Rochester

Yet another -chester I have recently been to with my friend Jun. Very spontaneously we have decided to go on a day trip somewhere outside London. Having met up at Victoria station we just looked at the departures board and got onto the next train =)

Just an hour away from London, Rochester is a city in Kent and is famous for being an inspiration scene for many of Charles Dickens stories, e.g. Pickwick Papers, Great Expectations and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Together with its neighbouring towns of Chatham, Strood, Rainham andGillingham it forms a large urban area known colloquilly as the Medway Towns, or as the unitary authority of Medway (independent of Kent County Council).

Many shops and businesses have Dickens related names, and buildings and places featured in his novels are well signposted and a favourite for tourists. The town holds two Dickens festivals each year – ‘The Dickens Festival’, traditionally held over the May Bank Holiday over 3 or 4 days, and ‘A Dickensian Christmas Festival’ held at the beginning of December. Both attract large numbers of tourists from all over the world. 

Charles Dickens had wished to be buried in the churchyard at Rochester Cathedral. Instead, his body was buried in Poet’s Corner inside Westminster Abbey.

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  • Rochester Cathedral is the second oldest cathedral foundation in England, after Canterbury. Gundulf was appointed as the first Norman bishop of Rochester in 1077. The cathedral and its lands were restored to the bishop. Gundulf’s first undertaking in the construction of the new cathedral seems to have been the construction of the tower which today bears his name. In about 1080 he began construction of a new cathedral to replace Justus’ church. He was a talented architect who probably played a major part in the design or the works he commissioned.

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The doors to the cathedral are original 14th century. Jun and I touched it and admired without knowing the history and after the trip I have googled it up and was astonished even more. It is a beauty.

Close-Western-door-Rochester-Cathedral

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Motte and bailey is a typical Norman castle structure where a castle is built on a hill and has a yard surrounded by a wall. Gundulf, the bishop of Rochester, orchestrated the creation of a stone castle alongside the cathedral.

  • The Guildhall Museum – free entry, featuring permanent exhibitions based on Medway’s history. Situated in an historic listed building, it was constructed in 1697 and has been part of the Guildhall Museum since 1979. (The museum extends to the building next door, built 1909. A notable feature is a weathervane dating from 1780 in the form of an 18th century warship. The Guildhall Chamber is said to feature in the novel Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, and the museum includes a room dedicated to the author.

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The dolls were creepy but we enjoyed the museum – the pendant was donated in 1937 to the museum and belonged to the Mayoress. The Victorian room is great – very creepy but beautifully complete.

  • The Six Poor Travellers House -a 16th-century charity house in Rochester, Medway, founded by the local MP Richard Watts to provide free lodgings for poor travellers. Watts left money in his will for the benefit of six poor travellers, each of whom, according to a plaque on the outside of the building, would be given lodging and “entertainment” for one night before being sent on his way with fourpence.The house was the inspiration for Charles Dickens’ short story “The Seven Poor Travellers” (with Dickens himself, as narrator, being the seventh traveller). Watts’ benevolence and the Dickens story are remembered during Rochester’s fancy dress Dickensian Christmas Festival, when a turkey is cooked and ceremonially distributed to “the poor” at the house.The house features restored small Elizabethan period bedrooms, along with a herb garden in the rear, and is open to the public from March through October.

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During the reign of Elizabeth I, the sentence of transportation began to be used as the most severe punishment available to the law below the death penalty. This meant that thousands of people were sent over to the American colonies, where cheap labour was constantly in demand. With the end of the American War of Independence in 1776, this stopped and a crisis developed in the English penal system.

It was partly solved by housing many convicted criminals sentenced to hard labour on ageing warships, which could be anchored near the site of work on the banks of the Thames. These were the hulks. During the Napoleonic wars, their numbers grew to accommodate prisoners of war and spread to other rivers and estuaries, making them one of the features of life in the Medway Towns for many years.

The enormous numbers of prisoners of war brought to this country between 1793 and 1815 called into service more than 60 hulks. Some of the most notorious were moored off Chatham, such as the Brunswick, where 460 prisoners were crowded at night into a deck measuring 125 x 40 feet (approximately 38 x 12m) and with a ceiling only 4 feet 10 inches high (approximately 1.5m).

Despite these conditions, some prisoners spent their long days making the most extraordinary decorative objects out of bone, straw and hair. These they sold to local people and visitors and some of their efforts, including spectacular ship models, are on display at the Guildhall Museum today.

After the end of the war, hulks remained on the Medway, housing civilian prisoners. It is a Medway hulk from which Magwitch escapes in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, which is described in the book as lying “out a little way from the mud of the shore, like a wicked Noah’s ark.”

The last of the English prison hulks was destroyed by fire at Woolwich in 1857, on 14 July: Bastille Day.

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Medway river

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Having walked a lot we fancied a nice meal and yelped The Coopers Arms. It looked great and had local ales on tap but as it was Mother’s Day the pub was fully booked so we went to a local chippie (where I got greedy and ordered two kids meals).

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We walked across the bridge and saw an old submarine, a beautiful old thing.

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The Corn Exchange (when Charles Dickens was a child he saw this clock as grand and beautiful. having lived in London and upon his return to Rochester he saw this building with his adult eyes and got somewhat disappointed).

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We also got to England’s largest second hand bookshop – Baggins Book Bazaar. It is so big that I couldn’t even get to the end of it and also they seem to carry any possible genre =)

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And as usual on my countryside trips I treated myself to fuuudge!

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It was a great day out! =)