Eastgate House spanned the whole of Dickens’ writing career, being the girls school in The Pickwick Papers and later the nuns house in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Built by Sir Peter Buck for his family in 1590, the intially open turret gave him a view of his work responsibilities at Chatham Dockyard and the house represents the height of late Elizabethan architecture
Eastgate House has had a very varied history since then. It was used as a girls school during Dickens’ time in the Rochester area and it was converted into the city museum between 1897 and 1903. It stopped being used as such in the 1960s on early health and safety concerns, in light of which many large and very heavy models of ancient Rochester were also left in situ. It has since remained central to our celebrations of Dickensian Rochester, although electrics from between the wars and other such problems severely limit its use.
I visited Eastgate House again today for a final briefing on our heritage funding bid, which is to be determined by the relevant lottery funding board on 30th November. The bid is for a little less then a one and a quarter million pounds with another best part of a million to be funded or raised locally. The money would transform Eastgate House by allowing sympathetic restoration and the bringing back into public use of much of the house. It is not just an Elizabethan house but a living symbol of Rochester history since then.
I have greatly enjoyed working with Rochester West councillors Ted Baker and Kelly Tolhurst (pictured) and the excellent Tracy Stringfellow who has masterminded the bid. I was with my now seven month old baby Jamie when visiting today, and I am pleased to say he managed to touch the large expanses of wood every time the lottery funding bid was mentioned. I hope that we succeed.