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Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth in 1812. In 1817 his father, who worked as a clerk for the Royal Navy, moved the whole family to Chatham where he took up a post in tPicture of Charles Dickenshe Royal Dockyard. The Dickens household was based first in Ordnance Terrace and later at St Mary’s Place, on The Brook.

Although young Charles moved to London along with the rest of the family in 1822, he had by that time developed a strong feeling of affection for the Medway area. In 1856, as an enormously successful and well-known author, he bought Gad’s Hill Place in Higham, just outside Rochester. Until his death in 1870, he became a familiar figure walking energetically around the Medway Towns, to and from Gravesend Station, or out on the Hoo Peninsula.

Medway was always a great source of inspiration to Dickens, and many of its famous buildings as well as its distinctive landscape occur in his work, both in his journalism and his novels. Mr Pickwick, for instance, in Pickwick Papers, stays in the Bull Hotel (now the Royal Victoria and Bull) and walks on (the old) Rochester Bridge, admiring the view:

On either side, the banks of the Medway, covered with cornfields and pastures, with here and there a windmill, or a distant church, stretched away as far as the eye could see, presenting a rich and varied landscape, rendered more beautiful by the changing shadows which passed swiftly across it, as the thin and half-formed clouds skimmed away in the light of the morning sun.

Rochester is also the setting for the unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, were it is renamed Cloisterham. Perhaps most famously, at the beginning of Great Expectations, the escaped convict Magwitch surprises Pip in a lonely churchyard thought to be based on the one at Cooling, in the middle of a marsh landscape like a “dark, flat wilderness…intersected with dykes and mounds and gates."

Dickens’ associations with Medway still bring many thousands of tourists to the area, who come to enjoy the festivals and see the sights that inspired him.

 

For more information contact Medway Archives and Local Studies by telephone: 01634 332714 or by email: malsc@medway.gov.uk

Write to: Medway Archives and Local Studies, Medway Council, Gun Wharf, Dock Road, Chatham, Kent ME4 4TR