Rochester is one of the four Medway towns — the others being Chatham, Gillingham and Strood. It sits close to the mouth of the river Medway in Kent, some 30 miles south-east of London on the M2 motorway.
Rochester is an ancient city with a history stretching back centuries before Dickens. Its skyline is dominated by its great Norman cathedral and the extensive and imposing ruins of its castle. King's School, which was founded in the seventh century, claims to be the second-oldest school in the world (after The King's School, down the road in Canterbury) and the town has produced two martyrs: John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, who was executed by Henry VIII for opposing his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and Nicholas Ridley, who was executed by the Catholic Queen Mary.
There is no avoiding Charles Dickens in Rochester — he is simply everywhere. And who can blame this Medway town for cashing in on its most famous resident? Dickens lived for many years at Gad's Hill Place in nearby Higham and used many of Rochester's finest buildings as locations for famous scenes in his novels.
The town itself becomes Cloisterham in the Mystery of Edmund Drood; Restoration House in Crow's Lane is where Miss Havisham leads her life of regret in Great Expectations; the Swiss chalet in the gardens of Eastgate House in the high street was transported from Gad's Hill Place where Dickens used it as a writing room; and Tope's restaurant, also in the high street, is the home of Mr Tope the chief verger, also in the Mystery of Edwin Drood.
And out in the marshes at Cooling, in the graveyard of St James's Church, is the place in Great Expectations where Pip has his terrifying encounter with Magwitch, his later benefactor, in one of the most chilling scenes in all of Dickens's works.
Houses and flats for sale in Rochester
Rochester has a lovely cathedral quarter which is dominated by King’s School and cathedral offices and dwellings. Elsewhere Rochester has a mix of Georgian, Victorian houses and cottages and in recent years modern flats have been built along the river Medway. The most popular nearby villages are Cobham to the west and Aylesford to the south. Higham and Shorne are two large villages also to the north west which have many modern detached family homes.
Travel and commuting from Rochester: Just outside Rochester is where the A2 becomes the M2 motorway to Faversham. The M20 motorway lies to the south of the town. Network Rail is planning a new £26 million station to accommodate an estimated 30 per cent in the number of journeys as a result of the Rochester Riverside scheme.
Rochester is now on the high speed line with trains to St Pancras taking around 34 minutes; there are also trains to Victoria (between 45 and 60 minutes); Cannon Street (around 46 minutes) and Charing Cross (around 75 minutes). The cost of an annual season ticket is £3,672 (£4,596 on the high speed line)
The area attracts: Rochester has a strong local market with people trading up and down, but there is also demand from London buyers especially from south east London.
Staying power: Estate agent Mark Lockwood from Robinson Michael & Jackson says people are attracted to the town by its history. “The cathedral, the castle, the cobbled high street and the festivals; once people buy-in to the town they tend to stay.”
Postcode: ME is the Medway postcode and the first postcode ME1 covers Rochester.
Best roads: St Margaret’s Street sits on a high cliff overlooking the Medway with many houses constructed to take advantage of the view. The street runs from the town centre right to the outskirts; close to the town centre there are Georgian houses, further up the street there are large Victorian houses and more modern houses.
Up-and-coming areas: Rochester has many two-bedroom Victorian terrace cottages that sell for around £125,000 that are popular with first-time buyers.
Pictures by Graham Hussey
Shops and restaurants: Rochester has a charming high street full of independent cafes, restaurants, boutiques, a butcher and a deli. Worth seeking out are: Thoroughly Wood, for hand-made kitchens; the Deaf Cat Cafe; Hometown, which is plugging into the fashion for sewing and patchwork, and the Francis Iles gallery for exhibitions and art materials.
Tope’s and Oliver’s both also in the high street are two popular restaurants and for fine dining, locals make for Hengist in nearby Aylesford. For high street shopping there is the Pentagon shopping centre in Chatham and Bluewater is only 12 miles up the A2.
Open space: Rochester has parks in the castle and along the Esplanade and outside the town Shorne Woods Country Park has 288 acres of ancient woodland, a visitors’ centre and a cafe; and in Gillingham the Riverside Country Park on the Medway estuary has an eerie beauty.
Leisure and the arts: Rochester loves to dress up. There are three major festivals when the streets are peopled with Victorians in frock coats and crinolines. The Dickens Festival starts this year on Friday and runs to 2 June; this is followed in the first week in December with the Dickensian Christmas festival.
The sweeps festival over the May Day weekend features chimney sweeps, morris dancers and folk music. The Guildhall Museum is housed in a fine 17th century building in the high street; it features the Dickens Discovery Room.
The Medway Little Theatre in the high street is the local amateur theatre; the nearest multiplex cinema is Cineworld in the Medway Valley Leisure Park in Chariot Way, Strood. The nearest council-owned council swimming pool is the Strood Leisure Centre in Watling Street, Strood; there are private swimming pools at the Roffen Club in New Road and the Spirit Club at the Holiday Inn in Maidstone Road.
Rochester and Cobham Park Gold Club at Park Pale Farm is the nearest golf club, including local swimming pools (council-owned and in private health clubs).
Council: Medway Council (Conservative-controlled); Band D council tax for the 2013/2014 year: £1,350.89.
TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE: ROCHESTER
* Which famous novel – not by Dickens – was inspired by a spat in Rochester’s cathedral precinct?
In 1842 the Reverend Robert Whiston became the headmaster at King’s School; he soon fell out with the Dean and Chapter, a tale which inspired the plot of Anthony Trollope’s novel The Warden.
* Which royal meeting in Rochester led not to love but a beautiful friendship?
Henry VIII first set eyes on Anne of Cleves, his fourth wife, in Rochester and was reported to find her appearance disappointing. The marriage lasted only a few months before it was annulled although she kept her head and they remained good friends.
* How did a stupid mistake cause Rochester to lose its city status?
A slip by a council official resulted in Rochester being downgraded to a town when in 1998 it was joined with Chatham and Gillingham to form the new Medway unitary authority. The mistake was only noticed four years later and all recent attempts to gain city status for Medway have been rebuffed.
Rochester has a strong educational tradition which stretches back to the 7th century.
Rochester has no primary schools judged “outstanding” by Ofsted but the following are judged “good”: St Peter’s in Holcombe Road; Delce Infants and Delce Juniors in Fleet Road and The Tideway; The Pilgrim School in Warwick Crescent; and Balfour Infants and Balfour Juniors in Pattens Lane and Balfour Road.
There are three local state grammar schools all of which are rated “outstanding” by Ofsted: Fort Pitt (girls, ages 11 to 18) in Fort Pitt Road just over the border in Chatham; Rochester Grammar (girls, ages 11 to 18, with boys in the sixth form); and Sir Joseph William’s Mathematical (boys ages 11 to 18, with girls in the sixth form) – known locally as The Maths – in Maidstone Road.
Other private schools are: St Andrew’s School (co-ed, ages three to 11) in Watts Avenue; Rochester Independent College (co-ed ages 11 to 18) in Star Hill which specialises in GCSE and A Level resits; and The Cedars (ages, three to 16) in Maidstone Road, a small Christian school.
The private King’s School (co-ed, ages three to 18) as well as being the second oldest school in the world is also the oldest choir school.