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£2.1million restoration unlocks the secrets of Eastgate House

18 July

A £2.1million conservation project to restore Eastgate House to its former glory is now complete and ready to fully open to the public for the first time in more than 30 years.

The magnificent grade one listed Elizabethan town house in the heart of historic Rochester, famous for references in Dickens’ novels, has been the focus of a careful conservation project over the past two years, and from Wednesday, 19 July, visitors can go inside and explore.

The work would not have been possible without funding from the National Lottery. In 2012, Medway Council successfully bid for a £1.2million grant towards the project, raised by National Lottery players and awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Buxton Building Contractors Limited has worked on behalf of Medway Council to delicately to restore the building to how it would have looked in its prime, including the reinstatement of a staircase that was removed more than a century ago.

Careful repairs were also made to the roof, windows and flooring. Some 21st century additions include a heating system, new lighting and a lift to the upper floors of the house. Inside visitors will find an exhibition and displays telling the story of the stunning house and those who have lived and worked there over the past 400 years. Built in 1590 it was originally the home of Sir Peter Buck, a senior officer at the Royal Tudor Dockyard, and has also been a Victorian boarding school for girls, and features in two of Charles Dickens’ best known novels.

Within its maze of stately panelled rooms, ornate ceilings and twisting stairways, many clues and mysteries from those past lives remain. During the conservation project numerous artefacts were discovered, including a small folded note found beneath the floorboards which is thought to have been an exchange between two pupils at the time when the house was a school. Other items uncovered include a toothbrush made of bone, a farthing dated 1923, a thimble and a gentleman’s collar pin.

'It’s important to conserve the area’s rich heritage'

Medway Council’s Portfolio Holder for Community Services Cllr Howard Doe said: “It’s very exciting indeed to be fully opening the beautiful Eastgate House to members of the public again. We’re very proud of what we’ve achieved with the building and hope many visitors will enjoy visiting and learning about the house.

“Eastgate House is just one of the many assets which links Medway to Charles Dickens, and we think it’s important to conserve the area’s rich heritage for future generations to enjoy.

“I’d like to thank Buxton Building Contractors Ltd for their expert work on such a delicate restoration, and thanks also needs to go to the National Lottery players and the Heritage Lottery Fund, who have made the project possible.”

Stuart McLeod, Head of HLF South East, said: “I’m delighted to see Eastgate House open its doors to the public, revealing the stories of local life throughout the ages. Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, this project has preserved a significant part of Rochester’s heritage and will re-establish the building as a valuable asset for the community for years to come.”

Director of Buxton Building Contractors Ltd Pauline Warnes said: “As main contractors we are proud to have been part of the team working on the sensitive restoration of such a prestigious historic building. Eastgate House is a landmark building in Rochester and we hope that both the local community and other visitor groups from far and wide will now be able to enjoy its unique story and rich history."