Published: Tuesday, 25th January 2022

Work is well underway to restore a Grade II* listed Georgian mansion in Rochester.

The imposing building on the corner of Hulkes Lane, known as Chatham House, is currently being transformed, thanks to government funding.

In 2020 we were awarded £1.6million government funding to revitalise a section of the Star Hill to Sun Pier Conservation Area, which covers parts of Chatham and Rochester high streets, as part of Historic England’s High Street Heritage Action Zone Programme.

Around £200,000 of this funding is being used to restore the front of Chatham House to its former glory including reinstating a copy of the original porch and railings which were removed in 1936 to create a modern shop front.

The house itself dates back to the 18th century and has been occupied by Featherstones Ltd since the early 1930s when it became the home of the furniture, carpet and hardware departments of the local family run department store chain.

We are working closely with Historic England and Featherstones Ltd to restore the front of the building. This is the first stage of a long-term project to bring the building back into use and is also the first major capital project funding by the High Street Heritage Action Zone Programme, which runs until 2024.

We have also commissioned Creatabot and Future Chatham to run a reminiscence project and local residents are encouraged to send photographs and memories of the former Featherstones department stores to heritage@creatabot.co.uk. The photos and anecdotes will be used to inspire further community projects and also be added to the collections at the Medway Archives Centre.

The remaining funding will be used to:

  • Create a development framework to guide future development in the area in a way which protects heritage and character whilst enabling sensitive sustainable growth and regeneration. The framework will also incorporate a highway accessibility and safety study to help improve safety and accessibility for pedestrians and cyclists. It is hoped that this will attract more residents and visitors to the area and help revitalise the evening economy.
  • Create a re-use and re-vitalise buildings programme to offer business support, grants and help promote vacant building opportunities, including a specific focus on Chatham House and the St Bartholomew’s Waterworks building to create a “hub” for the Heritage Action Zone. This will increase economic activity in the area as well as employment opportunities, co-working spaces, boosting the local economy.
  • Facilitate the creation of a local creative consortium to develop a cultural heritage and engagement programme to animate the area’s heritage story. This exciting programme will include community events which aim to increase footfall in the area and help provide an economically sustainable legacy of the area as a destination in its own right.

We will continue to follow government advice during the Coronavirus pandemic and is working closely with Historic England to ensure the project progresses safely.

Medway is steeped in history

Leader of Medway Council, Cllr Alan Jarrett, said: “I am delighted that work has begun to restore the front of Chatham House. This exciting project is the first of many which will benefit from funding thanks to Historic England’s High Street Heritage Action Zone Programme. Medway is steeped in history, and I am pleased that we are working with Historic England to help preserve the future of one of our historic high streets. I look forward to watching the works progress.”

Chatham House is ready to be rediscovered and enjoyed

Sheila Featherstone said: “Featherstones are delighted to have this opportunity to work with Medway Council and Historic England to revitalise this wonderful building. Four generations of the Featherstone family have been involved in the High Street, initially as retailers and latterly as custodians of significant historic buildings, providing workspace for a variety of small businesses. Despite our best intentions we have not been able to restore them to their former glory due to financial constraints, thus Chatham House remains in its original form ready to be rediscovered and enjoyed. We are excited that it will again contribute to the life of High Street Chatham Intra, at the heart of the Heritage Action Zone.”

Architectural gem

Alice Brockway, Inspector of Historic Buildings and Areas at Historic England, said: “Chatham House is an architectural gem in a fascinating part of Medway - the area between Sun Pier in Chatham and Star Hill in Rochester has a distinctive historic character shaped by its proximity to the river. External repairs are the first step towards bringing this important historic building back into use, reinstating long lost architectural features from its early history. We very much look forward to the unveiling later this year.”

Find out more about the High Street Heritage Action Zone Programme.

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