Daytripper – Rochester

April 13, 2012

We’ve talked about the Medway town of Rochester earlier in the week as part of our Dickens series but it’s also worth talking about this town in Kent in its own right. 

While Dickens’ connection with the town is a key part of the reason for its charm, this town, which dates from as far back as Roman times and remained an important centre thanks to its strategic position on the Medway, has plenty more to offer.

Foremost among its attractions are the Norman castle and cathedral. Rochester Castle has its origins in a wooden castle built soon after the Battle of Hastings in 1066 with the stone defences following soon after.

The tallest Norman keep in England, from which there are spectacular views, was built around 1127 on the order of its then owner, the Archbishop of Canterbury, William de Corbeil. It was about 90 years later, in 1215, when King John laid siege to it during the rebellion of his barons, only taking the castle after a seven week siege when his sappers undermined the south-east tower of the keep (famously it was the fat of 40 pigs which stoked the fire they laid in the tunnels under the tower). The castle was repaired and continued to be used until late medieval times when it fell into disuse and while much of the keep – the highest in England – is now ruined, it remains a stirring sight.

Rochester Cathedral, meanwhile, was first built in Saxon times (there has been a bishop here since 604) although no trace remains of this above ground. The current building, rather, dates from the Norman era – it was consecrated in 1130 in a ceremony attended by King Henry I – and was extensively added to over the following centuries with the completion of the Lady Chapel in 1492 the last major work. Among the most famous bishops here were Bishop Fisher and Bishop Ridley – both of whom died for their faith.

Strolling through the cobbled streets of this historic town, about 30 to 40 minutes from London by train, you’ll also come across the Guildhall Museum, which is housed in the 17th century guildhall and features a range of displays and exhibitions on the history of the Medway including a Dickens discovery room.

Also worth seeing is Eastgate House, the model for Dickens’ Westgate House and now the location of the Swiss chalet in which he wrote, and Restoration House – created from two medieval buildings in the 16th or 17th centuries and the inspiration for Miss Havisham’s home  (see our earlier post).

One unmissable gem is the Six Poor Travellers – an atmospheric and well preserved almshouse in the High Street which dates from Elizabethan times and has an amazing backstory which you can explore as you make your way through its narrow rooms.

Part of the charm of Rochester (and for more on Rochester generally visit www.cometorochester.co.uk/visit/index.htm) lies in its close proximity to Chatham and Gillingham and here you’ll find much more to amuse and entertain including Chatham’s Historic Dockyards (see our earlier daytripper on this), Fort Amherst, Britain’s largest Napoleonic fortress, and for those who can’t get enough of Charles Dickens, Dickens World.

Just to the north of Rochester is Upnor Castle, a rare surviving Elizabethan artillery fortress built to defend the fleet at Chatham Dockyard.

In which we continue our look at some of London’s connections with Dickens’ writings…

• ‘Oliver Twist’ workhouse, Cleveland Street. The building, recently heritage listed following a campaign to save it, is said to have served as the model for the workhouse in Oliver Twist and was apparently the only building of its kind still in operation when Dickens wrote the book in the 1830s. Dickens had lived as a teenager nearby in a house in Cleveland Street and was living less than a mile away in Doughty Street (now the Charles Dickens Museum) when he wrote Oliver Twist. Thanks to Ruth Richardson – author of Dickens and the Workhouse: Oliver Twist and the London Poor – for mentioning this after last week’s post.

• Clerkenwell Green. It is here that Mr Brownlow first comes into contact with Oliver Twist and, mistakenly suspecting him of stealing from him, chases him through the surrounding streets. Interestingly, the grass (which you would expect when talking about a green) has been gone for more than 300 years – so it wasn’t here in Dickens’ time either.

• Barnard’s Inn, Fetter Lane. It was here, at one of London’s Inns of Court, that Pip and Herbert Pocket had chambers in Great Expectations. Barnard’s Inn, now the home of Gresham College, is only one of a number of the Inns of Court with which Dickens and his books had associations – the author lived for a time at Furnival’s Inn while Lincoln’s Inn (off Chancery Lane) features in Bleak House and the medieval Staple Inn on High Holborn makes an appearance in his unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. And, as mentioned last week, Middle Temple also features in his books.

• ‘Dickens House’, Took’s Court. Renamed Cook’s Court in Bleak House, the house – located in a court between Chancery and Fetter Lane – was where the law stationer Mr Snagsby lived and worked in the book. It’s now occupied by music promoter and impresario Raymond Gubbay.

• London Bridge. The bridge, a new version of which had opened in 1831 (it has since been replaced), featured in many of Dickens’ writings including Martin Chuzzlewit, David Copperfield and Great Expectations. Other bridges also featured including Southwark Bridge (Little Dorrit) and Blackfriars Bridge (Barnaby Rudge) and as well as Eel Pie Island, south-west along the Thames River at Twickenham, which is mentioned in Nicholas Nickleby.

We’ve only included a brief sample of the many locations in London related in some way to Dickens’ literary works. Aside from those books we mentioned last week, you might also want to take a look at Richard Jones’ Walking Dickensian London,  Lee Jackson’s Walking Dickens’ London or, of course, Claire Tomalin’s recent biography, Charles Dickens: A Life.

London is redolent with sites which appeared in the books of Charles Dickens and, having had a look at his life, it’s time we turn our attention to some of the sites relevant to his writing. For the next two weeks, we’re looking at just a few of the many, many sites which feature in his novels. So, here’s seven places to get us going…

• Saffron Hill, Clerkenwell. Once a notorious slum akin to St Giles (see last week’s entry) and the city’s Italian Quarter, Saffron Hill is where Fagin and his gang of thieves operate in Oliver Twist and have their den.

• Chancery Lane, Holborn. Much of the novel Bleak House is set around this narrow street between High Holborn and Fleet Street – Tom Jarndyce kills himself in a coffee shop here in the novel and Lincoln’s Inn Hall – formerly home of the High Court of Chancery – also features.

• The Old Bailey. Some have suggested Dickens worked here as a court reporter although there is no compelling evidence he did so. But the the Old Bailey (the current building dates from the early 20th century, well after Dickens’ death) and Newgate Prison certainly featured in his books – it is here that Fagin is eventually hung in Oliver Twist.

• Child & Co’s Bank, Fleet Street. While the present building dates from 1878, Dickens is believed to have used the bank as the model for Tellson’s Bank in A Tale of Two Cities.

• St Dunstan-in-the-West, Fleet Street. In David Copperfield, David and his aunt, Betsy Trotwood, make a special trip to see the giants Gog and Magog strike the church bells. It also features in Barnaby Rudge and Dickens dedicated his Christmas story, The Chimes, to the church.

• Garden Court and Fountain Court (pictured), Middle Temple. Garden Court is where Pip lived in Great Expectations and where Abel Magwitch turned up to reveal himself as Pip’s benefactor. Fountain Court features in Martin Chuzzlewit as the site for the romance of Ruth Pinch and John Westlock.

• Golden Square, Soho. Mentioned in Nicholas Nickleby – Nicholas’ uncle, Ralph Nickleby, was thought to live in a previous building at number seven.

There’s some great books about London sites which appear in Dickens’ books – among them are Ed Glinert’s Literary London: A Street by Street Exploration of the Capital’s Literary Heritage and Michael Paterson’s Inside Dickens’ London as well as Paul Kenneth Garner’s 
A Walk Through Charles Dickens’ London.

We’ve looked at Charles’ Dickens childhood in London and some of his residences, workplaces and the pubs he attended. Before we take a look at some of the sites relevant to his writings, Exploring London takes a look at just a handful of the many other London sites associated with the famous Victorian author…

• Seven Dials and the former St Giles slum, Soho. An notorious slum of the 19th century, this area was among a number of “rookeries” or slums toured by Dickens in 1850 in the company of Inspector Field and police from Scotland Yard, and later helped to inform much of his writing. Seven Dials itself – located at the junction of Mercer and Earlham Streets and Upper St Martin’s Lane (pictured right is the monument at the junction’s centre) – has just undergone a renovation but much of the St Giles area is now irrevocably modernised. We’ll be mentioning another notorious slum located in Saffron Hill, Clerkenwell, in an upcoming week.

• Holland House, Kensington. Dickens became a friend of Lady Holland’s after attending one of her exclusive soirees at the age of 26. He was a guest at the house, now a youth hostel, in Holland Park on numerous occasions.

• Royalty House, Dean Street, Soho. The former site of the Royalty Theatre, known in Dickens’ day as Miss Kelly’s Theatre, it was here on 21st September, 1845, that Dickens and a group of friends performed Ben Jonson’s play, Every Man in his Humour (1598). Dickens acted as stage manager and director as well as playing the part of Captain Bobadil.

• Buckingham Palace. It was here in March 1870 – not long before his death – that Dickens had his only face-to-face meeting with Queen Victoria. She apparently found him to have a  “large, loving mind and the strongest sympathy with the poorer classes”.

• Westminster Abbey. Our final stop for it was here that Dickens was buried on 14th June, 1870, following his death at his home near Rochester in Kent. Dickens had apparently wanted to be buried in Rochester but given his public profile, Westminster Abbey was seen as the only fitting place of rest for him (his wishes for a small, private funeral were, however, respected but thousands did visit the site in the days following). His grave sits in Poet’s Corner.

As the fame of author Charles Dickens grew, so too did his philanthropy and today we’re highlighting a couple of the London institutions he was known to support (and yes, we’ve changed the title for this series as most of the entries comprised more than one site!)…

1. Urania Cottage. A home for the redemption of “fallen women” or prostitutes, Urania Cottage was founded by an initially reluctant Dickens in Shepherd’s Bush in the city’s west in the late 1840s following an approach by Angela Burdett Coutts, heiress to the Coutts banking fortune. The home was founded as an alternative to existing institutions for such women – known for their “harsh and punishing” routines – and instead looked to provide an environment where they could learn skills, such as reading and writing, to help them successfully reintegrate into society (this would be overseas as all the women who spent time at the house were apparently required to emigrate following their time there). After founding the home in Lime Grove, Dickens became heavily involved in establishing the day-to-day running of the home – including interviewing prospective residents and personally searching prisons and workhouses for suitable candidates. It’s estimated that 100 women graduated from the home between 1847 and 1859. (For more, see Jenny Hartley’s Charles Dickens and the House of Fallen Women).

2. Great Ormond Street Hospital. Dickens played an important role in helping to publicise the work of this hospital – then known as the Hospital for Sick Children in Great Ormond Street, it opened in a converted 17th century townhouse in Great Ormond Street in 1852 and, initially with just 10 beds, was the first hospital in Britain to offer inpatient care only to children. The hospital was apparently initially regarded with suspicion by many and had few patients but Dickens, a close friend of Dr Charles West, the principal founder of the hospital, was able to write a powerful article about the hospital in his publication Household Words and so help to popularise its ground-breaking work. Dickens was a regular at the hospital’s annual fundraising dinner, was appointed an honorary governor and helped save the church from financial collapse in 1858 when he gave a public reading at St Martin-in-the-Fields’ church hall to raise funds. For more on the history of Great Ormond Street, see www.gosh.nhs.uk/about-us/our-history/.

3. Battersea Dogs & Cats Home. Clearly concerned with the well-being of all creatures great and small, Dickens was an influential supporter of the dogs home – then housed in a disused barn in Hollingsworth Street, Holloway – writing an article in the 1860s in his magazine All The Year Round about how dogs were cared for at the then fledgling organisation. In honor of the bicentenary of his birth, the home has been naming some of the animals in its care after some of the characters created by the Victorian author – these include a Staffordshire bull terrier called Copperfield and a bull mastiff cross called Dodger. For more on the home, see www.battersea.org.uk.

We’d be interested to hear from you if there are any other organisations you’re aware of which Dickens supported…

There hardly seems to be a pub in London which doesn’t claim some connection with the Victorian author but we thought we’d confine ourselves to five pubs with more well-established credentials…

• Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. This pub is a Fleet Street institution with parts of the current building dating back to 1667 when it was rebuilt following the Great Fire. Dickens was among numerous literary figures who frequented the premises – the pub is perhaps most famously associated with the lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson (although there is apparently no recorded evidence he ever attended here); other literary figures who came here include Mark Twain and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – and, according to a plaque in Wine Court, worked out of the pub for a period while producing his journal All The Year Round.

• The One Tun, Saffron Hill. Said to have been established as an ale house on its present site in 1759, the pub was rebuilt in the mid-Victorian era  and was apparently patronised by Dickens between 1833 and 1838. It’s also apparently the inspiration for the pub called The Three Cripples in Oliver Twist (The Three Cripples was actually a lodging house next door to the One Tun and didn’t sell ale). For more, see www.onetun.com

• The George Inn, Southwark. Dating from the 17th century, the George Inn in Borough High Street is the last galleried coaching inn left standing in London and is now cared for by the National Trust (and leased for use by a private company). Dickens is known to have come here when it was running as a coffee house and he mentions it in the book, Little Dorrit. For more, see     www.nationaltrust.org.uk/george-inn/.

• George & Vulture, Castle Court (near Lombard Street). Established in the 18th century on the site of an older inn, this well-hidden pub was not only frequented by Dickens but is mentioned in The Pickwick Papers more than 20 times.

• The Grapes, Limehouse. Formerly known as The Bunch of Grapes, there has been a pub on the site for almost more than 430 years. Dickens was known to be a patron here (his godfather lived in Limehouse) and mentioned the pub – renamed The Six Jolly Fellowship Porters – appears in his novel Our Mutual Friend. For more, see www.thegrapes.co.uk.

• Ye Olde Mitre, Ely Place. This pub dates from the mid 1500s by Bishop Goodrich of Ely to house his retainers and later rented out to Sir Christopher Hatton (it still houses the remains of a cherry tree which Sir Christopher is said to have danced around during a May Day celebration with none other than the future Queen Elizabeth I). Dickens (and the ubiquitous Dr Johnson) are both said to have drunk here.

• And lastly, The Dickens Inn in St Katharine Docks. It’s worth noting up front that Charles Dickens had nothing to do with this pub – dating back to at least 1800, it was once a warehouse and is thought to have been used to either house tea or play a role in a local brewing operation – but it was his great grandson, Cedric Charles Dickens, who formally opened the pub in 1976, apparently declaring, “My great grandfather would have loved this inn”. For more, see www.dickensinn.co.uk.

This list is by no means comprehensive – we’d love to hear from you if you know of any other pubs Dickens frequented…

We’re celebrating the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens this year so it’s only fitting that we look at a building which has been, rightly or wrongly, associated with one of his books.

Located at 13-14 Portsmouth Street in Westminster, The Old Curiosity Shop now operates as a shop selling handmade fashions and footwear but the building apparently dates back 1567, making it a strong contender for the title of London’s oldest shop.

The name – The Old Curiosity Shop – was apparently applied to the building some years after Dickens first published his story, The Old Curiosity Shop, in the weekly serial, Master Humphrey’s Clock, in 1840 and 1841. The belief subsequently arose that it was this building the author had in mind when writing the book which tells the tale of Little Nell and her grandfather, a shopkeeper, and their interactions with the evil moneylender Daniel Quilp.

The claim is disputed by some, author Ed Glinert among them. In his book Literary London: A Street by Street Exploration of the Capital’s Literary Heritage he says the model for Dickens’ building was located at either 24 Fetter Lane or 10 Orange Street near Leicester Square and notes that at the end of the novel, Dickens said the building had long since been pulled down.

The Grade II* listed building, which survived the Great Fire of 1666 and the Blitz of World War II, is said to have been made from wood taken from old ships. Apparently at one stage it was a dairy which belonged to an estate awarded by King Charles II to one of his mistresses.

For more, see www.curiosityuk.com.

We kick off this week’s special – which looks at some of the London premises in which Dickens spent his working life – where we left off last week. Charles Dickens, now 15, had once again been forced to leave school and seek employment – this time as a solicitor’s clerk. From 1827 to 1828, the future author worked at two firms before, having taught himself shorthand, he launched his career as a journalist.

Dickens started his life in his new profession as a freelance law reporter working out of Doctor’s Commons where civil cases were heard (the site of which is marked with a blue plaque on the north side of Queen Victoria Street). Around 1830, he began to work for the newspaper, Mirror of Parliament, which was owned by his uncle and then, in 1832 he was employed at the True Sun newspaper.

His first published literary works started appearing in Monthly Magazine in December the following year (his first printed story was initially entitled A Dinner at Poplar Walk) and eight months later, in August 1834, he took on a new job as a reporter at the influential Whig paper, the Morning Chronicle. His writing was subsequently also published in the Evening Chronicle.

Among the magazine’s Dickens edited were Bentley’s Miscellany – this was the vehicle in which Oliver Twist was first published – and Household WordsHard Times was first published in this – as well as All the Year RoundA Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations were both first serialised in this magazine which was located at 26 Wellington Street not far from Covent Garden. The building is now the home to the Charles Dickens Coffee House (pictured).

Next week we’ll be taking a look at some of places in London where Dickens lived…

In the first of a new special series written in honor of the bicentenary of the birth of author Charles Dickens (he was born on 7th February, 1812), we take a look at the Charles Dickens Museum.

Housed in one of Dickens’ former London residences at 48 Doughty Street in Bloomsbury, this property is now the focal point for people wanting to find out more about the writer and his life as evidenced by the visit of Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, on Tuesday to officially mark Dickens’ birth.

Dickens lived in the property from 1837 to 1839 and it was here that significant family events, such as the birth of two of his children – Mary and Kate – and the death of his wife Catherine’s 17-year-old sister Mary took place (Mary’s tragic death is believed to be the inspiration for that of the character Little Nell in the novel The Old Curiosity Shop). It was also at the property that he wrote some of his most famous novels, including Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, and The Pickwick Papers.

A growing demand for space, however, led Dickens to move his household to 1 Devonshire Terrace in 1839. The Doughty Street house meanwhile, the only one of Dickens’ London homes to have survived, remained a residential property but in 1923 it was threatened with demolition and subsequently acquired by the Dickens Fellowship. The museum opened there two years later.

The museum now claims to hold more than 100,000 Dickens-related artifacts. The house is displayed as it might have been when Dickens lived there – artifacts on display over four floors include his personal possessions and furnishings as well as manuscripts, letters, first edition copies of some of his books and portraits, including R.W. Buss’ spectacular (and unfinished) Dickens’ Dream, showing the author at his country home of Gads Hill Place in Kent surrounded by many of the characters that he had created.

It’s important to note that from 9th April, the museum will be closed as it undergoes a £3.2 million project, called Great Expectations, which will involve the restoration and expansion of the museum. It is expected to reopen in December this year in time to celebrate a Dickensian Christmas.

For more on events celebrating Charles Dickens and his works this year, see www.dickensfellowship.org or www.dickens2012.org.

WHERE: 48 Doughty Street, Bloomsbury (nearest Tube stations are Russell Square, Chancery Lane or Holborn). WHEN: 10am to 5pm Monday to Sunday (last admission 4.30pm) COST: £7 adults/£5 concessions/£3 children (under 10 free); WEBSITE: www.dickensmuseum.com.