As the first door is opened on the advent calendar this weekend, Rochester’s streets will come alive with all the excitement and bustle of a Victorian Christmas.
Traditional entertainment, song and dance will be on offer at Rochester’s Dickensian Christmas festival from Saturday 1 to Sunday, 2 December, against the backdrop of the town’s unique mix of specialist shops, galleries and cafes. And there’ll be even more reason for festive cheer this year, as Medway’s celebrates the 200th anniversary of the great writer’s birth.
Visitors will be treated to carols and curiosities to sideshows and street theatre, twinkling lamp lit parades and even a flutter of snow in the fairytale setting of Rochester’s castle and cathedral. And while strolling around the fine buildings that inspired many of Dickens’ works, they will also rub shoulders with some of his best-loved characters emerging from the shadows.
Events run from 10am to 5.30pm on both days, and highlights include free performances of Fagin’s Last Hour, a critically acclaimed stage adaption of Oliver Twist, and several themed parades through the High Street, including the Grand Parade and Candlelit Parade led by The Mayor Medway, Cllr Vaughan Hewett. Rochester Farmers’ Market will also be open with festive treats and fresh local produce on offer.
Dickens spent five of his childhood years in Medway from 1817 to 1822, and returned for the last few years of his life, dying at Gads Hill in 1870. Many of the buildings in the High Street remain virtually unchanged from the time when Dickens incorporated them into his novels
Medway Council’s Portfolio Holder for Community Services Cllr Howard Doe said: “Rochester’s Dickensian Christmas is a very special event in Medway, as it not only celebrates our connections with the Dickens but also offers a really attractive place to visit and shop in the run up to the festive season.
“We want to encourage as many people as possible into the High Street and support local businesses while enjoying all the entertainment on offer”.
Contributor Sandi Digby, who will be resplendent in wine coloured velvet in her role as a Victorian Lady added: “We are very lucky that so much of the High Street has been preserved since the Dickensian era. When people arrive they see the historic buildings, people in costume and snow falling, and they can almost believe that they have been transported back in time, especially when they actually meet Dickens’ own characters”.
Sandi will also be appearing as Mrs Christmas in a street theatre production at the Rochester Christmas Market. Festive food and gifts of every kind will be available in the Castle Gardens during Dickensian Christmas from 1 to 2 December and also from 6 to 9 December. There will be entertainment with plenty of audience participation – including a peep at what might happen at Father Christmas’s house on Christmas Eve. The market will be open from 11am until 6.15pm each day, and will include an eclectic mix of stalls, and a children’s fun fair.
Rochester’s Dickensian Christmas runs 1-2 December, 10am to 5.30pm each day. The Rochester Christmas Market runs 1-2 December and 6-9 December, 11am to 6.15pm.