14th November 2023

Dickens' childhood years in Rochester and Chatham greatly influenced his future life and career, and it was his fondness for the area which later brought him back to live here as a global superstar.

Many of Dickens' characters and stories are set in the Medway area, but what do we really know about the man behind Great Expectations, David Copperfield and Oliver Twist?

Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth on 7 February 1812. He is best known for his fictional characters and is regarded as one of the greatest novelists of the Victorian era. 

Charles Dickens moved to the Medway area when he was five and spent a happy childhood around Chatham. His father, John, a clerk in the Royal Navy pay office, was transferred to Chatham Dockyard in 1817.

Dickens' most impressionable childhood days were spent in Medway and it was the place he found inspiration for some of his works' greatest characters and settings.  

Many of the buildings found on Rochester's historic high street carry plaques detailing how the author incorporated them into his novels.  A gentle stroll around local sites and graveyards will reveal where he found the names of many of his characters.  

By the time young Charles reached 10, the family had moved from Chatham to Camden in London. In February 1824, his father John was imprisoned in the Marshalsea Prison for debt, with his wife, Elizabeth Dickens and their four youngest children joining her husband there in April 1824.

At 12, Dickens himself left school to work in a factory, putting labels on pots. His dad had been sent to prison for not paying his bills, so the young Dickens worked to look after his family. He eventually returned to school, but he never forgot how hard life was for poor people.

When he grew up, Dickens became a journalist and wrote for newspapers. He also wrote stories from his own imagination, called novels.

His novels, like Oliver Twist, were often about the lives of poor people, their crowded houses, and their tough jobs.

Another story he wrote was ‘A Christmas Carol’, in which a miserable character called Ebenezer Scrooge hates Christmas. In the story, Scrooge meets three ghosts who teach him how to be kind to people.

But his love for Rochester never dwindled, as in 1856, he returned with his family to buy the house of his childhood dreams at Gad's Hill Place in Higham.

In the gardens of Eastgate House you can see the Swiss Chalet, where the great author Charles Dickens worked on some of his best known novels.

It was given to Dickens as a present from an actor friend called Charles Fechter.  It arrived at Higham Railway Station on Christmas Eve 1864, packed in 58 boxes!

Dickens used the chalet as a place to write and also to rehearse for his many public appearances (it is believed the second floor was lined with mirrors for this purpose).  He was writing The Mystery of Edwin Drood in the chalet on the day he died, in 1870. 

Rochester Dickensian Christmas Festival

Today, we celebrate Dickens life, stories, and characters at our Dickensian Christmas Festival, where visitors can step back in time and witness the antics of the author's best-loved characters come to life.

This year's festival will take place on Saturday 2 and Sunday 3 December.  For more information, click here.