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It is well worthwhile seeking out the free readings from Dickens which take place around Rochester during the Dickens Festival. Details will be in the festival programme, which is available on the Medway Council website during the leadup to each festival. Readers vary according to availability, but look out for members of the Dickens Fellowship and Gerald Dickens, the great great grandson of Charles.
One of the highlights of the Summer Dickens Festival is watching the competitions in the Castle Gardens, but even better is entering them!
The competitions are very informal, very friendly, and great fun. The format changed in 2011 - all the competitions moved to the Saturday and the 'Best Ladies Ball Gown', 'Best Dickensian Family', and 'Gurning' competitions were dropped. As and when we hear more about future plans we will pass the information on. The most important preparation is to get hold of a Festival programme from the Medway Council website, or from the Rochester Tourist Information Office, and read the schedule and the rules. You just have to turn up on the day, and you can expect a friendly welcome. Of course, if you are hoping to win, some competitions are easier than others!
The best preparation is to watch the competition in action - if you can't wait a year the best alternative is a 'Youtube' video which includes your intended competition, such as this one, which features the Victorian Lady's Homemade Costume.
One of these could be yours!
The Edith May sailing barge
In past years the Edith May sailing barge offered short trips under sail on the Medway. Having taken a trip on its first visit we can thoroughly recommend it - historical, magic, and tranquil!
Janet Peters with 'My Grandma's Bloomers'
Some years Janet tells the fascinating true story of her grandmother's life 'below stairs', and brings the story to life with some personal possessions - including her grandma's bloomers!
The Dickensian Ball is the first event of each Festival, and by tradition takes place in the magnificent Corn Exchange. The dress code is, of course Victorian/Dickensian, and the grander the better! We also welcome our steampunk friends and the Great Kentspectations group usually has a table. It is an occasion to renew friendships as well as a chance to show off costumes, and we often welcome International visitors as well as our Civic dignitaries.
For many years the festival the ball was organised by Ashley Davis and his sister Shirley Goodhew. Unfortunately they both reached a time when they felt unable to continue. They were a hard act to follow, but now Sue Haydock has taken over supported by a small but hardworking team - David, John and Sheila. We have tried out various approaches, and the Mistletoe Ball in 2019 was a sell-out well before the scheduled close of bookings! Our aim is to provide a wonderful night out celebrating our Victorian heritage, with a simple but enjoyable meal and followed by dancing in all styles and some surprises in the interval.
Worried if your costume will cut the mustard? Just drop us an email (attach a photograph if you like), and we will usually be able to put your mind at ease.
The Story of the Seven Poor travellers is enacted each morning of the Dickensian Christmas. It celebrates the Dickens short story 'The Seven Poor Travellers', which was based on an actual visit by Dickens to Rochester, in which he visited the Six Poor Travellers' House on Christmas Eve, and felt compelled to do something to cheer up the life of the inmates.
A small parade starts at the Victoria and Bull Hotel (The Bull') and proceeds to the Six Poor Travellers House. The large crowds are partly explained by the fact that until recently, after a short reading real Christmas food was distributed 'to the poor', leading to something of a scrum!
Dickens' text is available on the internet from Project Gutenberg.
The last event of each day of the Dickensian Christmas is a candlelit parade along the High Street to Boley Hill, ending outside Rochester Cathedral for communal carol singing in the snow led by the BAE Systems' Brass Band. The atmosphere is fantastic, and the perfect way to get into the right mood for Christmas.
Click on the picture to see a larger view