Published: 08:00, 06 April 2019
| Updated: 08:05, 06 April 2019
It's been a workhouse, a poor priest's hospital, a correctional facility and in later years, a family planning clinic.
Today, the 800-year-old former site of the Canterbury Heritage Museum, now the Marlowe Kit, launches a year-long exhibition on some of the county's most influential writers.
Kent's Remarkable Writers, hosted in the Marlowe Theatre's new exhibition space, will tell the stories of Christopher Marlowe, Aphra Benn and Joseph Conrad, exploring their connections to the city and how each was radical in their own way.
Take Marlowe, for example, who was born in Canterbury during Elizabethan times, where he was believed to have attended the King’s School and whose writing later became a strong influence on Shakespeare.
“He didn’t always make friends. He challenged ideas,” explains Catherine Buffrey, project producer for the Marlowe Kit.
“He was a complex and complicated man, and he was questioned for being an atheist.”
The poet and playwright met with others in secret to question science and religion, and his death in a pub skirmish following a bill dispute in 1593 remains the subject of an unsolved mystery.
Likewise, Benn, a lesser-known name but also born in the city during the 17th century, was the first woman in England to make a living from writing.
“She’s not as well known as she should be,” Ms Buffrey continues.
“She sort of got lost. Her work was quite controversial at the time, because it dealt with issues of sex and sexuality, so she only really received public recognition in the 20th century.”
Unlike the other two, the Polish-born Conrad made the county his home later in life.
His most famous work, Heart of Darkness, was based on his time spent working for a Belgian trading company in the Congo and raised a number of questions about race and imperialism.
“He wasn’t born in Kent, he was the other way around. But he did a lot of his writing in Kent,” Ms Buffrey says.
“At the time, the idea that empire wasn’t a good thing meant that he was quite radical, in his own way.”
Conrad, who is buried in Canterbury Cemetery, is also widely credited with inventing the spy genre and his novel Secret Agent, which heavily influenced Bond author Ian Fleming, is often referred to as the first spy novel.
From Marlowe’s Elizabethan England to Dutch Guiana, where Behn is thought to have spent time, it will explore the very different worlds in which they lived through a series of objects and immersive activities.
The collection includes personal belongings of Conrad, along with a number of other historic items.
Visitors will even have the chance to step back in time by dressing up in Elizabethan costume and using a typewriter from Conrad’s time.
Kent’s Remarkable Writers is free and will be open on Saturdays from 10am to 5pm and Sundays from 12pm to 5pm.
More by this authorAnna MacSwan