13th century choir stalls and the heads in the North
Transept, which have been so finely carved by medieval stone masons, should
not be missed.
The same sense
of peace and tranquillity prevails outside the Cathedral as it does within.
Visitors can stroll through the Cloister Garth Gardens where some of the
recently renovated monastic remains can be found. Beside the garden is
the St. Andrews Visitors Centre, which was the original Deanery, dating
back to 1640.
Today the Cathedral
serves the Diocese of Rochester (with 200 parishes in West Kent) and the
London Boroughs of Bromley and Bexley with a population of well over 1,000,000
are accompanied by a professional choir and one of the most magnificent
organs in the country. Fourteen centuries of worship have created an atmosphere
of peace and reflection. Temple Manor, a 13th century lodging house for
the Knights Templar can be found at Strood.
Dickens in the City he loved
and the surrounding Strood countryside are where Charles Dickens spent
many happy years, both as a child and later in life when he returned to
live in the area he had grown to love so much. As a child, the characters
he encountered and the places he visited had a powerful effect on his imagination.
This is particularly true of Rochester, which appears frequently in both
his novels and his journalistic work.
was five years old when his father John Dickens, left Portsmouth to start
work at the Navy Pay Office at Chatham Dockyard in 1817. They moved into
No.2 (now No. 11) Ordnance Terrace, Chatham where Charles spent many of
the happiest years of his life. In 1821 the family moved to 18 St. Mary's
Place, The Brook. Here Charles could read his father's novels up in an
attic room, looking up every now and again and seeing what would probably
have been a superb view of Rochester Castle and Cathedral. Unfortunately,
the house was demolished in 1941.
The Royal Dockyard
was a constant source of fascination to the small boy. Trades and skills
of the rope-makers, the anchors smiths and the blacksmiths all drew the
attention of the young Dickens, as did the morbid sight of the convict
hulks moored out in the Medway. Later, Dickens was to recall these sights
and record them in one of his best-known novels 'Great Expectations'.
In 1856 Dickens
bought Gads Hill Place, an imposing building which stands in Higham between
Rochester and Gravesend. "This is Falstaff's own Gads Hill, and I
live on the top of it... my house... is one I was extraordinarily fond
of when a child", he wrote in 1860. After he separated from his wife,
Dickens sold his house in Tavistock Square, London and lived mainly at
Gads Hill. Walking was one of Dickens favourite pastimes. As a child he
had strolled miles in the company of his father; often they would walk
to Frindsbury and Chalk, passing through Cobham Wood and visiting the Leather
Bottle Inn at Cobham on the way. Later in life, he followed the same route
and would also walk along to Chatham Lines via Rochester. Dickens often
visited Rochester and on Monday 6th June 1870, he walked over from Gads
Hill accompanied by his dogs; when he reached Rochester he was seen leaning
on the fence of Restoration House and apparently examining the old mansion
with great care. Three days later on the evening of 9th June 1870, he died
of a stroke after spending the day working on The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
had always hoped to he buried in the graveyard at Rochester Castle, it
was decreed by Queen Victoria that he should he buried in Westminster Abbey.
to Find Rochester in The Novels of Dickens - Rochester,
Chatham and the surrounding areas are rich in atmosphere and personality.
Between them, they provided Dickens with many of his most memorable scenes
and characters. "Great Expectations" was written in 1860-61 and
was set in and around Rochester more than any novel since Pickwick Papers,
which was published in 1836. In "The Mystery of Edwin Drood",
Dickens last and unfinished novel, Rochester is depicted as Cloisterham.
Dickens Centre and Eastgate House
Dickens Centre can be found in Eastgate House, a delightful Elizabethan
house which is of great architectural and historic significance in itself.
The house acquired its name from Eastgate Street, the former name of the
section of the High Street in which it stands. It was built in 1590 for
Sir Peter Buck, once Alderman and Mayor of the City of Rochester and Clerk
of the Cheque at Chatham Dockyard.
Coat of Arms and those of his first wife can be seen in the building, principally
on the fine decorative plaster-work ceiling on the first floor and on a
carved wooden shield which is set high among the gables on the High Street
frontage of the house.
end of the 18th century, the house became a boarding school for young ladies
and remained so until well into the 19th century. Dickens knew the school
and portrayed it in Pickwick Papers as Westgate House.
In 1897, the
corporation of the City of Rochester decided to honour Queen Victoria's
Diamond Jubilee and establish a museum. Eastgate House was purchased for
this purpose for the princely sum of £2,000!
In 1979 the
City Museum was moved to the Guildhall and The Charles Dickens Centre was
created. The Centre was completely refurbished for 1996 and uses the most
up to date, state of the art technology to vividly portray the life and
times of the great 19th century novelist and the unforgettable characters
The centre also
contains a dramatic tableau in which special effects are used to bring
to life Dickens Dream', based on the famous painting in which many of his
characters visit him whilst he dozes in his study.
the gardens of Eastgate House is the Swiss Chalet from Gads Hill Place,
Dickens' last home. It was presented to Dickens in 1864 by a French actor
called Charles Fletcher and arrived at Higham railway station packed in
58 packing cases. Dickens used the chalet as a summerhouse and study, and
was writing the final chapters of 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood' in the upstairs
room just before his death on 9th June 1870. After Dickens' death, the
chalet was taken to London and put on public exhibition. However, his family
were somewhat disconcerted by this and it was finally presented to Lord
Darnley who had it erected in the grounds of his home, Cobham Hall.
In 1960 the
chalet was purchased by the Dickens Fellowship which gave it to Rochester
City Corporation. It was then erected on its present site in the grounds
of Eastgate House. Unfortunately, because the chalet is rather fragile,
it is not open to the public but may be viewed from the outside.
Street is a thriving, buzzing centre, which is full of colour and activity.
Not only does it contain a wonderful choice of shops, restaurants and cafes
but also a wealth of buildings of great architectural and historic interest.
Guildhall - The
Guildhall was built in 1687 and is one of, if not, the finest 17th century
civic building in Kent. The main staircase and principal chamber have magnificently
decorated plaster ceilings, given in 1695 by Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell
who was Member of Parliament for the City at the time. His portrait can
be found in the main chamber, along with those of other notable MPs for
the City. Outside, mounted on the cupola on the roof is a superb gilded
weathervane in the form of a fully rigged 18th century warship. This vane
has weathered the ever changing climates since 1780.
has housed the main museum of Rochester since 1979. After major refurbishment
the Museum re-opened in 1994 with brand new displays where visitors follow
a "time line" through the City's history aided by the latest
visual displays and sound effects. The centre-piece of the museum is a
special themed two tier gallery recreating a Medway prison hulk of the
Napoleonic period, illustrating the terrible conditions in which prisoners
In the adjoining
Conservancy Wing the story of local music balls, theatres and domestic
entertainment is retold. Also on display are exhibitions of Victoriana,
dolls, toys and old photographs.
Charity - Immortalised
by Dickens in a Christmas short story, 'The Seven Poor Travellers', Watts
Charity was endowed by Sir Richard Watts, an MP for the City in Elizabethan
times, to house 'six poor travellers' for one night each. Whilst the house
is mainly Tudor, the front was added in 1771.
Gate - One
of the three remaining old monastery precinct gates, this has also been
known as Jaspers Gate, Cemetery Gate and College Gate. It featured in Dickens'
novel 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood' as the gatehouse home of Mr John Jasper.
Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel - This
charming old coaching Inn has been in existence since the late 15tb century
and naturally, did not escape the attention of Dickens who mentioned it
in two of his greatest novels, Pickwick Papers and Great Expectations.
Originally the inn was known quite simply as 'The Bull on The Hoope'; however
Princess Victoria, then the future Queen of England, stayed there for one
night and it assumed its present name.
Corn Exchange - Built
in 1698, this building was originally the Butcher's Market. In 1706 the
ornate frontage was added at the expense of Sir Cloudesley Shovell. The
original clock, which was smaller and square in shape, was replaced in
1771. It was not until the first part of the 19th century that the building
became The Corn Exchange.
Museum of Bygones - Opened
in June 1996 the museum exhibits a collection of packaging and artefacts
from the last 100 years, all set in period style shop fronts and rooms
of the time.
Places of Historic Interest
the Vikings, the Normans; Kings, Queens and statesmen - all have passed
through Rochester, leaving their mark on a unique City which can he matched
for historic wealth and interest by few others.
House, Bakers Walk - Originally
this was a huge 16th century mansion, a part of which was Longley House,
the Friars and the Old Hall. Queen Elizabeth I added her Royal stamp to
the house which she visited in 1573. Ever since it has been known as Satis
Hall, Bakers Walk - Elizabeth
I also visited this charming old residence in 1573. The house contains
some particularly fine wall paintings.
Chapel, Esplanade - Until
the 16th century a Bridge chapel at the end of the medieval bridge was
used by travellers to give thanks for safely crossing the bridge. Built
in 1397 the chapel was restored by the Bridge Wardens in 1936 and now serves
as the Bridge Trust's board room.
Canon Row - A
row of seven charming 18th century houses at the rear of the Cathedral
which feature in Dickens novel "The Mystery of Edwin Drood".
Nos 1-6 were built in 1723 to house the minor canons of the Cathedral,
while number 7 was added as a home for the Cathedral organist, a purpose
it still serves today.
No. two was
also home to Dame Sybil Thorndike OBE the great British classical actress,
when her father was a canon of the Cathedral.
Gate - Leading
from Minor Canon Row to St. Margaret's Street is Prior's Gate, the most
perfect of three surviving 14th century monastic gates.
Margaret's Street - Well
worth visiting is this lovely old street which runs southwards from the
Cathedral and Castle. Bishopscourt, the present Bishop's Palace can he
found here; it was initially bequeathed to the Bishop of Rochester in 1674
for maintenance of hospitality near the Cathedral". The Coopers Arms
is a charming old inn, which could have been visited by the pilgrims as
they passed through Rochester on their way to Canterbury and the Continent.
The 15th century medieval tower and belfry of St. Margaret's Church are
still standing today whilst the rest of the church was built around them
between 1824 and 1840.