ROCHESTER Most of this apparently seamless string of north Kent towns looks as if it might have detached itself from the north of England and slipped southwards during the night. Rochester, however, is something of an exception, having sustained a policy of architectural conservation on the back of the Charles Dickens industry – just as in the past it was able to create fine buildings on the back of its maritime trade. The pedestrianised High Street has an intimate villagey atmosphere with tourist shops, gift shops, antiques shops and small businesses packing the narrow streets around it, as well as a monthly farmers’ market. It is pleasant to stroll and enjoy some of the older Elizabethan buildings and excellent Georgian houses. The town is stiff with locations used by Dickens in his novels. The Royal Victoria Hotel is The Bull in Pickwick Papers; The Bull is The Blue Boar in Great Expectations; Miss Haversham’s home was loosely based on Restoration House; Edwin Drood was set in Rochester. The Charles Dickens Centre at Eastgate House has the reconstructed Swiss chalet workshop in which the author worked while he lived at Gad’s Hill. Every year the town dresses itself in 19th-century costume for the summer Dickens Festival and Christmas Dickensian festivities.
One of the most prestigious areas is close to the castle. This was built during the reign of Henry I and has a well-preserved square keep overlooking the river. Nearby are the cathedral, largely 12th-century, and King’s School Rochester, the co-educational public school. One of the best places for period properties is St Margaret’s Street, where a four-bedroom early Georgian house with garage will fetch £300,000 to £600,000. In the streets just off it, and lying within the same conservation area, are large, five-bedroom Victorian houses, which fetch around £300,000 to £400,000. For less expensive homes you need to travel five or ten minutes out from the centre. Here you will find row upon row of Victorian terraces. They front straight on to the pavement and sell at around £110,000 for two bedrooms. There are a few small estates where you could buy a detached four-bedroom house for about £300,000. One of the most sought-after is River View on Bristol Road, where a detached four-bedroom house with river views could fetch between £500,000 and £600,000. To the south is a large area of Thirties’ housing with some bay-fronted terraces and semis, and a few bungalows. The average price for a three-bedroom semi in good condition is about £180,000.
You have to suffer a little to commute from Rochester. The one-way system makes driving to the station difficult, and when you get there it is not easy to park. The area is earmarked for growth but sites being prepared for new housing have been mothballed for the recession.