Gad's Hill Place, this much loved home of Charles Dickens, was built in 1780 for a former Mayor of Rochester, Thomas Stephens. It is often said that Dickens had wanted the house since he was a boy living in Chatham. His father reportedly said, "If you were to be very persevering and were to work hard, you might some day come to live in it. Though that's impossible!" On 14 March 1856 Charles Dickens wrote a cheque for 1,790 to buy Gad's Hill Place and 26 acres of land from Mrs Lynn Linton. The house itself cost 1,700 and the extra 90 was for the shrubbery across the road. The Dickens family did not move into the house until June 1857 as the occupant at the time of purchase, Reverend Joseph Hindle, was allowed to remain there until March 1857.

Under its previous owner the building had fallen into disrepair and Dickens immediately set about a programme of improvements and repairs. In the entrance hall, for example, wooden panels were removed from the front door and replaced with glass. Dickens removed alternate balustrades from the staircase and inserted wooden panels which were then hand-painted by his daughter Katey and can still be seen today.

He chose a snug ground floor room for his study.  The study door features a mock bookshelf that when closed is indistinguishable from the bookshelves that line the walls. Some of the dummy books titles he invented reflect his own prejudices and opinions, including Hansard's Guide to Refreshing Sleep, History of a Short Chancery Suit in twenty-one volumes, Cat's Lives in nine volumes, Socrates on Wedlock, King Henry the Eighth's Evidences of Christianity, and the series The Wisdom of Our Ancestors: I Ignorance, II Superstition, III The Block, IV The Stake, V The Rack, VI Dirt, and VII Disease. Alongside these was placed a very narrow dummy volume entitled The Virtues of Our Ancestors. This was an extremely important room to Dickens that was always kept locked when he was not occupying it and no servants were allowed to enter.

The drawing room was extended eastwards to accommodate his large family. This however caused some structural problems with the house which were eventually resolved by installing two large girders. The extension to the drawing room also allowed Dickens to add a conservatory to the rear of the dining room.

The conservatory has a glass roof and a tiled floor, that can still be seen today. Dickens was particularly proud of this addition to the house, although he only saw it fully completed the Sunday prior to his death. Dickens extended and converted the breakfast room into a billiards and smoking room. The green and white tiles were added to stop the ends of the billiard cues damaging the walls in such a confined space. The fireplace in this room was moved from the drawing room during the renovations.

 

When the weather was good Dickens wrote in a miniature Swiss Chalet in the garden. The Chalet was a present from his actor friend Charles Fechter. Dickens installed it in the grounds on the far side of the road from the house known as the Wilderness, and built a tunnel which still runs under the present highway. On either side of the tunnel are two plaques which Dickens brought back from Italy; they depict Comedy and Tragedy.


Dickens was soon accepted locally, allowing the local people to hold cricket matches in his meadow and arranging Boxing Day sports each year. During the first month at Gads Hill Place the Dickens family had Hans Christian Anderson to stay. Although originally invited for two weeks he extended his visit to five and that, it seems, did not please Dickens.

Dickens is thought to have referred to Gad's Hill Place in ‘A Christmas Carol’when he notes that Scrooge and the Spirit of Christmas Past "left the high road by a well remembered lane and soon approached a mansion of dull red brick, with a weathercock surmounted cupola on the roof, and a bell hanging in it."

Dickens died at Gads Hill Place on 9 June 1870 following a stroke. At 6.00am on 14 June his plain coffin left Gads Hill Place for Higham Station for his burial at Westminster Abbey in Poet's Corner. After his death, many of contents of the house were sent to auction and Charles Dickens Jnr. lived in the house until 1878 when he was forced to give it up the house due to ill health. Gad's Hill Place was purchased by Captain Budden (Mayor of Rochester 1880-81), who lived there until 1890, when the house was bought by Francis Law Latham MP.

In 1923 John Burt bought Gad's Hill Place to convert it into a residential school for girls. During the 1980s the school admitted boys into the Kindergarten and Junior School. In September 2001 the school became fully co-educational admitting boys into the Senior School. Gad's Hill School now has over 380 pupils and is planning to move into a custom-built school in the ground of Gad's Hill Place. With the first phase of building work on the new school due to start later this year, a Trust has been created to help turn Charles Dickens’ former house into a heritage centre that will be open to the public. The Trust aims to restore the building to its former glory and to promote an appreciation of Charles Dickens' life and works.