Rochester is a place of great antiquity, and so far back as A.D. 600 it seems to have been a walled city. Remains of the mediaeval Wall exist in very perfect condition, at the back of the Eagle Inn in High Street, and in other parts of the city. In 676 Rochester was plundered by Ethelred, King of Mercia; and in 884 the Danes sailed up the Medway and besieged it, but were effectually repulsed by King Alfred. About 930, when three Mints were established there by Athelstan, it had grown to be one of the principal ports of the kingdom. William the Conqueror gave the town to his half-brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux. Fires in 1130 and 1137 nearly destroyed it.
Not a few royal and distinguished personages have visited Rochester on various occasions, among others Henry VIII., who came there in 1522, accompanied by the Emperor Charles V. Queen Elizabeth came in 1573, when she stayed five days, and attended the Cathedral service on Sunday. She came again in 1583, with the Duke of Anjou, and showed him her "mighty ships of war lying at Chatham." King James I. also visited the city in 1604 and 1606. On the latter occasion His Majesty, who was accompanied by Christian IV., King of Denmark, attended the Cathedral, and afterwards inspected the Navy. Charles II. paid it a visit just before the restoration in 1660, and again subsequently. It is believed that on both occasions he stayed at Restoration House (the "Satis House" of Great Expectations) hereafter referred to. Mr. Richard Head presented His Majesty with a silver ewer and basin on the occasion of the restoration. James II. came down to the quiet old city December 19th, 1688, and sojourned with Sir Richard Head for a week at a house (now No. 46 High Street), from whence he ignominiously escaped to France by a smack moored off Sheerness. Mr. Stephen T. Aveling mentioned to us that "it is curious that Charles the Second 'came to his own' in Rochester, and that James the Second 'skedaddled' from the same city." Her Majesty when Princess Victoria stayed at the Bull Inn in 1836 for a night with her mother, the Duchess of Kent, on their way from Dover to London. It was a very tempestuous night, some of the balustrades of Rochester Bridge having been blown into the river, and the Royal Princess was advised not to attempt to cross the bridge.
"On the last day of June 1667 (says Mr. W. Brenchley Rye in his pleasant Visits to Rochester), Mr. Samuel Pepys, after examining the defences at Chatham shortly after the disastrous expedition by the Dutch up the Medway, walked into Rochester Cathedral, but he had no mind to stay to the service, . . . 'afterwards strolled into the fields, a fine walk, and there saw Sir F. Clarke's house (Restoration House), which is a pretty seat, and into the Cherry Garden, and here met with a young, plain, silly shopkeeper and his wife, a pretty young woman, and I did kiss her!'" David Garrick was living at Rochester in 1737, for the purpose of receiving instruction in mathematics, etc., from Mr. Colson. In 1742, Hogarth visited the city, in that celebrated peregrination with his four friends, and played hop-scotch in the courtyard of the Guildhall. Dr. Johnson came here in 1783, and "returned to London by water in a common boat, landing at Billingsgate."
The city formerly possessed many ancient charters and privileges granted to the citizens, but these were superseded by the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835.
The Guildhall, "marked by a gilt ship aloft,"—"where the mayor and corporation assemble together in solemn council for the public weal,"—is "a substantial and very suitable structure of brick, supported by stone columns in the Doric order," and was erected in 1687. It has several fine portraits by Sir Godfrey Kneller and other eminent painters, including those of King William III., Queen Anne, Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Richard Watts, M.P., and others. The Corporation also possess many interesting and valuable city regalia, namely, a large silver-gilt mace (1661), silver loving-cup (1719), silver oar and silver-gilt ornaments (typical of the Admiralty jurisdiction of the Corporation) (1748), two small maces of silver (1767), sword (1871—the Mayor being Constable of the Castle), and chain and badges of gold and enamel (1875), the last-mentioned commemorating many historical incidents connected with the city.
Emerging from the railway station of the London, Chatham and Dover Company at Strood, a drive of a few minutes (over the bridge) brings us to the first object of our pilgrimage, the "Bull Inn,"—we beg pardon, the "Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel,"—in High Street, Rochester, which was visited by Mr. Pickwick, Mr. Tupman, Mr. Snodgrass, Mr. Winkle, and their newly-made friend, Mr. Jingle, on the 13th May, 1827. Our cabman is so satisfied with his fare ("only a bob's worth"), that he does not, as one of his predecessors did, on a very remarkable occasion, "fling the money on the pavement, and request in figurative terms to be allowed the pleasure of fighting us for the amount," which circumstance we take to be an improving sign of the times.
Changed in name, but not in condition, it seems scarcely possible that we stand under the gateway of the charming old inn that we have known from our boyhood, when first we read our Pickwick, what time the two green leaves of Martin Chuzzlewit were putting forth monthly, and when the name of Charles Dickens, although familiar, had not become the "household word" to us, and to the world, that it is now.
We look round for evidence—"Good house, nice beds"—"(vide Pickwick)" appear on the two sign-boards fixed on either side of the entrance-gate. Only then are we quite sure our driver has not made a mistake and taken us to "Wright's next door," which every reader of Pickwick knows, on the authority of Mr. Jingle, "was dear—very dear—half a crown in the bill if you look at the waiter—charge you more if you dine out at a friend's than they would if you dined in the coffee-room—rum fellows—very."
Haunches of venison, saddles of mutton, ribs of beef, York hams, fowls and ducks, hang over our heads in the capacious covered gateway; cold viands are seen in a glass cupboard opposite, and silently promise that some good fare, like that which regaled Mr. Pickwick and his friends, is still to be found at the Bull. In the distance is seen the large old-fashioned coach-yard, surrounded by odd buildings, which on market days (Tuesdays) is crowded with all sorts of vehicles ancient and modern. On our right is the kitchen, "brilliant with glowing coals and rows of shining copper lying well open to view."
By the kindness of Mr. Richard Prall, the town-clerk, beds have been secured for us, and the landlord meets us at the door with a hearty welcome. We are conducted to our rooms on the second floor looking front, on reaching which a strange feeling takes possession of us. Surely we have been here before? Not a bit of it! But the bedrooms are nevertheless familiar to us; we see it all in a minute—the writer's apartment is Mr. Tupman's, and his friend's is Mr. Winkle's!
"Winkle's bedroom is inside mine," said Mr. Tupman, after that delightful dinner of "soles, broiled fowl, and mushrooms," in the private sitting-room at the Bull, when all the other Pickwickians had, "after the cosy couple of hours succeeding dinner, more or less succumbed to the somniferous influence which the wine had exerted over them," and he and Mr. Jingle alone remained wakeful, and were discussing the idea of attending the forthcoming ball in the evening.
It is an unexpected and pleasant coincidence that we are located in these two rooms, and altogether a good omen for our tramp generally. They are numbered 13 and 19, and the reason why the numbers are not consecutive is because 19 (Mr. Winkle's room) is also approached by a back staircase. Mr. Pickwick's room, as befitted his years and his dignity as G.C.M.P.C., is a larger room, and is number 17. They are all comfortable chambers, with "nice beds."
The principal staircase of the Bull, which is almost wide enough to drive a carriage and four up it, remains exactly as it was in Mr. Pickwick's days, as described by Dickens and delineated by Seymour. We could almost fancy we witnessed the memorable scene depicted in the illustration, where the irascible Dr. Slammer confronts the imperturbable Jingle. The staircase has on its walls a large number of pictures and engravings, some curious and valuable, a few of which are of purely local interest. A series of oil paintings represent the costumes of all nations. There is a copy of "The Empty Chair," from the drawing of Mr. Luke Fildes, R.A., and also one of the scarce proof lithographs of "Dickens as Captain Bobadil," after the painting by C. R. Leslie, R.A.
Mr. Lawrence informed us that some years ago "The Owl Club" held its meetings at the Bull—a social club, reminding us strongly of one of the early papers in Bentley's Miscellany, illustrated by George Cruikshank, entitled the "Harmonious Owls," which has recently been reprinted in the collection called Old Miscellany Days, in which paper, by the bye, are several names from Dickens.
In one of the cheerful private sitting-rooms, of which there are many, we find a portrait of Dickens that is new to us. Never have we seen one that so vividly reproduced the novelist as one of us saw him, and heard him read, in the Town Hall at Birmingham, on the 10th of May, 1866. It is a vignette photograph by Watkins, coloured by Mr. J. Hopper, a local artist, representing the face of the novelist in full, wearing afternoon dress—black coat, and white shirt-front, with gold studs—the attitude being perfectly natural and unconstrained, and a pleasant calm upon the otherwise firm features. The high forehead is surmounted by the well-remembered single curl of brown hair, the sole survival of those profuse locks which grace Maclise's beautiful portrait. The bright blue eyes, with the light reflected on the pupils like diamonds, seem to follow one in every direction. The lines, of course, are marked, but not too strongly; and the faint hectic flush which was apparent in later years—notably when we saw him again in Birmingham in 1869—shows signs of development. The beard hides the neck, and the white collar is conspicuous. Altogether it is one of the most successful portraits we remember to have seen. As witness of its popularity locally, we may mention that we saw copies of it at Major Budden's at Gad's Hill, at the Mitre Hotel, Chatham, and at the Leather Bottle Inn, Cobham. We are also informed that Mr. Henry Irving gave a good sum for a copy, in the spring of last year. Mr. Lawrence, our host, by good fortune, happening to possess a duplicate, kindly allows us the opportunity of purchasing it ("portable property" as Mr. Wemmick remarks), as an addition to our Dickens collection which it adorns. "Beautiful!" "Splendid!" "Dickens to the life!" are the comments of friends to whom we show it, who personally knew, or remembered, the original.
Here is the ball-room, entered from the first-floor landing of the principal staircase, and the card-room adjoining, precisely as it was in Mr. Pickwick's days:—
"It was a long room with crimson-covered benches, and wax candles in glass chandeliers. The musicians were confined in an elevated den, and quadrilles were being systematically got through by two or three sets of dancers. Two card-tables were made up in the adjoining card-room, and two pair of old ladies, and a corresponding number of old gentlemen, were executing whist therein."
A very little stretch of the imagination carries us back sixty years, and, presto! the ball-room stands before us, with the wax candles lighted, and the room filled with the elite of Chatham and Rochester society, who, acting on the principle of "that general benevolence which was one of the leading features of the Pickwickian theory," had given their support to that "ball for the benefit of a charity," then being held there, and which was attended by Mr. Tracy Tupman, in his new dress-coat with the P. C. button and bust of Mr. Pickwick in the centre, and by Mr. Jingle, in the borrowed garments of the same nature belonging to Mr. Winkle.
"P. C.," said the stranger.—"Queer set out—old fellow's likeness and 'P. C.'—What does 'P. C.' stand for? 'Peculiar Coat,' eh?" Imagine the "rising indignation" and impatience of Mr. Tupman, as with "great importance" he explains the mystic device!
Everybody remembers how, declining the usual introduction, the two entered the ball-room incog., as "Gentlemen from London—distinguished foreigners—anything;" how Mr. Jingle said in reply to Mr. Tupman's remark, "Wait a minute—fun presently—nobs not come yet—queer place—Dock-yard people of upper rank don't know Dock-yard people of lower rank—Dock-yard people of lower rank don't know small gentry—small gentry don't know tradespeople—Commissioner don't know anybody."
The "man at the door,"—the local M.C.,—announces the arrivals.
"Sir Thomas Clubber, Lady Clubber, and the Miss Clubbers!" "Commissioner—head of the yard—great man—remarkably great man," whispers the stranger in Mr. Tupman's ear.
"Colonel Bulder, Mrs. Colonel Bulder, and Miss Bulder," are announced. "Head of the garrison," says Mr. Jingle. "They exchanged snuff-boxes [how old-fashioned it appears to us who don't take snuff], and looked very much like a pair of Alexander Selkirks—Monarchs of all they surveyed."
More arrivals are announced, and dancing begins in earnest; but the most interesting one to us is Dr. Slammer—"a little fat man, with a ring of upright black hair round his head, and an extensive bald plain on the top of it—Dr. Slammer, surgeon to the 97th, who is agreeable to everybody, especially to the Widow Budger.—'Lots of money—old girl—pompous doctor—not a bad idea—good fun,' says the stranger. 'I'll dance with her—cut out the doctor—here goes.'" Then comes the flirtation, the dancing, the negus and biscuits, the coquetting, the leading of Mrs. Budger to her carriage. The volcano bursts with terrific energy. . . .
"'You—you're a shuffler, sir,' gasps the furious doctor, 'a poltroon—a coward—a liar—a—a—will nothing induce you to give me your card, sir?'" and in the morning comes the challenge to the duel. It all passes before our delighted mental vision, as we picture the circumstances recorded in the beloved Pickwick of our youth upwards.
Here also is the bar, just opposite the coffee-room, where the "Tickets for the Ball" were purchased by Mr. Tupman for himself and Mr. Jingle at "half a guinea each" (Mr. Jingle having won the toss), and where Dr. Slammer's friend subsequently made inquiry for "the owner of the coat, who arrived here, with three gentlemen, yesterday afternoon." We find it to be a very cosy and comfortable bar-room too, wherein we subsequently enjoy many a social pipe and pleasant chat with its friendly frequenters, reminding us of the old tavern-life as described in Dr. Johnson's days.
The coffee-room of the Bull, in which we take our supper, remains unaltered since the days of the Pickwickians. It is on the left-hand side as we enter the hotel from the covered gateway—not very large, but warm and comfortable, with three windows looking into the High Street. Many scenes in the novels have taken place in this memorable apartment—in fact, it is quite historical, from a Dickensian point of view.
Here it was that the challenge to the duel from Dr. Slammer to Mr. Winkle was delivered; and, when Mr. Winkle appeared, in response to the call of the boots, that "a gentleman in the coffee-room" wanted to see him, and would not detain him a moment, but would take no denial, "an old woman and a couple of waiters were cleaning the coffee-room, and an officer in undress uniform was looking out of the window." Here also the Pickwickians assembled on that eventful morning when the party set out, three in a chaise and one on horseback, for Dingley Dell, and encountered such dire mishaps. "Mr. Pickwick had made his preliminary arrangements, and was looking over the coffee-room blinds at the passengers in the High Street, when the waiter entered, and announced that the chaise was ready—an announcement which the vehicle itself confirmed, by forthwith appearing before the coffee-room blinds aforesaid." Subsequently, as they prepare to start, "'Wo-o!' cried Mr. Pickwick, as the tall quadruped evinced a decided inclination to back into the coffee-room window."
It is highly probable that the descriptions of "the little town of Great Winglebury," and "the Winglebury Arms," in "The Great Winglebury Duel" of the Sketches by Boz, one of the earliest works of the novelist, refer to the city of Rochester and the Bull Inn, for they fit in very well in many respects, although it is stated therein that "the little town of Great Winglebury is exactly forty-two miles and three-quarters from Hyde Park Corner."
The Blue Boar mentioned in Great Expectations—one of the most original, touching, and dramatic of Dickens's novels—is indubitably the Bull Hotel. Although there is an inn in High Street, Rochester, called the Blue Boar, its description does not at all correspond with the text. We find several instances like this, where, probably for purposes of concealment, the real identity of places and persons is masked.
Our first introduction to the Blue Boar is on the occasion of Pip's being bound apprentice to Joe Gargery, the premium for whom was paid out of the twenty-five guineas given to Pip by Miss Havisham. Pip's sister "became so excited by the twenty-five guineas, that nothing would serve but we must have a dinner out of that windfall at the Blue Boar, and that Pumblechook must go over in his chaise cart, and bring the Hubbles and Mr. Wopsle." The dinner is duly disposed of, and although poor Pip was frequently enjoined to "enjoy himself," he certainly failed to do so on this occasion. "Among the festivities indulged in rather late in the evening," says Pip, "Mr. Wopsle gave us Collins's Ode, and 'threw his blood-stain'd sword in thunder down,' with such effect, that a waiter came in and said 'The Commercials underneath sent up their compliments, and it wasn't the Tumblers' Arms!'" from which we gather that the said dinner took place in a private sitting-room (No. 3) over the commercial room, on the opposite side of the gateway to the coffee-room.
It will be remembered that on Pip's attaining "the second stage of his expectations," Pumblechook had grown very obsequious and fawning to him—pressed him to take refreshment, as who should say, "But, my dear young friend, you must be hungry, you must be exhausted. Be seated. Here is a chicken had round from the Boar, here is a tongue had round from the Boar, here's one or two little things had round from the Boar that I hope you may not despise. 'But do I,' said Mr. Pumblechook, getting up again the moment after he had sat down, 'see afore me him as I ever sported with in his times of happy infancy? And may I—may I—?' This 'May I?' meant might he shake hands? I consented, and he was fervent, and then sat down again."
Returning to the coffee-room, we discover it was the identical apartment in which the unexpected and very peculiar meeting took place between Pip and "the spider," Bentley Drummle, "the sulky and red-looking young man, of a heavy order of architecture," both "Finches of the Grove," and rivals for the hand of Estella. Each stands shoulder to shoulder against the fire-place, and, but for Pip's forbearance, an explosion must have taken place.
Through the same coffee-room windows, poor Pip looks under the reverses of his great expectations in consequence of the discovery and subsequent death of his patron. The "servile Pumblechook," who appears here uninvited, again changes his manner and conduct, becoming ostentatiously compassionate and forgiving, as he had been meanly servile in the time of Pip's new prosperity, thus:—"'Young man, I am sorry to see you brought low, but what else could be expected! what else could be expected! . . . This is him . . . as I have rode in my shay-cart; this is him as I have seen brought up by hand; this is him untoe the sister of which I was uncle by marriage, as her name was Georgiana M'ria from her own mother, let him deny it if he can.' . . ."
Dickens takes leave of the Blue Boar, in the last chapter of the work, in these words:—
"The tidings of my high fortunes having had a heavy fall, had got down to my native place and its neighbourhood, before I got there. I found the Blue Boar in possession of the intelligence, and I found that it made a great change in the Boar's demeanour. Whereas the Boar had cultivated my good opinion with warm assiduity when I was coming into property, the Boar was exceedingly cool on the subject now that I was going out of property.
"It was evening when I arrived, much fatigued by the journey I had so often made so easily. The Boar could not put me into my usual bedroom, which was engaged,—probably by some one who had expectations,—and could only assign me a very indifferent chamber among the pigeons and post-chaises up the yard. But, I had as sound a sleep in that lodging as in the most superior accommodation the Boar could have given me, and the quality of my dreams was about the same as in the best bedroom."
The visitors' book in the coffee-room, at the Bull—we never shall call it "The Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel"—abounds with complimentary remarks on the hospitable treatment received by its guests; and there are several poetical effusions, inspired by the classic nature of "Dickens-Land." One of these, under date of the 18th September, 1887, is worth recording:—
"The man who knows his Dickens as he should, Enjoys a double pleasure in this place; He loves to walk its ancient streets, and trace The scenes where Dickens' characters have stood. He reads The Mystery of Edwin Drood In Jasper's Gatehouse, and, with Tope as guide, Explores the old cathedral, Durdles' pride; Descends into the Crypt, and even would Ascend the Tower by moonlight, thence to see Fair Cloisterham reposing at his feet, And passing out, he almost hopes to meet Crisparkle and the white-haired Datchery. The gifted writer 'sleeps among our best And noblest' in our Minster of the West; Yet still he lives in this, his favourite scene, Which for all time shall keep his memory green."
We follow Mr. Pickwick's example as regards early rising, and, taking a turn before breakfast, find ourselves on Rochester Bridge. Nature has not much changed since the memorable visit of that "truly great man," who in the original announcement of The Pickwick Papers is stated with his companions to have "fearlessly crossed the turbid Medway in an open boat;" but the march of civilization has effaced the old bridge, and lo! three bridges stand in the place thereof. The beautiful stone structure (temp. Edward III.) which Mr. Pickwick leant over, having become unsuitable, was blown up by the Royal Engineers in 1856, and a handsome iron bridge erected in its place. The debris was removed by Mr. J. H. Ball, the contractor, who presented Dickens with one of the balustrades, others having been utilized to form the coping of the embankment of the esplanade under the castle walls. The iron bridge was built by Messrs. Fox and Henderson, the foundations being laid in 1850. The machinery constituting "the swing-bridge or open ship canal (fifty feet wide) at the Strood end is very beautiful; the entire weight to be moved is two hundred tons, yet the bridge is readily swung by two men at a capstan." So says one of the Guide Books, but as a matter of fact we find that it is not now used! The other two bridges (useful, but certainly not ornamental) belong to the respective railway companies which have systems through Rochester, and absolutely shut out every prospect below stream. What would Mr. Pickwick say, if his spirit ever visited the ancient city? Nevertheless, we realize for the first time, with all its freshness and beauty (although perhaps a little marred by the smoke of the lime-kilns, and by the "Medway coal trade," in which it will be remembered Mr. Micawber was temporarily interested, and which "he came down to see"), the charm of the prospect which Dickens describes, and which Mr. Pickwick saw, in the opening of the fifth chapter of the immortal Posthumous Papers:—
"Bright and pleasant was the sky, balmy the air, and beautiful the appearance of every object around, as Mr. Pickwick leant over the balustrades of Rochester Bridge, contemplating nature, and waiting for breakfast. The scene was indeed one, which might well have charmed a far less reflective mind, than that to which it was presented.
"On the left of the spectator lay the ruined wall, broken in many places, and in some, overhanging the narrow beach below in rude and heavy masses. Huge knots of sea-weed hung upon the jagged and pointed stones, trembling in every breath of wind; and the green ivy clung mournfully round the dark and ruined battlements. Behind it rose the ancient castle, its towers roofless, and its massive walls crumbling away, but telling us proudly of its old might and strength, as when, seven hundred years ago, it rang with the clash of arms, or resounded with the noise of feasting and revelry. On either side, the banks of the Medway, covered with corn-fields and pastures, with here and there a windmill, or a distant church, stretched away as far as the eye could see, presenting a rich and varied landscape, rendered more beautiful by the changing shadows which passed swiftly across it, as the thin and half-formed clouds skimmed away in the light of the morning sun. The river, reflecting the clear blue of the sky, glistened and sparkled as it flowed noiselessly on; and the oars of the fishermen dipped into the water with a clear and liquid sound, as their heavy but picturesque boats glided slowly down the stream."
It was over the same old bridge that poor Pip was pursued by that "unlimited miscreant" Trabb's boy in the days of his "great expectations." He says:—
"Words cannot state the amount of aggravation and injury wreaked upon me by Trabb's boy, when, passing abreast of me, he pulled up his shirt-collar, twined his side hair, stuck an arm akimbo, and smirked extravagantly by, wriggling his elbows and body, and drawling to his attendants: 'Don't know yah; don't know yah, 'pon my soul, don't know yah!' The disgrace [continues Pip] attendant on his immediately afterwards taking to crowing and pursuing me across the bridge with crows, as from an exceedingly dejected fowl who had known me when I was a blacksmith, culminated the disgrace with which I left the town, and was, so to speak, ejected by it into the open country."
There is generally a stiff breeze blowing on the bridge, and the fact may probably have suggested to the artist the positions of the characters in the river scene, one of the plates of Edwin Drood, where Mr. Crisparkle is holding his hat on with much tenacity. One other reference to the bridge occurs in the Seven Poor Travellers, where Richard Doubledick, in the year 1799, "limped over the bridge here with half a shoe to his dusty foot on his way to Chatham."
After a Pickwickian breakfast in the coffee-room of "broiled ham, eggs, tea, coffee, and sundries," we take a stroll up the High Street. We do not know what the feelings of other pilgrims in "Dickens-Land" may have been on the occasion of a first visit, but we are quite sure that to us it is a perfect revelation to ramble along this quaint street of "the ancient city," returning by way of Star Hill through the Vines, all crowded with associations of Charles Dickens. Pickwick, Great Expectations, Edwin Drood, and many of the minor works of the eminent novelist, had never before appeared so clear to us—they acquire new significance. The air is full of Dickens. At every corner, and almost at the door of every house, we half expect to be met by one or other of the characters who will claim acquaintance with us as their friends or admirers. We are simply delighted, and never tire of repeating our experience in the pleasant summer days of our week's tramp in "Dickens-Land."
Starting from the Bull, and walking along the somewhat narrow but picturesque street towards Chatham,—"the streets of Cloisterham city are little more than one narrow street by which you get into it and get out of it: the rest being mostly disappointing yards with pumps in them and no thoroughfare—exception made of the Cathedral close, and a paved Quaker settlement, in color and general conformation very like a Quakeress's bonnet, up in a shady corner,"—we pass in succession the Guildhall, the City Clock, Richard Watts's Charity, the College Gate (Jasper's Gatehouse), Eastgate House (the Nuns' House), and, nearly opposite it, the residence of Mr. Sapsea, which, as we ourselves discover, was also the residence of "Uncle Pumblechook." The latter buildings are about a quarter of a mile from Rochester Bridge, and are splendid examples of sixteenth-century architecture, with carved oaken-timbered fronts and gables and latticed bay-windows. Eastgate House—the "Nuns' House" of Edwin Drood, described as "a venerable brick edifice, whose present appellation is doubtless derived from the legend of its conventual uses"—is especially beautiful, and its "resplendent brass plate on the trim gate" is still so "shining and staring." The date, 1591, is on one of the inside beams, and the fine old place abounds with quaint cosy rooms with carved oak mantel-pieces, and plaster enrichments to the ceilings, as well as mysterious back staircases and means of exit by secret passages. Charles II. is said to have been entertained here by Colonel Gibbons, the then owner, when he visited Chatham and inspected the Royal George; but this has been recently disputed. For many years during this century, the house has been occupied as a Ladies' School, and the old pianos used for practice by the pupils are there still, the keys being worn into holes. We wonder whether Rosa Bud and Helena Landless ever played on them! Looking round, we half expect to witness the famous courting scene in Edwin Drood, and afterwards "the matronly Tisher to heave in sight, rustling through the room like the legendary ghost of a dowager in silken skirts, [with her] 'I trust I disturb no one; but there was a paper-knife—Oh, thank you, I am sure!'" An excellent local institution, called "The Rochester Men's Institute," has its home here. The house has been immortalized by Mr. Luke Fildes in one of the illustrations to Edwin Drood ("Good-bye, Rosebud, darling!"), where, in the front garden, the girls are cordially embracing their charming school-fellow, and Miss Twinkleton looks on approvingly, but perhaps regretfully, at the possible non-return of some of the young ladies. Mrs. Tisher is saluting one of the girls. There is a gate opening into the street, with the lamp over it kept in position by an iron bracket, just as it is now, heaps of ladies' luggage are scattered about, which the housemaid and the coachman are removing to the car outside; and one pretty girl stands in the gateway waving a farewell to the others with her handkerchief.
We feel morally certain that Eastgate House is also the prototype of Westgate House in the Pickwick Papers, although, for the purposes of the story, it is therein located at Bury St. Edmund's. The wall surrounding the garden is about seven feet high, and a drop from it into the garden would be uncommonly suggestive of the scene which took place between Sam Weller and his master in the sixteenth chapter, on the occasion of the supposed intended elopement of one of the young ladies of Miss Tomkins's Establishment—which also had the "name on a brass plate on a gate"—with Mr. Charles FitzMarshall, alias Mr. Alfred Jingle. The very tree which Mr. Pickwick "considered a very dangerous neighbour in a thunderstorm" is there still—a pretty acacia.
The house opposite Eastgate House was of course Mr. Sapsea's dwelling—"Mr. Sapsea's premises are in the High Street over against the Nuns' House. They are of about the period of the Nuns' House, irregularly modernized here and there." A carved wooden figure of Mr. Sapsea's father in his rostrum as an auctioneer, with hammer poised in hand, and a countenance expressive of "Going—going—gone!" was many years ago fixed over a house (now the Savings Bank) in St. Margaret's, Rochester, and was a regular butt for practical jokes by the young officers of the period, although they never succeeded in their attempts to pull it down. To us the house appears to be an older building than Eastgate House, with much carved oak and timber work about it, and in its prime must have been a most delightful residence. The lower part is now used as business premises, and from the fact that it contains the little drawers of a seedsman's shop, it answers very well to the description of Mr. Pumblechook's "eminently convenient and commodious premises"—indeed there is not a little in common between the two characters. "Mr. Pumblechook's premises in the High Street of the market town [says Pip] were of a peppercorny and farinaceous character, as the premises of a corn chandler and seedsman should be. It appeared to me that he must be a very happy man indeed to have so many little drawers in his shop; and I wondered when I peeped into one or two of the lower tiers, and saw the tied-up brown paper packets inside, whether the flower seeds and bulbs ever wanted of a fine day to break out of those jails, and bloom." Part of these premises is used as a dwelling-house, and Mr. Apsley Kennette, the courteous assistant town-clerk, to whom we were indebted for much kind attention, has apartments on the upper floors of the old mansion, the views from which, looking into the ancient city, are very pretty. There is a good deal of oak panelling and plaster enrichment about the interior, restored by Mr. Kennette, who in the course of his renovations found an interesting wall fresco.
He has had painted most appropriately in gilt letters over the mantel-piece of his charming old panelled chamber of carved and polished oak (with its quaint bay-window looking into the street) the pathetic and sombre lines of Dante Gabriel Rossetti:—
"May not this ancient room thou sitt'st in dwell In separate living souls for joy or pain; Nay, all its corners may be painted plain, Where Heaven shows pictures of some life spent well; And may be stamped a memory all in vain Upon the site of lidless eyes in Hell."
The beautiful residence in Maidstone Road, formerly Crow Lane, opposite the Vines, called Restoration House, is the "Satis House" of Great Expectations—"Miss Havisham's up-town." "Everybody for miles round had heard of Miss Havisham up-town as an immensely rich and grim lady, who lived in a large and dismal house barricaded against robbers, and who led a life of seclusion." There is a veritable Satis House as well, on the opposite side of the Vines alluded to elsewhere. Restoration House, now occupied by Mr. Stephen T. Aveling, is a picturesque old Elizabethan structure, partly covered with ivy, having fine oak staircases, floors, and wainscoted rooms. Charles II. lodged here in 1660, and he subsequently presented to his host, Sir Francis Clarke, several large tapestries, representing pastoral scenes, which the present owner kindly allowed us to see. The tapestry is said to have been made at Mortlake. It was the usual present from royalty in those days—just as Her present Majesty now gives an Indian shawl to a favoured subject. Like many houses of its kind, it contains a secret staircase for escape during times of political trouble.
Mr. Aveling very kindly placed at our disposal the manuscript of an interesting and "true ghost story" written by him relating to Restoration House, which is introduced at the end of this chapter.
Many names in Dickens's novels and tales appear to us as old friends, over the shops and elsewhere in Rochester. Looking through the list of Mayors of the city from 1654 to 1887, we notice nearly twenty of the names as having been given by Dickens to his characters, viz. Robinson, Wade, Brooker, Clarke, Harris, Burgess, Head, Weller, Baily, Gordon, Parsons, Pordage, Sparks, Simmons, Batten, Saunders, Thomson, Edwards, and Budden. The name of Jasper also occurs as a tradesman several times in the city, but we are informed that this is a recent introduction. In the Cathedral burying-ground occur the names of Fanny Dorrett and Richard Pordage. Dartle, we were informed, is an old Rochester name.
The population of the "four towns" of Rochester, Strood, Chatham, and New Brompton, at the census of 1891, was upwards of 85,000. The principal industries of Rochester are lime and cement making, "the Medway coal trade," and boat and barge building.
Rochester is very well off for educational institutions. In addition to the Board schools, there is the King's (or Cathedral) Grammar School founded by Henry VIII., a handsome building in the Vines. The tuition fee commences at L15 per annum for boys under 12, and there is a reduction made when there are brothers. There are two or three annual competitive Scholarships tenable for a period of years, and there are also two Exhibitions of L60 a year to University College, Oxford. There is also Sir J. Williamson's Mathematical School in the High Street, founded in 1701, having an income of L1500 a year from endowments, and the teaching, which has a wide range, includes physical science. The fees are very small, commencing at about L5 per annum, and there are foundation Scholarships and "Aveling Scholarships" to the value of L20 per annum.
In addition to the famous Richard Watts's Charity, which is described in another chapter, the city possesses several other important charities, viz.:—St. Catherine's Charity on Star Hill, founded by Simon Potyn in 1316, which provides residences for sixteen aged females, with stipends varying from L24 to L28 each; St. Bartholomew's Hospital in New Road, which was founded in 1078 by Bishop Gundulph for the benefit of lepers returning from the Crusades (the present Hospital was erected in 1858, and is supported by voluntary contributions); Sir John Hawkins's Hospital for decayed seamen in Chatham, founded in 1592, and provides for twelve inmates with their wives; and Sir John Hayward's Charity on the Common, founded in 1651, which provides an asylum for twelve poor and aged females, parishioners of St. Nicholas.
Not least noteworthy among the numerous objects of interest in the "ancient city" are the beautiful gardens belonging to several of the houses in the High Street, particularly those of Mr. Syms and Mr. Wildish. The fresh green turf, the profusion of flowers, and the rich growth of foliage and fruit, quite surprise and delight the stranger. Mr. Stephen T. Aveling's garden is a marvel of beauty to be seen in a town. "The Cloisterham gardens blush with ripening fruit."
Some of the old-fashioned cries of street hawkers, as "hot rolls," "herrings," "watercresses," and the like, similar to those in the London of Charles Dickens's early days, still survive at Rochester, and are very noticeable and quaint in the quiet morning.
As illustrative of the many changes which have been brought about by steam, even in the quiet old city of Rochester, Mr. Syms called attention to the fact that fifty years ago he could count twenty-eight windmills on the surrounding heights, but now there are scarcely a dozen to be seen.
In Rochester we heard frequent mention of "Gavelkind," one of the ancient customs of Kent, whereby the lands do not descend to the eldest son alone, but to the whole number of male children equally. Lambarde, the eminent lawyer and antiquary (born 1536), author of A Perambulation of Kent, says:—"I gather by Cornelius Tacitus, and others, that the ancient Germans, (whose Offspring we be) suffered their lands to descend, not to their eldest Sonne alone, but to the whole number of their male Children: and I finde in the 75th Chapter of Canutus Law (a King of this Realm before the Conquest), that after the death of the Father, his Heires should divide both his goods, and his lands amongst them. Now, for as much as all the next of the kinred did this inherit together, I conjecture, that therefore the land was called, either Gavelkyn in meaning, Give all kyn, because it was given to all the next in one line of kinred, or Give all kynd, that is, to all the male Children: for kynd in Dutch signifieth yet a male Childe." The learned historian suggests a second possible origin of this curious custom from the writ called "Gavelles," to recover "the rent and service arising out of these lands."
The remarkable custom of "Borough English," whereby the youngest son inherits the lands, also survives in some parts of the county of Kent.
Mr. Robert Langton has done good service by giving in his delightful book, The Childhood and Youth of Charles Dickens, an illustration by Mr. W. Hull, of the old Rochester Theatre, which formerly stood at the foot of Star Hill, and in which Jingle and Dismal Jemmy—"rum fellow—does the heavy business—no actor—strange man—all sorts of miseries—dismal Jemmy, we call him on the circuit"—were to play on the morrow after the duel. It exists no more, for the Conservative Association has its club-house and rooms on the site of the building. The theatre is referred to in Edwin Drood:—"Even its drooping and despondent little theatre has its poor strip of garden, receiving the foul fiend, when he ducks from its stage into the infernal regions, among scarlet beans or oyster-shells, according to the season of the year." And again in The Uncommercial Traveller, on "Dullborough Town," when the beginning of the end had appeared:—
"It was To Let, and hopelessly so, for its old purposes; and there had been no entertainment within its walls for a long time, except a Panorama; and even that had been announced as 'pleasingly instructive,' and I knew too well the fatal meaning and the leaden import of those terrible expressions. No, there was no comfort in the Theatre. It was mysteriously gone, like my own youth. Unlike my own youth, it might be coming back some day; but there was little promise of it."
We did not stay at the Bull during the whole of our visit, comfortable lodgings in Victoria Street having been secured for us by the courtesy of Mr. Prall, the landlady of which, from her kindness and consideration for our comfort, we are pleased to recognize as a veritable "Mrs. Lirriper."
* * * * *
Among many reminiscences of Charles Dickens obtained at Rochester, the following are the most noteworthy:—
We had an interesting chat with Mr. Franklin Homan, Auctioneer, Cabinet-maker, and Upholsterer of High Street, Rochester. Our informant did a good deal of work for Charles Dickens at Gad's Hill Place, and remarked "he was one of the nicest customers I ever met in my life—so thoroughly precise and methodical. If anything had to be done, he knew exactly what he wanted, and gave his instructions accordingly. He expected every one who served him to be equally exact and punctual."
The novelist wrote to Mr. Homan from America respecting the furnishing of two bedrooms, describing in detail how he wished them fitted up—one was maple, the other white with a red stripe. These rooms are referred to in another chapter. The curtains separating them from the dressing-rooms were ordered to be of Indian pattern chintz. When Dickens came home and saw them complete, he said, "It strikes me as if the room was about to have its hair cut,—but it's my fault, it must be altered;" so crimson damask curtains were substituted.
In the little billiard-room near the dining-room was a one-sided couch standing by the window, which did not seem to please the master of Gad's Hill Place. He said to Mr. Homan one day, "Whenever I see that couch, it makes me think the window is squinting." The result was that Mr. Homan had to make a window-seat instead.
On one occasion, when our informant was waiting in the dining-room for some orders from Miss Hogarth, he saw Dickens walking in the garden with a lady, to whom he was telling the story of how as a boy he longed to live in Gad's Hill Place, and determined to purchase it whenever he had an opportunity.
Mr. Homan mentioned that the act drop painted by Clarkson Stanfield, R.A., for The Lighthouse and the scene from The Frozen Deep, painted by the same artist, which adorned the hall at Gad's Hill Place, and which fetched such enormous sums at the sale, were technically the property of the purchaser of Tavistock House, but he said, "Perhaps you would like to have them, Mr. Dickens," and so they continued to be the property of the novelist.
The valuation for Probate was made by Mr. Homan, and he subsequently sold for the executors the furniture and other domestic effects at Gad's Hill Place. The art collection was sold by Messrs. Christie, Manson, and Woods. There was a very fine cellar of wine, which included some magnums of port of rare vintage. Mr. Homan purchased a few bottles, and gave one to a friend, Dr. Tamplin of London, who had been kind to his daughter. At a dinner-party some time afterwards at the Doctor's, a connoisseur being present, the magnum in question was placed on the table, the guests being unaware from whence it came. Reference was made to the choice quality of the wine. "Yes," said the connoisseur, "it is good—very fine. I never tasted the like before, except once at Gad's Hill Place."
Mr. Homan recollects seeing among the plate two oak cases which were not sold, containing the silver figures for dining-table emblematic of spring, summer, and autumn. These were the presents of a Liverpool admirer who wished to remain anonymous. The incident is alluded to in Forster's Life, the correspondent being described as "a self-raised man, attributing his prosperous career to what Dickens's writings had taught him at its outset of the wisdom of kindness and sympathy for others, and asking pardon for the liberty he took in hoping that he might be permitted to offer some acknowledgment of what not only had cheered and stimulated him through all his life, but had contributed so much to the success of it." The letter enclosed L500, but Dickens declined this, intimating to the writer that if he pleased to send him any small memorial in another form, he would be glad to receive it.
The funeral was conducted by Mr. Homan, who mentioned that Dickens's instructions in his Will were implicitly followed, as regards privacy and unostentation. It was an anxious time to him, in consequence of the changes which were made in the arrangements, the interment being first suggested to take place at St. Nicholas's Cemetery, then at Shorne, then at Rochester Cathedral, and finally at Westminster Abbey. The mourners, together with the remains, travelled early in the morning by South Eastern Railway from Higham Station to Charing Cross, where a procession, consisting of three mourning-coaches and a hearse, was quietly formed. There was neither show nor public demonstration of any kind. On reaching Westminster Abbey, about half-past nine o'clock, the procession was met by Dean Stanley in the Cloisters, who performed the funeral service. A journalist being by accident in the Abbey at the time of the funeral, Mr. Homan remarked that he became almost frantic when he heard who had just been buried, at having missed such an opportunity.
Mr. Homan possesses several souvenirs of Gad's Hill Place, presented to him by the family, including Charles Dickens's walking-stick, and photographs of the interior and exterior of the house and the chalet.
* * * * *
We were courteously received by the Rev. Robert Whiston, M.A., who resides at the Old Palace, a beautiful seventeenth-century house, abounding with oak panelling and carving, on Boley Hill, bequeathed in 1674, by Mr. Richard Head, after the death of his wife, to the then Bishop of Rochester and his successors, who were "to hold the same so long as the church was governed by Protestant Bishops." This residence was sold by permission of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, together with the mansion at Brinley, in order to help to pay for the new palace of Danbury in Essex.
Mr. Whiston was a friend of Charles Dickens, and is one of the oldest inhabitants of Rochester. He was formerly Head-Master of the Cathedral Grammar, or King's, School of Henry VIII., an office which he resigned in 1877. Many years previously, Mr. Whiston published Cathedral Trusts and their Fulfilment, which ran through several editions, and was immediately followed by his dismissal from his mastership, on the ground that he had published "false, scandalous, and libellous" statements, and had libelled "the Chapter of Rochester and other Chapters, and also the Bishop." Much litigation followed—appeals to the Court of Chancery, the Court of Queen's Bench, and Doctors' Commons, which resulted in his replacement in office; and then a second dismissal, followed by his pleading his own cause for five days at Doctors' Commons against eminent counsel, and after three years of litigation he was fully reinstated in his office. The result at Rochester, for which Mr. Whiston contended, was "an increase of L19 for each of the twenty scholars, and of L35 for each of the four students, a total of L520 a year, and the restoration of the six bedesmen of the Cathedral, with L14 13s. 4d. a year each, who had disappeared since 1810, making altogether L608 a year." Reforms were effected at other cathedrals, and handsome testimonials—one from Australia—were presented to Mr. Whiston.
A characteristic paper, entitled "The History of a certain Grammar School," in No. 72 of Household Words, dated 9th August, 1851, gives a sketch of Mr. Whiston's labours, and of the reforms which he effected. He is thus referred to:—
"But the Reverend Adolphus Hardhead was not merely a scholar and a schoolmaster. He had fought his way against disadvantages, had gained a moderate independence by the fruits of early exertions and constant but by no means sordid economy; and, while disinterested enough to undervalue abundance, was too wise not to know the value of money. He was an undoubted financialist, and never gave a farthing without doing real good, because he always ascertained the purpose and probable effect of his charity beforehand. While he cautiously shunned the idle and undeserving, he would work like a slave, with and for those who would work for themselves; and he would smooth the way for those who had in the first instance been their own pioneers, and would help a man who had once been successful, to attain a yet greater success."
Anthony Trollope, in The Warden, also thus refers to this gentleman:—"The struggles of Mr. Whiston have met with sympathy and support. Men are beginning to say that these things must be looked into."
Punch has also immortalized Mr. Whiston, for in the issue of 29th January, 1853, there is a burlesque account with designs of "A stained glass window for Rochester Cathedral." The design is divided into compartments; each containing a representation in the mediaeval fashion of a "Fytte" in "Ye Gestes of Maister Whyston ye Confessour."
Mr. Whiston had dined at Gad's Hill several times, and said that nothing could be more charming than Dickens's powers as a host. Some years after his death, by a fortunate circumstance, a large parcel of letters, written by the novelist, came into the hands of Mr. Whiston, who had the pleasure of handing them to Miss Hogarth and Miss Dickens, by whom they were published in the collection of letters of Charles Dickens.
* * * * *
Thomas Millen of Rochester informed us that he knew Charles Dickens. His (Millen's) father was a hop-farmer, and about the years 1864-5 lived at Bridgewood House, on the main road from Rochester to Maidstone. One afternoon in the autumn, Dickens, accompanied by Miss Hogarth and his daughters, Mary and Kate, drove along the road, and stopped to admire a pear tree which was covered with ripe fruit. Millen happened to be in the garden at the time, and while noticing the carriage, Dickens spoke to him, and referred to the very fine fruit. Millen said, "Will you have some, sir?" to which Dickens replied, "Thank you, you are very good, I will." He gave him some pears and some roses. Dickens then said, "You have not the pleasure of knowing me, and I have not the pleasure of knowing you. I am Charles Dickens; and when you pass Gad's Hill, I shall take it as a favour if you will look in and see my place." Millen replied, "I feel it to be a great honour to speak to you, sir. I have read most of your works, and I think David Copperfield is the master-piece. I hope to avail myself of your kind invitation some day." Dickens laughed, wished Millen "Good-day," and the carriage drove on towards Maidstone.
"Some little time after," said Millen, "I was going to visit an uncle at Gravesend, and drove over with a one-horse trap by way of Gad's Hill. As I came near the place, I saw Mr. Dickens in the road. He said, 'So you are here,' and I mentioned where I was going. He took me in, and we went through the tunnel, and by the cedars, to the chalet, which stood in the shrubbery in front of the house. He showed me his work there—a manuscript on the table, and also some proofs. They were part of Our Mutual Friend, which was then appearing in monthly numbers; and on that morning a proof of one of the illustrations had arrived from Mr. Marcus Stone. It was the one in which 'Miss Wren fixes her idea.' I was then about sixteen or seventeen, and Dickens said, 'You are setting out in life; mind you always fix your idea.' He asked me what I was going to be, and I said a farmer. He said, 'Better be that than an author or poet;' and after I had had two glasses of wine, he bade me 'good-bye.'"
* * * * *
We were kindly favoured with an interview by the Misses Drage, of No. 1 Minor Canon Row, daughters of the late Rev. W. H. Drage, who was Curate of St. Mary's Church, Chatham, from 1820 to 1828, and lived during that time in apartments at No. 3 Ordnance Terrace, next door to the Dickens family. Afterwards their father was Vicar of St. Margaret's, Rochester, for many years, and resided in their present home. About the year 1850, the Vicar, being interested in the daughter of one of his parishioners, whom he was anxious to get admitted into a public institution in London—a penitentiary or something of the kind—wrote to Miss (now the Baroness) Burdett Coutts, who was a patroness or founder, or who occupied some position of influence in connection therewith. In answer to the reverend gentleman's application, a letter was received from Charles Dickens, then residing at Devonshire Terrace, who appeared to be associated with Miss Burdett Coutts in the management of the institution, proposing to call at Minor Canon Row on a certain day and hour. The letter then concluded with these remarkable words:—"I trust to my childish remembrance for putting your initials correctly."
The letter was properly addressed "The Rev. W. H. Drage," and it is interesting to record this circumstance as showing Dickens's habitual precision and excellent memory. The future novelist was about eleven years old when he left Chatham (1823), consequently a period of twenty-seven years or more must have elapsed since he knew his father's neighbour as Curate there; yet, notwithstanding the multiplicity and diversity of his occupations during the interim, his recollection after this long period was perfectly accurate.
It is scarcely necessary to add that the interview took place (probably Dickens came down from London specially), and that the Vicar obtained admission for his protegee. The younger Miss Drage, who was in the room at the time of Dickens's visit, particularly noticed what a beautiful head the novelist's was, and in her enthusiasm she made a rough sketch of it while he was talking to her father.
In conversation with the present Mr. Charles Dickens on a subsequent occasion regarding this circumstance, he informed me that there was an institution of the kind referred to, "A Home," at Shepherd's Bush, in which his father took much interest. Forster also says in the Life that this Home "largely and regularly occupied his time for several years."
* * * * *
We heard from a trustworthy authority, Y. Z., at Rochester, some particulars respecting an interesting custom at Gad's Hill Place. On New Year's Eve there was always a dinner-party with friends, and a dance, and games afterwards. Some of the games were called "Buzz," "Crambo," "Spanish Merchant," etc. Claret-cup and other refreshments were introduced later, and at twelve o'clock all the servants came into the entrance-hall. Charles Dickens then went in, shook hands with them all round, wished them a Happy New Year ("A happy new year, God bless us all"), and gave each half-a-sovereign. This custom was maintained for many years, until a man-servant—who used to travel with Dickens—disgracefully betrayed his trust,—robbed his master, in fact,—when it was discontinued, and the name of the man who had thus disgraced himself was never allowed to be mentioned at Gad's Hill.
The same authority spoke of the long walks that Dickens regularly took after breakfast—usually six miles,—but he gave these up after the railway accident at Staplehurst, which, it will be remembered, occurred, on the "fatal anniversary," the 9th June, 1865. During one of these walks, he fell in with a man driving a cart loaded with manure, and had a long chat with him, the sort of thing he frequently did (said our informant) in order to become acquainted with the brogue and feelings of the working people. When Dickens went on his way, one of the man's fellow-labourers said to him, "Do you know that that was Charles Dickens who spoke to you?" "I don't know who it was," replied the man, "but he was a d——d good fellow, for he gave me a shilling."
Our informant also referred to a conversation between Dickens and some of his friends at Gad's Hill, respecting the unhappy marriages of actors. Twenty such marriages were instanced, and out of these only two turned out happily. He said that Charles Dickens at home was a quiet, unassuming man. He remembers on one occasion his saying, in relation to a war which was then going on, "What must the feelings of a soldier be, when alone and dying on the battle-field, and leaving his wife and children far away for ever?"
* * * * *
A TRUE GHOST STORY RELATING TO MISS HAVISHAM'S HOUSE.
"I live in an old red-brick mansion, nearly covered with ivy—one of those picturesque dwellings with high-pitched roofs and ornamental gables, which were scattered broadcast over England in the days of good Queen Bess. Every stranger looking at it exclaims, 'That house must have a history and a ghost!' Many a story has been told of the ghost which has from time to time been seen, or said to have been seen, within its walls; and many a servant has, from fear, refused service in this so-called haunted house.
"On the 28th May, one thousand six hundred and sixty, Charles the Second sojourned and slept here. This being the eve of 'The Restoration,' a new name was given to the then old house, which name it has since retained. Charles, having knighted the owner (Sir Francis Clarke), departed early the next morning for London.
"There are secret passages in the house, and, under ground, from the house. From the room in which the king slept, a secret passage through one of the lower panels of the wainscot, leads to various parts of the house. This passage is so well concealed that I occupied the house some years before it was discovered. I had occasion to make a plan of the house, and the inside and outside not agreeing, disclosed the space occupied by the unexplored passage. The jackdaws had forestalled me in my discovery, and had had undisturbed possession for two centuries, having got access through a hole under the eaves of the roof. They had deposited several bushels of sticks. They had not been the only tenants, as skeletons and mummies of birds, etc., were also found.
"I came into possession of this old house in December 1875, and on the 27th of April, 1876, slept in it for the first time. At ten o'clock on that night, my family retired to rest; having some letters to write, I sat up later. At a quarter to twelve, I was startled by a loud noise—a sort of rumbling sound, which appeared to proceed from the hall. I left my writing and went to the hall, and found that the noise proceeded from the staircase, but I could see nothing unusual.
"The staircase is one of those so often described as being 'wide enough to drive a carriage and pair up,' with massive oak posts and balustrades. The walls are covered with tapestry, given to the house by 'The Merry Monarch,' after his visit. An oak chest or two, and some high-backed chairs on the landings, picture to one a suitable habitation for a ghost. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I had no belief in ghosts, and commenced an investigation of this extraordinary noise.
"Could it be rats, or mice, or owls? No; the noise was ten times louder than could possibly proceed from these creatures; besides, I knew there were no rats in the house. The clever builder of the house had filled all the space between the ceilings and floors with silver sand, which rendered it impossible for a rat or mouse to make passages. To prick a hole in a ceiling is to have a continuous stream of sand run down, as from an hour-glass.
"The noise was repeated, but much louder (two drum-sticks upon a large drum would not have made more noise), and I was able to localize it, still I could see nothing. I thought some one had fallen on the stairs, and I shouted 'Who is there?' A reply came 'Hush!'—first softly, and then very loud—too loud for a human voice. As no person was visible, I was puzzled, and went up-stairs by a back staircase, and ascertained that none of my family had left their bedrooms, and that certainly no trick was being played me.
"The same rumbling, rolling sound was repeated; and as I stood on the top of the great staircase, I felt a little uncomfortable, but not frightened. The noise seemed to proceed from a large carved oak coffer or chest (as old as the house), which stood on a landing, about half-way up the stairs. I approached the chest, and from it appeared to come again the word 'Hush!' Could it be the wind whistling through a crack? No; it was far too loud for any such explanation. I opened the lid of the chest and found it empty. Again the noise, now from under the chest. I was just strong enough to move the chest; I turned it over and slid it down the stairs on to the next landing. Again the noise, and again the 'Hush!' which now appeared to come from the floor where the coffer had stood.
"I felt I would rather have had some one with me to assist in my investigation, and to join me in making the acquaintance of the ghost; but, although my sensations were probably the most uncomfortable I ever experienced, I was determined, if possible, to unearth the mystery.
"The light was imperfect, and I went to another part of the house for a candle to enable me to examine the floor. In my absence the noise was repeated louder than ever, and not unlike distant thunder. On my return, I was saluted with 'Hush!' which I felt convinced came from a voice immediately under the floor. By the light of the candle I examined the dark oak boards, and discovered what appeared to be a trap door about two feet six inches square. The floor at some time had been varnished, and the cracks, or joints of the trap, had been filled and sealed with the varnish. I now hoped I had found the habitation of my troublesome and noisy guest. I procured a chisel and cut the varnished joint, and found that there was a trap door, as I supposed. By the aid of a long screwdriver I was able to move the door, but at that moment a repetition of the noise, immediately under me, made me hesitate for a moment to try and raise it. With feelings better imagined than described, I raised the lid, and looked into a dark chasm. All was still, and I heard the cathedral bell tolling the hour of midnight. A long African spear was in the corner near me, and I struck this into the opening. I tied a string to the candlestick to lower it into the opening, but at this moment I was startled, and was for the first time nervous, or I may say, frightened; but this had better remain for another chapter.
"So far I have not in the smallest degree exaggerated or overdrawn any one of the matters I have recounted. Every word has been written with the greatest care to truth and accuracy.
"S. T. A."
* * * * *
To cut our ghost story short, without adding another chapter, Mr. Aveling, on looking into the dark chasm by the meagre light of the lowered candle, beheld, to his amazement, the reflection of his own face in the water of a large cistern underneath the staircase, the house having formerly been supplied from the "large brewery" a short distance off. The unearthly noise was no doubt caused by air in the pipes, through which the water rushed when suddenly turned on by the brewers, who were working late at night. In Great Expectations it is stated that:—"The brewery buildings had a little lane of communication with it" [the courtyard of Satis House], "and the wooden gates of that lane stood open" [at the time of Pip's first visit, when Estella showed him over the premises], "and all the brewery beyond stood open, away to the high enclosing wall; and all was empty and disused. The cold wind seemed to blow colder there, than outside the gate; and it made a shrill noise in howling in and out at the open sides of the brewery, like the noise of wind in the rigging of a ship at sea."
 Mr. Aveling subsequently informed me that the vessel in which the king took his departure continued to be used in the Royal Navy for many years as a lighter—its name being altered to the "Royal Escape." Afterwards it was used as a watch-vessel in the Coastguard service at Chatham, and was eventually broken up at Sheerness Dockyard so recently as 1876.
 "A Perambulation of Kent: Conteining the Description, Hystorie, and Customes of that Shire. Written in the yeere 1570 by William Lambarde of Lincoln's Inne Gent."
"I took up my hat, and went out, climbed to the top of the old Castle, and looked over the windy hills that slope down to the Medway."—The Seven Poor Travellers.
TO the lover of Dickens, both the Castle and Cathedral of Rochester appeal with almost equal interest. The Castle, however, which stands on an eminence on the right bank of the river Medway, close to the bridge, claims prior attention, and a few lines must therefore be devoted to an epitome of its history in the ante-Pickwickian days.
Tradition says that the first castle was erected by command of Julius Caesar, when Cassivelaunus was Governor of Britain, "in order to awe the Britons." It was called the "Castle of the Medway," or "the Kentishmen's Castle," and it seems, with other antagonisms, to have awed the unfortunate Britons pretty effectively, for it lasted until decay and dissolution came to it and to them, as to all things. It was replaced by a new castle built by Hrofe (509), which in its turn succumbed to the ravages of time.
Gundulph, Bishop of Rochester (1077), whose name still survives here and there in connection with charities and in other ways in the "ancient city," appears to be entitled to the credit of having commenced to build the present massive square Tower or Keep, the surviving portion of a magnificent whole, sometimes called "Gundulph's Tower," "towards which he was to expend the sum of sixty pounds," and this structure ranks as one of the most perfect examples of Norman architecture in existence. Other authorities ascribe the erection to Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and Earl of Kent, half-brother to William the Conqueror, who is described by Hasted as "a turbulent and ambitious prelate, who aimed at nothing less than the popedom." Later, in the reign of William Rufus, it was accounted "the strongest and most important castle of England." It was so important that Lambarde, in A Perambulation of Kent, says:—"It was much in the eie of such as were authors of troubles following within the realme, so that from time to time it had a part almost in every Tragedie."
Mr. Robert Collins, in his compact and useful Visitors' Handbook of Rochester and Neighbourhood, quoting from another ancient historian, says that "In 1264, King Henry III. [who in 1251 held a grand tournament in the Castle] 'commanded that the Shyriffe of Kent do set aboute to finish and complete the great Tower which Gundulph had left imperfect.'" About 1463, Edward IV. repaired part of the Castle, after which it was allowed to fall into decay. The instructions to the "shyriffe" were no doubt necessary; for although L60 would probably go a great way in the time of Bishop Gundulph, the modern aesthetic builder would do very little indeed for that sum, towards the erection of such an impregnable fortress as Rochester Castle, the walls of which vary from eight to thirteen feet in thickness, whatever his progenitor may have done in 1077.
The Keep—the last resort of the garrison when all the outworks were taken—is considered so beautiful that it is selected, under the article "Castle" in the last edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, as an illustration of Norman architecture, showing "an embattled parapet often admitting of chambers and staircases being constructed," and showing also "embattled turrets carried one story higher than the parapet." There is also a fine woodcut of the Castle at p. 198 of vol. v. of that work.
The Keep is seventy feet square and a hundred feet high, built of the native Kentish ragstone and Caen stone; and the adamantine mortar or cement used in its construction was made with sand, evidently procured at the seaside some distance from Rochester, for it contains remains of cardium, pecten, solen, and other marine shells, which would not be found in river sand. Mr. Roach Smith suggested that probably the sand may have been procured from "Cockle-shell Hard," near Sheerness. He called our attention to the fact that in Norman mortar sand is predominant, and in Roman mortar lime or chalk.
The roof and the chambers are gone,—the Keep remains as a mere shell,—and where bishops, kings, and barons came and went, flocks of the common domestic pigeon, in countless numbers, fly about and make their home and multiply. One almost regrets the freedom which these graceful birds possess, although to grudge freedom to a pigeon is like grudging sunshine to a flower. But though the damage to the walls is really trifling, as they will stand for centuries to come, still the litter and mess which the birds naturally make is considerable and unsightly, and decidedly out of keeping in such a magnificent ruin. The pigeons exhibit what takes place when a species becomes dominant to the exclusion of other species, as witness the pest of the rabbits in New Zealand. With profound respect to his Worship the Mayor and the Corporation of Rochester, to whom the Castle and grounds now belong, the writer of these lines, as a naturalist, ventures to suggest that the Castle should be left to the jackdaws, its natural and doubtless its original tenants, which, although of higher organization, have been driven out by superior numbers in the "struggle for existence," and for whom it is a much more appropriate habitat in keeping with all traditions; and further, that the said pigeons be forthwith made into pies for the use and behoof of the deserving poor of the ancient city of Rochester.
Mention has been made of the fact that the Castle and grounds are the property of the Corporation of Rochester. They were acquired by purchase in 1883 from the Earl of Jersey for L8,000, and the occasion was celebrated by great civic rejoicings. The Corporation are not only to be congratulated on the wisdom of their purchase ("a thing of beauty is a joy for ever"), but also on the excellent manner in which the grounds are maintained—pigeons excepted. The gardens, with closely-cut lawns, abound with euonymus, laurustinus, bay, and other evergreens, together with many choice flowers. The single red, or Deptford pink (Dianthus Armeria), grows wild on the walls of the Castle. There is a tasteful statuette of her Majesty, under a Gothic canopy, near the entrance, which records her Jubilee in 1887. The inscriptions on three of the four corners are appropriately chosen from Lord Tennyson's Carmen Saeculare:—
To commemorate the
Jubilee of Queen Victoria,
L. LEVY, MAYOR.
"Fifty years of ever-broadening commerce!"
"Fifty years of ever-brightening science!"
"Fifty years of ever-widening empire!"
There is free admission to the grounds through a handsome modern Norman gateway, but a trifling charge of a few pence is made for permission to enter the Keep, which has convenient steps ascending to the top. From the summit of the Keep, there are magnificent views of the valley of the river Medway, the adjacent hills, Rochester, Chatham, and the vicinity. The Cathedral, Jasper's Gatehouse, and Restoration House, are also noteworthy objects to the lover of Dickens. As Mr. Philips Bevan says, and as we verified, the views inside at midday, when the sun is streaming down, are "very peculiar and beautiful."
Dickens's first and last great works are both associated with the Castle, and it is referred to in several other of his writings. We can fancy, more than sixty years ago, the eager and enthusiastic Pickwickians, in company with their newly-made acquaintance, Mr. Alfred Jingle, seated outside the four-horse coach,—the "Commodore," driven possibly by "Old Chumley,"—dashing over old Rochester Bridge, to "the lively notes of the guard's key-bugle," when the sight of the Castle first broke upon them.
"'Magnificent ruin!' said Mr. Augustus Snodgrass, with all the poetic fervour that distinguished him, when they came in sight of the fine old Castle.
"'What a study for an antiquarian!' were the very words which fell from Mr. Pickwick's mouth, as he applied his telescope to his eye.
"'Ah, fine place!' said the stranger, 'glorious pile—frowning walls—tottering arches—dark nooks—crumbling staircases—'"
Little did poor Mr. Winkle think that within twenty-four hours his feeling of admiration for Rochester Castle would be turned into astonishment, for does not the chronicle say that "if the upper tower of Rochester Castle had suddenly walked from its foundation and stationed itself opposite the coffee-room window [of the Bull Hotel], Mr. Winkle's surprise would have been as nothing compared with the perfect astonishment with which he had heard this address" (referring of course to the insult to Dr. Slammer, and the challenge in the matter of the duel).
It was on the occasion of "a visit to the Castle" very soon afterwards that Mr. Winkle confided in, and sought the good offices of, his friend Mr. Snodgrass, in the "affair of honour" which was to take place at "sunset, in a lonely field beyond Fort Pitt." Poor fellow! how eagerly he tried, under a mask of the most perfect candour, and how miserably he failed, to arouse the energies of his friend to avert the impending catastrophe.
"'Snodgrass,' he said, stopping suddenly, 'do not let me be baulked in this matter—do not give information to the local authorities—do not obtain the assistance of several peace officers to take either me or Doctor Slammer of the 97th Regiment, at present quartered in Chatham Barracks, into custody, and thus prevent this duel;—I say, do not.'
"Mr. Snodgrass seized his friend's hand as he enthusiastically replied, 'Not for worlds!'
"A thrill passed over Mr. Winkle's frame, as the conviction that he had nothing to hope from his friend's fears, and that he was destined to become an animated target, rushed forcibly upon him."
The state of the case having been formally explained to Mr. Snodgrass, they make arrangements, hire "a case of satisfaction pistols, with the satisfactory accompaniments of powder, ball, and caps," and "the two friends returned to their inn." The next ground which they traversed together to pursue the subject was at Fort Pitt. We will follow them presently.
In The Mystery of Edwin Drood there is no direct reference to the Castle itself, but the engraving of it, with the Cathedral in the background, after the pretty sketch by Mr. Luke Fildes, R.A., will ever be associated with that beautiful fragment.
Another reference is contained in the preface to Nicholas Nickleby, where Dickens says:—"I cannot call to mind now how I came to hear about Yorkshire schools when I was a not very robust child, sitting in by-places near Rochester Castle, with a head full of 'Partridge,' 'Strap,' 'Tom Pipes,' and 'Sancho Panza.'"
A sympathetic notice of the Castle is also contained in the Seven Poor Travellers. It begins:—
"Sooth to say, he [Time] did an active stroke of work in Rochester in the old days of the Romans, and the Saxons, and the Normans, and down to the times of King John, when the rugged Castle—I will not undertake to say how many hundreds of years old then—was abandoned to the centuries of weather which have so defaced the dark apertures in its walls, that the ruin looks as if the rooks and daws had picked its eyes out."
And this, the most touching reference of all, occurs in "One Man in a Dockyard," contributed by Dickens to Household Words in 1851:—
"There was Rochester Castle, to begin with. I surveyed the massive ruin from the Bridge, and thought what a brief little practical joke I seemed to be, in comparison with its solidity, stature, strength, and length of life. I went inside; and, standing in the solemn shadow of its walls, looking up at the blue sky, its only remaining roof, (to the disturbance of the crows and jackdaws who garrison the venerable fortress now,) calculated how much wall of that thickness I, or any other man, could build in his whole life,—say from eight years old to eighty,—and what a ridiculous result would be produced. I climbed the rugged staircase, stopping now and then to peep at great holes where the rafters and floors were once,—bare as toothless gums now,—or to enjoy glimpses of the Medway through dreary apertures like sockets without eyes; and, looking from the Castle ramparts on the Old Cathedral, and on the crumbling remains of the old Priory, and on the row of staid old red-brick houses where the Cathedral dignitaries live, and on the shrunken fragments of one of the old City gates, and on the old trees with their high tops below me, felt quite apologetic to the scene in general for my own juvenility and insignificance. One of the river boatmen had told me on the bridge, (as country folks do tell of such places,) that in the old times, when those buildings were in progress, a labourer's wages 'were a penny a day, and enough too.' Even as a solitary penny was to their whole cost, it appeared to me, was the utmost strength and exertion of one man towards the labour of their erection."
Dickens always took his friends to the Keep of Rochester Castle. He naturally considered it as one of the sights of the old city. It was equally attractive to his friends, for a curious adventure is recorded in Forster's Life, in connection with a visit which the poet Longfellow made there in 1842, and which he recollected a quarter of a century afterwards, and recounted to Forster during a second visit, together with a curious experience in the slums of London with Dickens. The first of these adventures is thus described by Forster:—"One of them was a day at Rochester, when, met by one of those prohibitions which are the wonder of visitors and the shame of Englishmen, we overleapt gates and barriers, and setting at defiance repeated threats of all the terrors of law, coarsely expressed to us by the custodian of the place, explored minutely the castle ruins." Happily such a circumstance could not now take place, for, by the present excellent regulations of the Corporation of the city of Rochester, every visitor can explore the Castle and grounds to his heart's content.
On arriving at either railway station, Strood or Rochester Bridge, the Castle is the first object to claim attention. Our attention is constantly directed to it during our stay in the pleasant city; it is a landmark when we are on the tramp; and it is the last object to fade from our view as we regretfully take our departure.
* * * * *
My fellow-tramp favours me with the following note:—
THE DEDICATION OF ROCHESTER CASTLE TO THE PUBLIC.
"I well remember the day of public rejoicing in the picturesque city of Rochester, on the occasion of the ceremony of formally presenting the old Castle and grounds to the inhabitants. I had received instructions from the manager of the Graphic newspaper to make sketches of the principal incidents in connection with the day's proceedings, and I reached my destination just in time to obtain from the authorities some idea of the nature of those proceedings. With this object in view, I made my way through the surging crowd to the Guildhall, where, in one of the Corporation rooms, I found a large assembly of local magnates in official attire, including the Mayor, who was vainly endeavouring to properly adjust his sword, an operation in which I had the honour of assisting, much to his Worship's satisfaction, I hope.
"The streets of Rochester were thronged with excited people, and the houses were gaily decked with flags and bunting. When everything was ready, an imposing procession was formed, and proceeded to the Castle grounds, preceded by a military band; on arriving there, an address was read from the pagoda to an attentive audience, the subsequent proceedings being enlivened by musical strains.
"It had been announced that, in the evening, the old Keep would be illuminated by the electric light, and I made a point of being present to witness the unusual sight. The night was very dark, and the ivy-clad ruin could barely be distinguished; presently, a burst of music from the band was immediately followed by a remarkably strong beam of light, which shot into the darkness with such effect as to fairly startle those present. Then it rested on the grey walls of the huge pile, bathing in brightness the massive stones and clinging ivy, the respective colours of each being vividly apparent. But the most striking feature was yet to come. The hundreds of pigeons which inhabited the nooks and crannies of the old Keep, being considerably alarmed by this sudden illumination of their domain, flew with one accord round and round their ancient tenement, now in the full blaze of light, now lost in the inky darkness beyond, and fluttering about in a state of the utmost bewilderment. Methinks even Mr. Pickwick, had he been present in the flesh, would have been equally amazed at this remarkable spectacle."