The Swiss Chalet
THE SWISS CHALET
The Dickens Swiss Chalet is one of the most iconic buildings in English literature, but it is in desperate need of repair and conservation. If you can help financially please support the appeal by the Rochester and Chatham Dickens Fellowship at the bottom of this page
The two storey Swiss Chalet, where Dickens wrote some of his greatest works, is now sited in the gardens of Eastgate House in Rochester High Street. It was given to Dickens by the French actor Charles Fechter, arriving in ninety four pieces on Christmas Eve 1864. In a precursor to many 'DIY' jokes, Dickens attempted to construct the Chalet with the help of his friends but failed disastrously. Eventually he went to the stage carpenter of the Lyceum Theatre in London for help. The Chalet was erected on land Dickens owned across the road from his house on Gads Hill. Access was by an underpass which he had built under the road in 1859 because he was unhappy with the traffic and the mud. The Chalet was oriented to allow views of the river Thames in the distance, and he set up a telescope so that he could see passing boats. His biographer Forster describes the interior of the Chalet in great detail, and describes five mirrors and several bronze ornaments representing toads in comical situations. It is clear that Dickens loved the Chalet as a retreat as well as a calm place to work.
On the day of his death, 9 June 1870, Dickens was working on 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood' in the chalet. Late in the afternoon he was on his way back to the house when he collapsed and died from a stroke.
After Dickens' death
After Dickens' death the chalet passed to his eldest son, then to Dickens's sister-in-law Georgina Hogarth, and later to the then Lord Darnley, who erected it in the grounds of Cobham Park. We understand that the Chalet deteriorated over time, and at one stage was sold to the Dickens Fellowship for a nominal amount.
the Swiss Chalet still carries traces of the indignity it suffered when camouflage paint was applied to disguise it in World War II.
The Chalet is a remarkable and fascinating reminder of Dickens' connection with the Rochester area. At the time of writing it is to be found is in the garden of Eastgate house. From the outside it looks in good condition, but in practice it is very fragile and not safe to enter. Preparatory work in restoring it to its rightful condition has revealed structural weakness which dates back to an earlier restoration.
For the latest information about progress in restoring the Swiss Chalet visit the Dickens Fellowship's appeal page.
More about the Swiss Chalet
The Rochester and Chatham Dickens Fellowship has published a slim volume, 'Dickens Swiss Chalet', by their Vice President John Knott, which includes fascinating information and rare photographs on the subject of Dickens and the chalet. All profits are going to fund the restoration.
If you would like a copy please send a cheque for £5 plus any donation you wish to make, made out to 'Rochester and Chatham Dickens Fellowship Chalet Restoration Fund', with your name and address to: The Chalet Book, 67 Harptree Drive, Walderslade, Kent ME5 0TH. For non UK addresses please add £1
The Dickens Chalet Appeal
The Rochester and Chatham branch of the Dickens Fellowship is running an appeal to restore the Swiss Chalet. The Fellowship does not underestimate the immensity of the task it has set itself, but is making good progress and has reached the point where there is a realistic chance of achieving its aims -
The Swiss Chalet was used by Charles Dickens as his study. Whilst it was in the garden of his Rochester home at Gads Hill he wrote five of his novels and many stories and articles. Now it is in desperate need of repair and conservation to preserve it for future generations to enjoy. The chalet is in a serious state of deterioration, being supported internally by steel struts to secure the structure.
Rochester is proud of its connection with the great author, and it would be a disaster if the chalet was left to crumble away. It is estimated that it will cost a further £60,000 to repair and resite it within the gardens of Eastgate House in Rochester High Street, even if the current Medway Council Heritage Lottery Fund bid is successful
You can help by donating to the appeal. Any amount you can afford will be gratefully received.
To contribute online please visit the Rochester and Chatham Dickens Fellowship web page and scroll down to the bottom of the page.
By post please send a cheque payable to 'Rochester and Chatham Dickens Fellowship Chalet Restoration Fund', to -
References and further reading
John Forster 'The Life of Charles Dickens' available as a free download (seen Jan 2016)(large file!)
'The Victorian Web' website (seen Oct 2015) has a useful page about the chalet, which in turn refers to: