Prison hulks could be seen on the river from Woolwich to Rochester in the 18th and 19th Century. They first came into use after the American War of Independence 1786. We lost the opportunity to dump our unwanted criminals on to the colony so needed a home solution. Dickens described them as “ a wicked Noah’s ark”. In Great Expectations 1861 Magwitch escapes from one. The last hulks had been abandoned by 1856. By 1814 17,200 men were held prison in hulks some as young as seven or eight. I discovered all this and more when I visited the Guildhall Museum in Rochester. The assembly room on the top floor was used to hold the quarter session court. So from this magnificent room those found guilty would be moved to the prison hulks. The exhibition is on three floors and set out like a real ship. It is very good.
Rochester makes much of its links to Dickens and it could easily be used as a film set for one of his novels. There is so many heritage buildings in the city. Eastgate House is on the High Street it was built Sir Peter Buck clerk to the cheque at Royal Chatham Dockyards House. In Pickwick Papers it appears as Westgate and The Nun’s House in Mystery of Edwin Drew. Further along the High Street you come across a really interesting alms house – The Six Poor Travellers House. Set up as a Tudor charity it did what its name implies and provided lodgings for six poor travellers. Many of the shops on the High Street have adopted a Dickens link although some just don’t work. For example, The Little Dorrit Revival is a piercing studio. Baggins is worth a visit and is advertised as the largest secondhand book shop in England. I think its a close call with Barter Books in Alnwick.
From the High Street you can walk to the Cathedral and the Castle. I walked beyond the castle to St Peter’s and St Margaret’s Church. There is currently no access to the church because of major works. You can enter the church yard from where you get great views of the river. This route takes you past some handsome heritage buildings some are in private use but many belong to King’s School.
I didn’t have time to visit both the castle and the cathedral so needed to make a choice. In the end I quickly walked around the outside of both and decided I needed a return visit. A great historical city with much to offer. Oh and there are the ubiquitous riverside apartments springing up and central London is only an hour away by train.