Published: Monday, 14th February 2022

Residents can find out more about the life of one of England’s finest and most celebrated writers at a new permanent exhibition in Medway.

The Making of Mr Dickens exhibition at The Guildhall Museum in Rochester High Street explores the relatively unknown side of Dickens’ life including his happy and adventurous childhood in Chatham, the days he spent living hand to mouth in London and his return to Higham, near Rochester, as well as the inspiration he found from living in Medway.

The exhibition, which was developed with Guildhall Live Events, part of Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London, is now open to the public and will be the starting point for residents and visitors who wish to find out more about, and better understand, Dickens.

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

The exhibition was officially opened by Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall on Wednesday, 2 February. In addition to meeting costumed characters from the age of Dickens during her visit last week, Her Royal Highness read an extract from Great Expectations to local schoolchildren alongside Gerald Dickens, Charles Dickens’ great, great grandson.

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.

The Making of Mr Dickens exhibition begins with stories of Dickens’ childhood in Chatham and includes a giant replica model of his childhood home, followed by a small theatre stage showing a short film about his life.

Visitors can then find out more about the difficulties he experienced when he worked at a blacking factory in London which made boot polish and his father being in a debtors’ prison. A further room celebrates Dickens’ successful career as a journalist and writer and a large shop window illustrates this with artefacts from this era.

The final room explores the later years of Dickens’ life in Medway when he bought his dream home at Gads Hill Place, just north of Rochester, and includes some of his personal effects such as his walking stick, paper knife (letter opener) and a paperweight.

The exhibition also includes a copy of the first six instalments of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which was purchased and donated to the exhibition by The Friends of The Guildhall Museum.

As visitors leave the exhibition they will see a map showing all the locations in Medway with links to Dickens as well as the buildings which are believed to have inspired locations in his novels.

Exhibition for all ages

Cllr Howard Doe, Medway Council’s Portfolio Holder for Community Services, said: “I am pleased that this fantastic new permanent exhibition has opened at The Guildhall Museum in time for half term, for residents of all ages to enjoy. The Making of Mr Dickens exhibition supports Medway’s aspiration to become a Child-Friendly City, putting children and young people at the heart of everything we do. I would encourage residents to visit the exhibition and find out more about Dickens’ fascinating life as well as his inspirations and connections to Medway.”

Enjoyed by many for years to come

Dan Shorten, Guildhall Live Events’ Creative Director, said: “It has been a privilege working alongside the dedicated team at Medway Council. It has been exciting and inspiring finding creative ways to express the extraordinary knowledge of their staff and celebrate The Guildhall Museum's collection. We have used scenic design and digital technology to combine physical and musical elements together, into an exhibition that we hope will be enjoyed by many for years to come." 

Find out more about The Guildhall Museum and opening times.

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