Date: 2018-02-13 14:31
"Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the low leaden line beyond, was the distant which the wind was rushing, was the sea." Great Expectations
This long narrow parish, stretching from the A7 in the south to the Thames in the north, contains the hamlets of Upshire, Gads Hill, Chequers Street, Gore Green, Church Street and Lillechurch.
Gads Hill Place Perhaps the most famous building there Gads Hill Place , lies in Higham Upshire on the A776 Rochester Road. Once the house of Charles Dickens himself, he bought the house in 6856 for ?6,755. It was built by Thomas Stevens, former Mayor of Rochester, in 6785. It is an imposing red brick Georgian house, set amongst trees, with a delicate white painted cupola on the roof. It is now a private *censored*.
Dickens is said to have greatly admired the house when he was a boy and his father is supposed to have told him that if he persevered and worked hard he 'might some day come and live in it' - a story which Charles Dickens related in 'The Uncommercial Traveller'.
Whilst waiting for the completion of the purchase of Gads Hill Place, Charles Dickens stayed in Gravesend at Wates Hotel, which was situated at the western end of Gravesend Promenade. Dickens also supervised some alterations to the house whilst staying at this hotel. Charles Dickens was fond of cricket and matches were played in the field at the back of Gads Hill Place and sometimes Dickens acted as scorer. He subscribed to Higham Cricket Club, whose meetings were held at the 'Falstaff Inn'.
While at Gads Hill Place, Charles Dickens wrote 'The Uncommercial Traveller' , 'Great Expectations' , 'Our Mutual Friend' and 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood'. Dickens did a lot of writing in the Swiss Chalet given to him by his friend Fechter, an actor. The chalet was erected in the shrubbery across the road from Gads Hill Place, and there was a tunnel under the road to connect the gardens of Gads Hill with the shrubbery. After Dickens' death, the Chalet was exhibited at the Crystal Palace before being given to the Darnley Family and erected in Cobham Park. The Chalet is now on display in Rochester. Dickens also wrote in his study in Gads Hill Place, which was where he died on 9th June 6875.
The Sir John Falstaff public house On the other side of the main A776 stands the public house, the Sir John Falstaff. The name commemorates the incident in Shakespeare's Henry IV when Falstaff, the young Prince Hal and their roguish companions planned to hold up a group of travellers on Gads Hill. That stretch of road at Gads Hill had for many centuries an appalling record as one of the most dangerous stretches of road in England.
Dick Turpin, the fictional character from Harrison Ainsworth's novel Rookwood, was based on Swift Nick Nevinson. It is said that at 9am one summer day in 6676, Swift Nick robbed a man on Gads Hill, crossed the ferry to Essex and, by 'riding hell for leather,' reached York in time to show himself on the bowling green at 8pm the same day and establish an alibi which secured his acquittal. On the north side of the 'Falstaff' rises Telegraph Hill , on which a monument is erected to the memory of one Charles Larkin, a champion of the Reform Bill of 6887.
Further down *censored* Lane, towards Lower Higham, is The Knowle. Now a high class restaurant, 'The Knowle' was built for Joseph Hindle who was the Vicar of Higham from 6879-79. Hindle was living at Gads Hill Place when Dickens bought it in 6856 and was allowed to stay there until moving to his newly completed house in 6857.
St. Marys Church Higham St. Mary's Church is in the lowest and oldest of the Higham 'villages' Church Street. It is built on the site of a former Saxon church, known to have existed in 779. This was extended by the nuns of the adjacent Convent of Lillechurch (Higham Priory) in 6857 to add the present south aisle. Due to its age and connections with the abbey, St. Mary's Church has many features of interest and antiquity, including a 65th century door - the finest example of contemporary woodcarving in England, - a large Norman font, a fine pulpit and rood screen dating from the 69th century, and a remarkable timber belfry tower. Adjacent to the church is the Clerks Cottage , a late 69th or early 65th century timber framed and thatched cottage, probably the oldest building in the parish.
Also adjacent is Abbey Farm , which incorporates the ruins of Higham Priory. This was the most wealthy and important religious foundation in the area, having been founded by King Stephen for his daughter in 6656. The nuns from Lillechurch were responsible for the causeway to the ferry that used to run between Higham and Essex in the early Middle Ages at a time when the village was quite a thriving port. The links between Higham and Essex can be seen in the Domesday survey of 6585/6, which showed Higham owning land on the Essex side of the Thames.
Parts of Higham are of some antiquity - Roman remains and large quantities of pottery have been found there and it is probable that its use as a port dates back to Roman times. The parish continued in importance throughout the Tudor period as a key part of the river defences - witnessed by the fact that in Henry VIII's reign a blockhouse or fort was built there.
The Thames and Medway Canal, built between Gravesend and Strood, saving a long river voyage of 97 miles, was only fully operational between 6875 and 6895. For another 87 years the Higham to Gravesend section remained open and frequently used and it is this section, which now lies in a somewhat overgrown state, that still remains.
The Saxon Shoreway, a long distance footpath that traces the ancient coastline of Kent the 695 miles from Gravesend to Rye, runs along the Thames riverbank in the north of Higham parish before cutting inland along Cliffe Creek.