Rochester from Strood by E. W. Haslehust (1866-1949).. Watercolour painting. Source: Haslehust and Nicklin, Dickens-land, facing page 12. Text and formatting by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]
In Strood itself Dickens found little to interest him, though the view of Rochester from Strood Hill is an arresting one, with the stately mediaevalism of Castle and Cathedral emerging from a kind of haze in which it is hard to distinguish what is smoke-wreath and what a mass of crowding roofs. The Medway, which divides Strood from the almost indistinguishable overlapping towns of Rochester, Chatham, and Brompton, is crossed by an iron bridge, superseding the old stone structure commemorated in Pickwick. [Nicklin, 13-14]
The picturesque lighters with coloured sails no longer ply the Medway, but the skyline of Rochester from across the river is remarkably similar today. Dickens, crossing the bridge and arriving at The Victoria and Bull Inn on one side of the High Street and the Guildhall on the other, would have seen much the same cityscape, including Jasper's Gateway, the cathedral close, and the old Norman castle, although a modern steel bridge replaced the old stone bridge after Dickens's childhood and the composition of Pickwick. Indeed, Haslehust's watercolour invests the city with an old world, Dutch charm as the Medway with its quaint shipping occupies the lower half of the painting. The following inscription explains the evolution of the bridge from Roman to modern times:
The Romans built a bridge of masonry on this site during their occupation of Britain which stood until 960 A. D. when it was rebuilt in timber by the Anglo-Saxons. In 1264 A. D. this was destroyed by fire and rebuilt but in 1281 A. D. it was washed away by floods. In 1344-5 the bridge was again restored but proved inadequate for the increasing traffic. In 1388 a substantial stone bridge of stone was built by Sir Robert Knolles and Sir John de Cobham which lasted until 1856 when it was replaced by one of cast iron from the design of William Cubitt. M.I.C.E. That bridge having proved insufficient for navigation and modern road traffic was rebuilt in steel and granite in 1914 from the design of Arthur Cameron Hurtzig and John James Robson M.M.INST.C.E.
Dickens, Charles. The Pickwick Papers. il. Robert Seymour and Hablot Knight Browne. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.
Lynch, Tony. Dickens England: An A to Z Tour of the Real and Imagined Locations. A Traveller's Companion. London: Batsford, 2012.
Nicklin, J. A. Dickens-land. Il. E. W. Haslehust. Beautiful England series. Glasgow & London: Blackie & Son, 1911.
Paroissien, David. The Companion to Great Expectations. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2000.
"Rochester Bridge" [plaque]. Accessed 21 February 2014. http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMGVRH_Rochester_Bridge_Rochester_Kent_UK
Last modified 25 February 2014