One of Medway's most iconic buildings has been awarded a grant of more than £1million from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to fully open it up to the public.
Eastgate House which featured in two Dickens novels, was built in the latter part of the 16th century for Sir Peter Buck, the Clerk of the Cheque at Chatham Dockyard.
It was lived in by five generations of the Buck family.
During the 18th and 19th century it had many uses, perhaps most notably as a girls’ school.
It featured as Westgate in Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers and as the Nun’s House in his work The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Now, as the bicentenary year of the great writer’s birth comes to an end, the property has received £1.28million of HLF investment to transform it.
Medway Council is contributing a further £700,000 towards the project, which will cost a total of £2.1million to complete. The work will start next year and be completed in 2015.
Cllr Howard Doe, who is in charge of community services, said: “Eastgate House is a stunning Tudor property, a wonderfully imposing and awe-inspiring building that is a jewel in the crown in regards to Rochester's historic High Street.
“We are blessed with an abundance of heritage in this part of Medway and this Heritage Lottery Fund grant will mean we can transform Eastgate House – which featured in two of Dickens’ novels – so that the public can fully appreciate its wonder.
“It is fitting that this money has been awarded as it is the icing on the cake of a wonderful year of celebration – one in which Dickens’ Bicentenary played a large part locally, and was marked nationally and even internationally."
Mark Reckless, the MP for Rochester and Strood, welcomed the news.
He said: “The Heritage Lottery Fund is to be congratulated for granting Eastgate House vital funds. Eastgate House has stood proud in Rochester since the late 1590s.
“With the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Eastgate House will be reinvigorated as a tourist as well as community centre piece in the heart of Rochester for future centuries following this decision 200 years after Dickens’ birth.”
Eastgate House is set in its own gardens and the site also encompasses an annexe building and cottage designed by Sir Guy Dawber in the 1920s.
In 1897, the house was bought by the Corporation of Rochester and turned into the city museum. In the 1970s it became the Charles Dickens’ Centre until 2004.
The house is now occasionally used for art and local history exhibitions as well as educational visits, heritage open days and as a wedding venue.
The Heritage Lottery Fund Grant will be used to transform the property and the way it can be used.
The money will help support, in partnership with Medway Council and other funding partners, the repair and conservation of the building’s fabric, from the roof, to the windows and floors.
New heating and lighting will be installed, removing unsightly pipe work and wiring and providing services more sensitive to the 16th-century interior.
Access for visitors will be improved with a new lift at the back of the building, which has received planning permission, and is being sensitively designed by architects, Thomas Ford & Partners, in consultation with English Heritage and local residents.
A staircase, removed by the museum at the turn of the century, will be re-instated to allow easy access from the first to the second floor.
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