Dickens and charisma in Rochester

PUBLISHED: 11:30 05 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:07 20 February 2013

Dickens and charisma in Rochester

Dickens and charisma in Rochester

Celebrating its annual Sweeps Festival this month, the largest May Day event of its kind in the UK, Rochester simply oozes charisma, colour and character

With a sensational cathedral, wonderful castle and a charismatic High Street, Rochester draws you into its indefinable mystique like a
cant-put-it-down book, and you never want to leave. Get ready for scenic views of the river Medway, old-fashioned tea rooms and centuries-old buildings just waiting to be discovered.
Dickenss favourite town, its buildings, cathedral and special Rochester essence feature in many of his books. Strangely enough, the town hasnt changed very much in the intervening years youll find antique shops stuffed with amazing Victoriana, traditional bakers and cosy pubs and restaurants; cars keep a fairly low profile, there arent any chain stores and even the relaxing pace of life seems more in tune with the 1800s than 2010.
Yet despite its Roman walls, hundred-year-old shops and Elizabethan mansions theres nothing staid or backward about the place: beneath its calm exterior its buzzing with vibrancy. And twice a year there are festivals, with dancing and music in the streets, not to mention the Farmers Market every month.

Around town
Parking is easy (there are 10 convenient car parks), and the busy A2 (Corporation Street) runs alongside the bulk of town but, being at a lower level, is shielded from it. The effect is as if the High Street is almost closeted away from most of the traffic, and this quaint central heart of Rochester is small enough to cover on foot, but big enough to stay interesting.
The going is mostly flat, apart from the castle, which is up a steep hill anyone disabled might find it hard to climb, although the castle gardens are fully accessible to wheelchair users.
The castle and gardens are at the river end of town, while the adjacent cathedral is closer to the centre, and the majority of the shops are beyond here. Do ask at the Medway visitor centre for town guides, as these are not kept out on display ask also for the In Dickens Footsteps guide (50p).
Beside the Visitors Centre is The Six Poor Travellers House (almshouses). Cross the road and you come to the environs of cathedral: the tea rooms and caf are in a beautifully atmospheric enclosure and beside the cathedral is Topes (01634 845270),
an exclusive restaurant that has been awarded two AA rosettes and has a private dining terrace (see page 130).
After visiting the cathedral, turn left along the High Street and you come to the excellent Kings Head hotel an inn has been on this site since the 12th century. Almost opposite the Kings Head, on your right is the
Old Corn Exchange, with its large clock jutting out over the pavement.
Continue along here and near bridge youll find the Guildhall Museum (1687). Opposite is the historic Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel. Turn left just before the bridge onto the Esplanade and from here you can climb up Castle Hill to the glorious remains of Rochester Castle, with its fantastic views across town and the Medway.
Leave the castle grounds by the small gate behind the keep and turn left along Bakers Walk. At the t-junction turn left again and then go into St Margaret Street on your right. This leads to Vines Lane, on the left, and here youll find the Vines, formerly the priory vineyard of the cathedral, and more recently developed as a public park.
Facing the Vines is the lovely Elizabethan red-brick Restoration House. Come out of here onto Crow Lane, and to your left is part of the old Roman wall. This road leads back to Eastgate, a continuation of the High Street. Go right here and on your left you come to Eastgate House and gardens; directly opposite is an attractive timber-framed ancient house, referred to in Dickens novels as both Mr Pumblechooks House and Mr Sapseas House.
This part of town is packed with all kinds of interesting shops with Dickensian references at every turn: Pips of Rochester, Dickens caf, Mrs Bumbles tea rooms, plus traditional bakers, grocers and delicatessens.

Dickens and Rochester
Rochester was Charles Dickenss favourite city, and his novels are peppered with references to Rochester landmarks. The Guildhall museum has a Dickens Discovery room and The Hulks Experience. The buildings used in the novels are detailed here:

The Pickwick Papers
Eastgate house (in the grounds of which is now Dickenss Chalet, a hut he wrote in), Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel (The Bull), the cathedral.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Dickenss last, unfinished, novel)
Eastgate house, Jaspers Gatehouse and Mr Topes House (two buildings, one of which originally led to the cathedral precincts), Mr Sapseas house (the mansion opposite Eastgate house), the cathedral, The Vines (here, Dickens was reported to have been seen leaning on a fence just prior to his death).

Seven Poor Travellers
The Six Poor Travellers, the Old Corn Exchange.

The Uncommercial Traveller
The Old Corn Exchange

Great Expectations
The Guildhall (in its previous incarnation as the Magistrates Court), Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel (where Dickens stayed), referred to as The Blue Boar, Mr Pumblechooks house, Restoration House (renamed Satis House and used as Miss Havishams home).

The Festivals

Rochester Sweeps Festival, 1-3 May
Medways annual Sweeps Festival is a facsimile of the annual festival of chimney sweeps on their annual holiday. The High Street is closed to traffic and there is a procession through the streets, which begins with an awakening of Jack-in-the-Green, a large, mummy-like container occupied by a person. This seven-foot character is woken at sunrise on Blue Bell Hill, Chatham, and marched to Rochester High Street. The festival is a colourful mixture of music, dancing and entertainment that ended in 1900 but was revived in 1981 by director Gordon Newton, who plays melodeon for several of the 100 Morris teams taking part. It is the largest May Day celebration of its kind in the country (see Doug Hudson interview).

Dickens Festival, 4-6 June
Held since 1978, Rochester is decorated as in Victorian times, and there are parades through the town centre during the day and the streets are full of colourful costumes and entertainment.

Dickens Christmas Festival, 4-5 December
The perfect opportunity for buying gifts and enjoying Rochesters festive atmosphere. Theres a lamp-lit procession.

Considering a move?
The cost of a one-bedroomed flat is 90-100,000, a two-bedroomed
flat is 99-140,000, for a three-bedroomed semi, youre looking at 115-190,000, while a four-bedroomed detached home would be in the region of 285-300,000.

More from Out & About

Yesterday, 16:11

Your foreign holiday may be on hold, but there is a plethora of inspirational ways to enjoy days out right here in our home county | Words: Emma Ward - Photos: Manu Palomeque

Read more
Yesterday, 12:35

We’ve gathered six of the best dog-friendly pubs in Kent to enjoy a bite to eat after a scenic stroll

Read more

From its literary links to its cricketing history, this riverside town has plenty of surprises to discover

Read more

There may not be the usual crowds this summer, but we can still look ahead to our return to one of Kent’s favourite seaside destinations - Whitstable

Read more
Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Picnic baskets at the ready because we have gathered 10 of the best places to enjoy a picnic in stunning rural Kent

Read more

As the world slows down, we turn our eyes to the skies in search of the best places to watch some celestial wonders this summer

Read more
Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Margate is Thanet’s trendiest seaside town so we selected some things to do, see and eat when visiting

Read more

Here are 12 places that may have flown under your radar before but are well worth seeking out

Read more

Kent is blessed with fine and indeed famous country houses, but over the decades has lost as many of its grander houses as it retains. A new book by Martin Easdown reveals 120 examples that have simply disappeared

Read more
Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Take our quiz to see if you can decipher the town or place in Kent from the emojis

Read more
Kent Life Food & Drink awards. Open for entries.

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook

Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Most Read

Latest from the Kent Life