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The following is taken from The Kent Compendium of Historic Parks and Gardens for Medway:

STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE

Eastgate House garden is recommended for inclusion on the local list of heritage assets for the following principal reasons:

Age, rarity and survival: The site exhibits important surviving features of an early C20 formal garden, providing a contemporary garden setting for the grade I listed C16 townhouse. Significant surviving architectural features of the main formal garden, designed by Sir (Edward) Guy Dawber, include the garden walls, a garden house, a shelter, some York-stone paving and some terracing. Dawber was an acclaimed Arts and Crafts architect who ranked alongside his contemporaries, Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) and Sir Reginald Blomfield (1856-1942), all of whom were awarded the rare distinction of a royal gold medal for architecture. Dawber had only four commissions in Kent, including the Foord Alms-houses, in Priestlands, Rochester, but the Eastgate House commission for the Foord annexe and cottage was the only one specifically to include a designed garden and was therefore unique in Kent.

Aesthetic value: Dawber's garden design included signature architectural features and L-shaped flower-beds, typifying the Arts and Crafts style that he used elsewhere, particularly at Netherswell Manor in Gloucestershire and Hamptworth Lodge in Wiltshire. Dawber's formal garden was intended to form an integral part of the surrounding buildings: architectural details found in the buildings were reflected in the garden, providing a coherent whole. Although the garden was radically altered during the 1980s, Dawber's final designs survive in his fully detailed drawings, and to a significant extent, in surviving structures, and therefore it is perfectly feasible for his garden to be fully restored.

Evidential value: The history of Eastgate House is reasonably well supported by documentary and physical evidence dating from the C16, though there are some important gaps. The development of the garden itself from the mid-C19 onwards is supported by pictorial and documentary evidence but the creation of a new formal garden in the 1920s exhibits high evidential value through physical survival, primary documentary and pictorial evidence.

Historic association: The notable link between Sir Peter Buck, Eastgate House and the internationally important Royal Naval Dockyard during the late C16 and the early C17 has high associative value. In 1606, Buck's notable position as Clerk of the Ships allowed him to receive at Eastgate House: King James I, his wife Anne of Denmark, his brother-in-law King Christian IV of Denmark and Henry, Prince of Wales. The King of Denmark lodged overnight during their visit to inspect the Royal Dockyard.

During the C19, Eastgate House was immortalised by the celebrated author, Charles Dickens (1812-70), appearing as ‘Westgate' in Dickens' novel The Pickwick Papers and the ‘Nun's House' in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. In 1961, Dickens' Swiss-style chalet that he used for writing at his home at Gad's Hill, Higham, was finally relocated to the garden at Eastgate House. The important links with the benefactor Thomas Hellyar Foord and the architect Sir Guy Dawber also provide high associative value.

Social, communal and economic value: Eastgate House is a highly distinctive Elizabethan building that provides a strong local identity within Rochester. Large areas of the garden which were given over to orchards and market gardens were well known to local residents. From the mid-C19, Eastgate House has been the subject of many illustrations and photographs, often reproduced and used locally as postcards, thus creating its status as a tourist venue. Its use for most of the C19 as a day and boarding school for young women, and later in the century a YMCA and Temperance Restaurant, provided high social and communal value. This value continued from the early C20 to the early C21 in the use of Eastgate House as a museum which brought large numbers of visitors to the site. Since the closure of the museum in 1979, and the Dickens Centre in 2004, visitors continue to enjoy the public gardens on an everyday basis.

Landmark status: the designed garden at Eastgate House is an integral part of the visually significant building which forms a landmark site within the Rochester townscape. Since the early C20, a clearly visible pedestrian pathway has provided an important route to and from the High Street with direct public access to all areas of the garden.

SUMMARY OF HISTORIC INTEREST

A compartmentalised, interconnecting garden, part of which is laid out on the site of a late C18 to the early C19 (and probably earlier) garden surrounding a surviving late C16 townhouse. It incorporates a formal garden designed in the 1920s, as his sole garden commission in Kent, by the acclaimed Arts and Crafts architect Sir (Edward) Guy Dawber. The main features of Dawber's garden survive although some significant reconfiguration took place in the mid-1980s along with the creation of a new, informal garden in an adjacent compartment. The house and garden have significant historic associations with public, royal and literary figures, including Sir Peter Buck, King James I and Charles Dickens.

CHRONOLOGY OF THE HISTORIC DEVELOPMENT

Eastgate House and its associated grounds, found within the ancient city of Rochester, owe their origin to Sir Peter Buck (or Bucke) (1550-1625) for whom the house was built between 1590 and 1591 as his private residence (English Heritage listing). This notable townhouse, together with its associated land, would have reflected his high-ranking status. Buck was an alderman of Rochester and in 1593 became mayor (Canterbury Archaeological Trust, 2004 (CAT)). In 1582, he became Clerk of the Cheque at the Tudor Royal Dockyard, Chatham, and from 1596 was promoted to one of the Navy Board's four most senior positions, as Clerk of the Ships, a position he held until his death (Crawshaw).

In 1606, during a visit to Chatham to inspect the navy, King James I, his wife Anne of Denmark, his brother- in- law King Christian IV of Denmark and Henry, Prince of Wales all visited Sir Peter Buck at Eastgate House. The King of Denmark remained at Eastgate House to lodge overnight (Archaeologia Cantiana).

Evidence of a late Tudor, early Jacobean garden is speculative, but between 1608 and 1612 Eastgate House appears to be shown with a substantial enclosed garden immediately beyond which lies marshland and the river Medway (John Speed map 1608-12).

Following Buck's death in 1625, Eastgate House, its associated land and outbuildings passed to succeeding generations of the Buck family until 1687, when it was mortgaged to a John Parker for £300 by way of an indenture of feoffment. Security for the loan included 'the messuage, 5 cottages, 1 stable, 47 tofts, 9 gardens, 1 orchard, and one acre of marsh with the appurtenances.....' (Wheatley).

In 1696, ownership passed to the Bartholomew family and Eastgate House remained in their possession until the mid to late C18 (Wheatley). At this time, evidence suggests that the historic land boundary of the property was extensive, with close proximity to creek inlets and the riverside wharfs of the Medway, allowing easy access to travel by boat to Chatham Dockyard (Baker map, 1772).

In 1775, ownership passed to a Charles Whitehead, whose possession of Eastgate House included: 'all that capital and messuages or mansion house wherein Sir Peter Buck did formerly inhabit and dwell with the yard, stables, gardens, outhouses, buildings and appurtenances thereto belonging....' (Title deeds 1775).

Between the late C18 and early C19, when it is believed that ownership had passed to a Michael Thompson (CAT and Land Tax Return of 1791), pictorial evidence shows a formal pleasure garden to the south-east of Eastgate House, immediately adjacent to the main entrance: fashionable figures are depicted standing on a broad pathway lined on both sides by post and chain fencing, surrounded by ornamentally- planted beds, shrubbery and specimen trees. Wooden fencing and hedging also appear to separate the garden from the river Medway and tall-masted sailing ships beyond (Couchman 26L). Further evidence verifies extensive compartmentalised gardens, probably market gardens, to the north-east of the house, adjacent to Blue Boar Lane (R Sale map, 1816). These are likely to be the same market gardens rented out to a John Denham by a William Clements during the mid-C19 (abstract of title 1829/1904 and tithe map and apportionment 1841).

Between 1824 and 1867, census returns and various directories show that Eastgate House had become a boarding school (Harris' references to Pigot's, Williams, Phippen, Chatham and Rochester directories 1824-67). During this period, documentary evidence shows two compartmentalised gardens: a front garden to the south-east depicting a winding path from the High Street entrance to the front door of the house; the other to the north-east depicting an enclosed garden with a tree-lined boundary and a large orchard beyond. The orchard extended for around 125 metres as far as the London, Chatham and Dover railway line, built in 1858, thus truncating the former garden boundary. A small garden area immediately to the north-west of the house is also shown (1st edition OS map); and photographic evidence shows the same area planted with trees, situated behind a brick boundary wall into which a door is set (Couchman 23L and 25c).

In the 1870s, Eastgate House again became a private residence as the home of Samuel Shaw, a local coal merchant. Pictorial evidence from the 1880s clearly depicts a formal front garden to the south-east of the house with straight pathways, beds and borders, specimen trees and a boundary fence to the north-east enclosing the garden, and separating it from the orchard beyond (Couchman 27). Documentary evidence also shows that part of the orchard was used by a Thomas Prett, a local greengrocer, as a market garden known as ‘Prett's Garden'. According to Harris: 'this garden contained many venerable fruit trees' (Harris, and Wheatley sketch).

By 1890, the house was converted to a YMCA although the front garden appears little changed (Couchman 24L). In 1897 the house became a Temperance Restaurant before being purchased in the same year by Rochester Corporation for £2025. A further £1000 was set aside for the restoration and conversion of Eastgate House to a museum and municipal library, to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. The museum was officially opened in 1903 by Earl Stanhope, Lord Lieutenant of Kent (Harris - Anecdotes).

During the conversion, the boundary wall to the garden area south-east of Eastgate House, adjacent to the High Street, was demolished to provide bricks for internal repairs (Harris - Anecdotes). The wall was replaced with low, arched, wrought-iron railings providing clear views of the house and its front garden, and the boundary line moved inwards so that a line of trees formerly within the garden now stood outside on the street; railings were also installed along the boundary to the south-east to enclose the garden from a passageway which ran below the north-west elevation of the neighbouring property (Technical Institute plans and Couchman 32L). The garden was laid to lawn with a curved pathway leading directly to the front entrance of the house. A contemporary photograph shows high wire-fencing forming the north-east boundary of this part of the garden (Couchman 28u 32L 33L).

Also by the early 1900s, the construction of two buildings immediately to the north-east of the house (one of which was described as a gymnasium) and a series of buildings on the far north-east boundary (part of the Corporation Depot) reduced the size of the garden in these areas (OS 2nd edition, Technical Institute plans and Couchman 28u). In 1905, the garden was further reduced by the building of Rochester Technical Institute, listed grade II, to the east of the house (OS 3rd edition and English Heritage listing) and, from 1904, the construction of New Street (later to become Corporation Street). By 1912, the high wire-fencing on the north-east boundary of the front garden had been removed and partially replaced with an arched brick wall flanking a pathway leading to the Technical Institute (Technical Institute Plans and Couchman 34r). By this time, an ornamental garden laid out in around 1905 with specimen trees and topiaried shrubs on the immediate north-west front of the Technical Institute had matured (Couchman 52 and 53).

By 1913, the low railings forming the boundary to the garden area south-east of the house had been replaced by tall, wrought-iron railings and a gate with elaborate newel posts, listed grade II, taken from a number of other buildings in Rochester, including the Guildhall; the boundary line remained unaltered (Harris - Anecdotes, Couchman 35L, and 36U).

In 1917, local philanthropist Thomas Hellyar Foord (1823-1917) bequeathed £10,000 to the city of Rochester. The sum was intended to re-imburse the Corporation for the purchase of Eastgate House and the purchase of land. Foord's bequest also provided funding for the construction of an extension to the museum, building a caretaker's cottage and designing a formal garden immediately to the north-east of the house. The commission was given in 1922 to the architect Sir Guy Dawber (1861-1938); his designs were submitted later that year and work began in 1923 (Library and Museum Committee minutes).

Both the detailed plans of the garden, and the surviving structures, show architectural features that typify Dawber's Arts and Crafts style. These include: the use of abundant York-stone paving and the semi-circular steps; and the surviving decorative brickwork of the enclosing walls, garden house and shelter, which reflect the Flemish-bond brickwork and dentilled cornicing found in the Foord annex building and the cottage (Dawber garden plans). Eastgate House was one of only four Dawber commissions in Kent, including the Foord alms houses in Rochester, and the only one specifically to include a garden (RIBA Journal, and Architects' Journal).

Dawber's final design included an octagonal-shaped sunken pond with moulded stone curb (although his first design shows a square pond) and dwarf brick-walls with stone coping containing lavender beds (Dawber garden plans). The planting designs for the formal garden were made by Dawber in consultation with the head gardener at Hampton Court Palace (Library and Museum Committee Minutes p.266). Pictorial evidence suggests that Dawber's 1922 final design was fully executed (Architects' drawings 1933-4, Couchman 38L and Medway images) and was formally opened on the 26th March 1924 together with the museum annexe and cottage. Further evidence shows the new buildings and garden, and a new footpath cutting through the garden to the south-east of the house leading to the former Rochester Technical Institute and Corporation Street. Annexes to the Institute are also depicted to the north-east, immediately beyond Dawber's garden, on the site of the former orchard (OS map 4th edition).

By 1928, Dawber's formal garden had already suffered considerable neglect. In a letter to Rev. S.W. Wheatley, a member of the Council's Museum Committee, Dawber complained about the inappropriate siting of museum pieces and rubbish on the upper terrace. Similarly, shrubs and creepers had not been properly trained or pruned. He states: 'I think it is a very great pity indeed to treat this garden, after the care I have taken over it, in the way it has been done...What I had looked forward to as a little quiet oasis behind the old and the new buildings is now a place one is ashamed to go into' (Letter 17th April 1928).

In 1932, the city surveyor gave instructions that the garden should 'receive regular attention in such a manner as to preserve the architect's original instructions' (City of Rochester Society newsletter, August 2005, p.13).

In 1961, a C19 timber-framed Swiss-style chalet, formerly belonging to the writer Charles Dickens, was relocated from Cobham Hall into the north-west part of the garden between the Foord annexe and the house (Eastgate House features as ‘Westgate' in Dickens' novel The Pickwick Papers and the ‘Nun's House' in The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Harris). Photographs show a white-painted picket fence, not part of Dawber's design, placed immediately in front of the chalet, although in other respects Dawber's sunken garden remained intact with the planting now mature (Couchman 49). In January 1979, the museum at Eastgate House closed (Couchman 51) and in the same year the Charles Dickens Centre opened, but the overall structure of Dawber's garden appears to have remained unaltered (Couchman 50u).

In 1983, following Council proposals to enhance the Dickens connection, the Dawber garden was substantially altered: the sunken garden was raised, steps and terracing partly removed and the pond reconfigured (1982 Minutes). Some of Dawber's important architectural features survived, however, including the boundary brick walls, the arched entrance to the caretaker's cottage, the garden house, the wall shelter and some York-stone paving. New stone walls were erected and York-stone paving re-laid, but physical evidence suggests that abundant use was made of the 1920s stone, probably saved from the original 1923 construction.

Also in the early 1980s, the Technical Institute became an adult education centre and library (now, 2013, the Community Hub); one of the Institute annexe buildings was converted to a public lavatory and the others demolished. A newly-designed informal garden was created on the site, extending north-east to Corporation Street where a brick boundary wall incorporating two new bus shelters was built. An additional arched entrance was created through Dawber's far north-east boundary wall allowing access to the new garden (Technical Department files 1981-3).

In 2004, the Charles Dickens Centre closed and the Foord annexe was converted for use as offices. Eastgate House remains in the ownership of Medway Council and is used occasionally as an education and exhibition centre. The gardens are open to the general public.

Detailed history updated 23/01/2015  

Site timeline

1983: The garden to the rear was remade.

People associated with this site

Designer: Sir Edward Guy Dawber (born 03/08/1861 died 24/04/1938)

Features

garden wall

Creator: Sir Edward Guy Dawber (born 03/08/1861 died 24/04/1938)

garden house

Creator: Sir Edward Guy Dawber (born 03/08/1861 died 24/04/1938)

garden building

Creator: Sir Edward Guy Dawber (born 03/08/1861 died 24/04/1938)

Shelter.

garden terrace

Creator: Sir Edward Guy Dawber (born 03/08/1861 died 24/04/1938)

gate

The entrance gates once stood in front of the Guildhall.