Should you ever visit Rochester in Kent, you may find it is not the gothic spires of the Cathedral, or even the chunky Norman walls of the Castle that draw your eye, but the totally incongruous lines and gables of the swiss chalet located behind the Charles Dickens Centre.

In 1864, while living at Gad's Hill Place in Kent, Dickens was told that there were 58 wooden crates awaiting him at the nearby station at Highham. The crates turned out to be a complete, flat-pack swiss chalet, a present from a French actor, Charles Fetcher.

The chalet was erected on a small shrubbery opposite Dickens home, Gad's Hill Place, and was furnished as a study. He made great use of mirrors in order to try and capture the moods and colours of the changing seasons, the chalet providing him with an escape from his hectic lifestyle. Indeed, Dickens grew so tired of having to wait to cross the road between his house and his study that he had a special tunnel constructed between the two building to ease his escape!

It was in the chalet that he worked on The Mystery of Edwin Drood until he passed away at the study desk from a stroke on the 9th June 1870. After his death the contents of Gad's Hill Place was sold, and the chalet was sent to London where it was a popular tourist attraction for several years. Eventually it returned to Kent and languished in the grounds of Cobham Hall, home to a friend of Dickens. The wooden structure suffered badly from neglect, but was rescued by the Dicken's Fellowship and Rochester County Council in 1960, who erected it in the grounds of the Dickens Centre.

The chalet is now viewable as part of the Dickens Centre Experience, but a good view is available from the square outside the Adult Education Centre just off the High Street.

Kent Curiosities John E. Vigar. 1992, Dovecote Press
Personal Experience

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