Have you ever walked down Rochester High Street and stopped to take a moment to appreciate the history and character of the area? Having grown up in the area I often took the history and significance of this wonderful place for granted. From one of the oldest castles in the world, to buildings which inspired one of the most masterful writers of the English language, there is so much to learn about Rochester that I decided to explore this further. So one Saturday afternoon, I ventured out to take The City of Rochester walking tour hoping to immerse myself in the impressive history of Rochester, and I must say I was not disappointed.
With the tour due to start at 2:15 pm, I decided to arrive early, grab a bite to eat and a coffee from my favourite bakery and eagerly anticipate the 90 minutes of excitement ahead. Being a bit of a history buff my entire life I knew some facts about the area and was revelling in being able to learn even more. Once I arrived at the departure point at the Visitor Information Centre I greeted the tour guide Geoff who was very kind and professional. The tour gathered a fair amount of people from a wide range of areas. A gentleman and I were two locals, but we were also joined by a lady from Estonia, another lady from Scotland, and a lady with her children from Poland. It was quite the mix of people all eager to learn about Rochester and its significance to English history.
We began the tour just next door at the Six Poor Travellers House, Geoff informed us that Rochester has always been a stopping point connecting London to the continent. To me that made a lot of sense, and it made me reflect that even today people from around the world stop at Rochester as our group itself showed being from an eclectic mix of areas. We proceeded to The French Hospital where we were told about the Huguenots, a group of Protestant French people who led an exodus to Britain so they could freely practise their faith. To learn more about this fascinating group you can check out another blog here.
As we walked down the cobblestones which make up the high street we took in the ancient City Walls and further down to the beautiful building that is Eastgate House. Just round the back, in the gardens of Eastgate is the Charles Dickens Chalet, the renowned authors writing chalet. Geoff told us about the ongoing preservation work that is being undertaken to maintain and hopefully open the doors of this historic building. While the weather was not particularly brilliant this day it did not deter us from taking a moment to appreciate both buildings and to listen to Geoff explain the inspirations that Charles Dickens took from the area. Eastgate House featured as inspiration in two of Dickens' novels, as did the building opposite called Mr Pumblechook’s House, named after the character in Great Expectations. We were even presented with sketches and artwork that showed the remarkable resemblances between the historic buildings and Dickens' interpretation in his novels.
Next, we headed up towards Restoration House and The Vines Gardens. This rather prestigious-looking building shows the continuation of time as Geoff helpfully pointed out that it was constructed in three stages, with each stage showing its little adaptions and stylistic changes. Interestingly we are told that the building is named Restoration House because it was the location where Charles II spent the night before his coronation. The surprising amount of Royal connections with Rochester was one of the highlights of the tour, as it gave a great insight into the history of Rochester. Walking through The Vines it was nice to take in the amount of greenery in the area, We are even told that it is called The Vines as it was once the vineyard for the monks who lived at the cathedral.
Rather conveniently the next part of our tour was Rochester Cathedral, where we headed towards Canon Row, the street of houses where the Canons of the cathedral would live. One of the most useful parts of the tour was being able to ask Geoff questions about the area as we walked, admittedly I did not know what a Canon was, so it was rather helpful that Geoff was there to provide assistance and tell me that they were the lower rankings of the cathedral's Clergy. Rochester is the second oldest Dioceses in the Country, and we are told about the formation of the original cathedral back in 604 AD, which is honestly staggering to take in.
After speaking about the cathedral in quite some detail we headed up towards the Justice Tree and Rochester Castle. The Justice Tree I found very interesting as it is a tree I have passed many times and never actually realised its significance. This is where members of the public could settle debates and grievances and remains to this day. The castle is one of the peaks of the tour, and in my opinion one of the most stunning parts of Rochester to see. It is one of the best preserved instances of Norman architecture in both Britain and France, and considering its age that really is a testament to this great castle.
This is only a glimpse into some of the fascinating insights that Geoff gave us into Rochester. With all the stories, facts and legends of the area, it would not do the tour justice to fit this all in a blog post. So if you want to learn even more about Rochester, and ask your own questions like I did, you can check out more info on the tours here.
A special thank you to Geoff Rambler who has his own blog and writes all about the weird and wonderful things of Kent.