The historic house
Gad’s Hill Place was built in 1780 for a former Mayor of Rochester, Thomas Stephens. In March 1856 Charles Dickens paid £1,790 to buy it from Mrs Lynn Linton, with around 12 acres of land, including a large shrubbery across the road. Dickens
immediately set about a programme of improvements and repairs. His family moved into the house a year later. Shortly afterwards he separated from his wife, Catherine, and her sister Georgina Hogarth became his housekeeper and the carer of his younger children – six sons aged from fifteeen to six.
Gad’s Hill Place is a Grade 1 listed building, and the ground floor rooms – hall, study, drawing room, dining room, billiard room and conservatory – remain structurally unaltered since Dickens’s occupation. These rooms, and the garden, are open to the public.
In 1923 John Burt bought Gad’s Hill Place to convert it into a residential school for girls. Now it is a fully co-educational independent day school that offers education from nursery up to GCSE level for over 300 pupils. In 2010 a modern school building was erected on ground to the rear of the garden, allowing kindergarten and junior children to move out of the historic house. The seniors continue to be taught on the upper floors of Gad’s Hill Place.
Explore the rooms and gardens
Dickens was particularly proud of this final addition to the house, which is a splendid example of a large Victorian glasshouse and gave him a lovely view over the Medway Valley. It retains its original tiled floor. He did not live to fulfil his plans for his new conservatory as he died a few weeks after its completion.
He chose a snug ground floor room for his study. The door features a mock bookshelf that when closed is indistinguishable from the bookshelves that line the walls. Some of the dummy books titles he invented reflect his own prejudices and sense of humour including 'History of a Short Chancery Suit' in twenty-one volumes, and 'Cat’s Lives' in nine volumes. This was an extremely important room to Dickens that was always kept locked when he was not occupying it and no servants were allowed to enter.
The drawing room
The drawing room was extended eastwards to accommodate his large family. This however caused some structural problems with the house which were eventually resolved by installing two large girders. The extension to the drawing room also allowed Dickens to add a conservatory to the rear of the dining room.
The dining room
In this room, which retains its original fireplace, Dickens suffered a fatal stroke while sitting down to dinner with his sister-in-law Georgina on the evening of June 8th 1870. A sofa was carried into the dining room, and there he lay, never regaining consciousness, until he died the following evening.
The billiard room
Dickens extended and converted the breakfast room into a billiards and smoking room. He added green and white tiles to stop the ends of the billiard cues damaging the walls in such a confined space.
Dickens is thought to have referred to Gad’s Hill Place in ‘A Christmas Carol’ when he notes that Scrooge and the Spirit of Christmas Past “left the high road by a well-remembered lane and soon approached a mansion of dull red brick, with a weathercock surmounted cupola on the roof, and a bell hanging in it.”