England // The Southeast //

Rochester and around

The handsome Medway town of ROCHESTER was first settled by the Romans, who built a fortress on the site of the present castle; some kind of fortification has remained here ever since. The town’s most famous son is Charles Dickens, who spent his youth here but would seem to have been less than impressed by the place – it appears as “Mudfog” in The Mudfog Papers, and “Dullborough” in The Uncommercial Traveller. Many of the buildings feature in his novels: the Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel, at the top of the High Street, became the Bull in Pickwick Papers and the Blue Boar in Great Expectations, while most of his last book, the unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood, was set in the town.

Two miles away in neighbouring Chatham, there’s more historic architecture at the Chatham Historic Dockyard, which records more than 400 years of British maritime history.

Chatham Historic Dockyard

Two miles east of Rochester lies the Chatham Historic Dockyard, founded by Henry VIII, and once the major base of the Royal Navy, many of whose vessels were built, stationed and victualled here. By the time of Charles II it was England’s largest naval base, but the shipbuilding era ended when the dockyards were closed in 1984, reopening soon afterwards as a tourist attraction.

The dockyard, with its array of historically and architecturally fascinating eighteenth-century buildings, occupies a vast eighty-acre site. Attractions include the 400m-long former rope-making room, a restored Victorian sloop, and the Ocelot submarine, the last warship built at Chatham, whose crew endured unbelievably cramped conditions.