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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 the 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
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.
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