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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 June, 2005, 12:48 GMT 13:48 UK
Festival celebrates author's work
Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens lived in the Medway town of Rochester as a child
The annual Dickens Festival has been held in Medway to celebrate the life of the author who spent five years of his childhood in the area.

Medway's 27th festival has expanded again this year - this time including the Victorian Pleasure Gardens in the grounds of Rochester Castle.

Organisers said thousands of people attended a spectacular event of colour, costume and entertainment.

The festival culminated in a grand parade through Rochester on Sunday.

The latest addition to the festival included characters in Victorian costume and Victorian entertainment alongside performances from Medway-based arts groups.

And the first-night ball sold out before it was held at Rochester's Corn Exchange - organisers said their success was down to "the popularity of the Strictly Come Dancing TV show".

More than 40 Victorian costumes were sold ahead of the event at the Visitor Information Centre.

The Swiss Chalet at Eastgate House where Dickens worked, copyright Medway Council
Rochester's Dickens Centre closed after visitor numbers declined

Charles Dickens lived in Medway from 1817 to 1822 and returned to the area for the last 13 years of his life, dying at Gads Hill in 1870.

Restoration House in Rochester was the setting for Satis House in Great Expectations, where Miss Havisham lived.

And the novel also uses a bleak churchyard on the Hoo Peninsula as inspiration for the scene where the young Pip meets escaped convict Magwitch in the opening chapter.

A 60m Dickens theme park is now set to be built on a four-acre dockland site at Chatham, which is close to where the novelist lived.

Dickensworld will include a multiplex cinema with bars and restaurants, reproductions of Victorian architecture, and 10 rides described as "a journey through history".

It had been announced at the end of last year that Rochester's Charles Dickens Centre was to close because of falling visitor numbers.

Letter written by Charles Dickens in 1867
A letter written by Charles Dickens was auctioned last year

The centre was based in the Grade I listed Eastgate House, which Dickens used as the Westgate House Seminary for Young Ladies in The Pickwick Papers and also the Nuns' House in The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

At the time, the council said the centre had reached its "sell-by date" but that the Dickens connection would be maintained and new ways found to celebrate the author's connection with the area.

Tourism is estimated as being worth about 170m a year to the Medway towns, which also hosts the annual Dickensian Christmas Festival.

Other Dickens connections in Kent include Dickens House in Broadstairs which was once the home of a woman on whom the writer based Betsey Trotwood - a character in David Copperfield.




SEE ALSO:
Dickens letter under the hammer
09 Sep 04 |  Southern Counties
Closing a chapter on Dickens
03 Aug 04 |  Kent


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