Eastgate House construction began in the late 1590s for Sir Peter Buck who was Clerk of the Cheque at Chatham’s Royal Tudor Dockyard. This Grade I listed Elizabethan mansion is one of the finest in the country and has a rich and fascinating history. Originally used as a family home for five generations of the Buck family, it has also been used as a girls' boarding school, a public library and most recently as a museum and centre dedicated to the work of the famous English author and social critic, Charles Dickens.
After construction the house then became home to five generations of the Buck family. In 1687, the Parker family inhabited the house and then in the 1750s the Bartholemew family owned the house until the mid-18th century. In 1761, it was owned by Annabel Darwin. Then in 1791 it was occupied by James Reed. It is unclear who first set up a school on the site (James or his widow). The school is mentioned as a freeschool in 'The History and Antiquities of Rochester and Its Environs' by Samuel Denne in 1772.
Eastgate House is famous for its association with Charles Dickens, featuring as Westgate in The Pickwick Papers in 1836. In 1841 the house was used as a girls boarding school and governed by Rebecca Norton. At this time Charles Dickens referred to it as "The Nuns' House" in what became his final novel, "The Mystery of Edwin Drood". In the 1870s, it became a private house once more, owned by Samual Shaw, a wholesale coal merchant who was born in Wandsworth, Surrey. This was to be their last home in England, before leaving for Canada. It became a young men's hostel in 1890 and then a temperance restaurant in 1897. In 1903, Rochester City Council converted the building into a municipal library and museum in celebration of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. Eastgate was then used as a Dickens Museum (from 1923) and its grounds contain the Swiss chalet in which Dickens penned several of his novels, relocated from Gad's Hill in the 1961.
The brick exterior is fragile and expensive to repair. The structure has the date 1591 on a beam in one of the upper rooms of the house. Current renovations include removal of pipework and wiring. Additional elements include heating and lighting features, as well as a new lift and a staircase to replace one which was previously removed. Conservators made some discoveries after removing layers of interior paint: the mysterious drawing of a man's face within a 16th-century setting, and a pattern of black lines with similarity to a plaster painting discovered on the second floor. At the time of completion, the grounds of the house were "extremely large stretching westward a considerable distance along St. Martins Lane to St Chad's Lane and northward". In the 1920s, Sir Guy Dawber designed the gardens, annexe building and cottage of the property.
The addition of the lift will allow access for the mobility impaired to the upper floors. Both the house and Dickens' chalet will be wheelchair accessible. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : Eastgate House, High Street, Rochester ME1 1EW
Transport : Rochester (National Rail) then 5 minutes. Bus Routes : 01, 133, 140, 141, 149 and 151 stop outside
Opening Times : Scheduled for re-opening in early 2017
Tickets : To Be Announced
Tel. : 01634 338110