Published: Wednesday, 2nd February 2022

We were delighted to welcome Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall to Medway today (Wednesday, 2 February).

We were honoured that Her Royal Highness opened a new permanent exhibition at The Guildhall Museum in Rochester, The Making Of Mr Dickens, which tells the story of one of England’s finest and most celebrated writers and Medway resident, Charles Dickens, designed and built by Guildhall Live Events at Guildhall School of Music & Drama.

His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales visited the Historic Dockyard Chatham whilst Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall visited Rochester.

Touring the new exhibition, which opens to the public on Tuesday, 8 February, Her Royal Highness learned about the relatively unknown side of Dickens’ life including his happy and adventurous childhood in Chatham, the sad days spent living hand to mouth in London, and his return to Higham, near Rochester, from Dr Jeremy Clarke, the council’s Heritage Education Officer and Dickens expert.

Using a combination of video, lighting and sound effects the exhibition transports visitors back to the streets and buildings of Victorian England.

The exhibition includes a number of objects that were owned by Dickens himself, including his walking stick and paperweight, as well as first edition copies of the six instalments of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, purchased and donated to the exhibition by The Friends of The Guildhall Museum.

When Her Royal Highness arrived at The Guildhall Museum, in Rochester High Street, she was greeted by characters in Victorian costume from The Rochester and Chatham Dickens Fellowship and joined a group of Year 5 pupils from St Margaret's at Troy Town C of E Primary School who were learning about Dickens.

The schoolchildren were inspired by a reading of Great Expectations by Her Royal Highness and Gerald Dickens, Charles Dickens’ great, great grandson 

In addition to meeting costumed characters from the age of Dickens during her visit, Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall will also give a reading to local school children of an extract from Great Expectations. The Duchess is passionate about shining a light on the importance of literacy, with a particular interest in encouraging a love of reading and writing from an early age.

Her Royal Highness then answered questions from the children including what her favourite Dickens' novel is, A Tale of Two Cities, her favourite character, The Artful Dodger, and Her Royal Highness talked about her passion for books which came from her father, the importance of reading and why authors such as Dickens are so important in bringing our country’s history to life.

Her Royal Highness has recently set up The Duchess of Cornwall’s Reading Room, a hub for literary communities around the world which offers book recommendations and insights from authors in a community space for book lovers of all ages, abilities and backgrounds.

Her Royal Highness opened the new Making of Mr Dickens exhibition

Leader of Medway Council, Cllr Alan Jarrett, said: “It was an absolute pleasure to welcome Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall to Medway. We are incredibly proud of Medway’s rich heritage, and our links to Charles Dickens, and it was wonderful that Her Royal Highness opened the new Making of Mr Dickens exhibition which celebrates Dickens’ life and his connections to Medway. I was delighted to meet her and show Her Royal Highness just one of the many fantastic visitor attractions we have here in Medway. The opening of this great exhibition is the first of many exciting events and attractions we have lined up for this important Platinum Jubilee year which will showcase the very best of Medway as a festival city and one of the most exciting places to visit in the south east. Medway is a city in all but name and last year we submitted our bid for city status, as part of Her Majesty’s jubilee celebrations.”

A lifelong memory that the children will treasure

Katie Willis, Headteacher of St Margaret's at Troy Town Church of England Primary School, part of The Pilgrim Multi-academy Trust, said: “It was an honour to be invited to the opening of the new Making of Mr Dickens Exhibition and the children were enthralled as they listened to Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall and Gerald Dickens read an excerpt from Great Expectations, which will be a lifelong memory that they will all treasure. Our school has strong links with the Guildhall and our pupils visit the museum several times a year. The museum’s education officer really does bring history to life and enthuses the children’s learning about history. We are privileged to have such an amazing museum and education opportunity on our doorstep.”

Celebrating the life of Dickens in Rochester once again

Gerald Dickens, the great, great grandson of Charles Dickens, said: “I was delighted to meet Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall and it was a tremendous honour, and privilege, to read a passage from Great Expectations alongside her to local schoolchildren. It is fantastic that there is an exhibition dedicated to celebrating the life of Dickens in Rochester once again and for it to be opened by Her Royal Highness was fantastic and fitting for what Dickens brought to Medway.”

The Royal visit comes just over a week before Medway’s creative spirit is illuminated when historic Rochester is lit up in impressive colour. Medway Light Nights, a spectacular festival of light, will transform Rochester’s historic buildings and spaces into works of art on Friday and Saturday, 11 and 12 February 2022.

We, in partnership with Emergency Exit Arts, have commissioned local, national and internationally renowned artists, to work alongside Medway’s young people and communities, to deliver an incredible event.

A host of local creative organisations including Icon Theatre, 51zero, Ideas Test and Lucid Creates are busy finalising plans for impressive installations and performances which will wow residents and visitors.

Several of the commissions have been inspired by Dickens’ work including Emergency Exit Arts’ The Dickensian Fire Laboratory which will harness the power of fire and steam in a series of audience-activated installations in The Vines, while various Victorian time travellers present a lesser-known narrative of Dickens.

All of Medway’s fantastic family-friendly festivals and events support our aspiration to become a Child-Friendly City, putting children and young people at the heart of everything we do.

Medway is a unique and exciting destination to visit for both residents and tourists, whether it’s the area’s wide range of family attractions, thriving cultural scene, stunning natural landscapes or the adventures on offer both on and off the water.

Medway has a rich cultural heritage and boasts historic gems including Rochester Castle, the finest and tallest Norman castle keep in the country, Rochester Cathedral, the second oldest cathedral in England, Chatham’s Historic Dockyard and Fort Amherst. Medway also has a wonderful range of museums and galleries to explore and enjoy.  

Medway also has fantastic connectivity with good motorway links and high-speed services to London.

Find out more.

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