An important inspiration for Charles Dickens, Rochester retains many mediaeval features, including houses in the High Street, the cathedral and castle. We shall have a guided walking tour and visit to Restoration House, a unique survival of a city mansion from the 17th C and named from the stay of Charles II. Dickens made it the home of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations.
By coach from Grayshott. Booking from May 2019.
The Romans realised that Rochester was strategically important as it stood at the point nearest the sea where the river Medway could be bridged. So they built a bridge for their major Dover to London road, Watling Street (now the A2), and a protective fort. Later the Normans built a stone castle on the ruins of the old Roman fort and a new cathedral, though a first cathedral had been founded here in the early 7th C, the second oldest in the country after Canterbury.
Today the centre of the city with its long High Street retains much historical charm with some surviving mediaeval buildings jostling with later Georgian and Victorian ones. It has been much visited by our monarchs from William the Conqueror to Queen Elizabeth II, not to mention such luminaries as Samuel Pepys, William Hogarth, Samuel Johnson and Dame Sybil Thorndike.
But the person most closely associated with Rochester is Charles Dickens, who lived in nearby Chatham for a while as a child and later bought a house nearby. Only London has more mentions in his novels. In Great Expectations he set Miss Havisham’s home in Restoration House. Taking its name from the stay of Charles II on the eve of his restoration to the throne, it is the amalgamation of two medieval buildings which were combined in the late 16th or early 17th C to create a mansion house. Over the past decade the present owners have restored the house, uncovered decoration schemes from the mid-17th C and filled the rooms with period furniture, ceramics and paintings, including works by Gainsborough, Reynolds and Constable.
The house also has a very attractive large walled garden with a parterre, topiary, shrubs and herbaceous borders, as well as a former Tudor garden, including a Renaissance water garden, in progress of restoration.