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Festival celebrating Dame Sybil Thorndike and her family will be held in Rochester this weekend

By Nicola Jordan

A celebration of the famous Thorndike family is being held in Rochester this weekend.

Relatives of the actress Dame Sybil Thorndike, arguably the town’s most well-known daughter, will unite for two days of readings, poetry, drama and music.

The festival is being staged by Rochester author Phil Dodd who lives at Thorndikes, the former family home in St Margaret’s Street.

Diana Devlin, granddaughter of Dame Sybil Thorndike, visits Rochester
Diana Devlin, granddaughter of Dame Sybil Thorndike, visits Rochester

Dame Sybil’s talent was spotted by the playwright George Bernard Shaw and in her heyday she performed alongside Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson.

She and her two younger brothers and sister spent much of their childhood in the neighbourhood.

Mr Dodd,59, said: “She was one of our greatest British actresses.

“Everyone knows about Dickens, but there are quite a few who don’t realise her connections with Rochester. While I am pro Dickens, it is good to celebrate somebody else who is equally talented in their own field.”

Among those who will be taking part in the event is her biographer Jonathan Croall and granddaughter Diana Devlin. Nina Thorndike her brother Russell’s granddaughter and Sybil Ewbank her niece will also be taking part in the programme .

Both days start with a walk from the Visitor Information Centre in the High Street to Minor Canon Row, where the family also lived, and ending at Thorndikes.

Dame Sybil Thorndike
Dame Sybil Thorndike

Pupils from King’s School and Rochester Grammar will be performing at St Margaret’s Church from 7.30pm on Saturday. The Vicar, the Rev Joel Love, Cllr Stuart Tranter, and King’s principal Jeremy Walker will give readings.

On Sunday at 11.30am relatives including granddaughter Diane, 76 will attend a service at St Margaret’s, where her father had been the vicar.

Diana, 76, visited beforehand for a tour of the various venues featured in the event.

She said: “She was not just a fantastic actress, but an amazing grandmother and story-teller too.

“The Thorndikes have always been a strong family and we do keep in touch. We have a lot of connections with Kent which started here in Rochester.” Evensong will be held at the cathedral and a film screening The Prince and The Showgirl starring Dame Sybil as the Dowager Queen will take place at St Margaret’s.

Leaflets of the itinerary are available at outlets in the High Street.

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