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Scaffolding the past

The Museum’s facade is currently undergoing a revamp, and whilst the front of the building is covered in scaffolding, we’ve delved back in time to discover the history of 95 High Street, Rochester.

huguenot-heritage-centre_1

There is little information about 95 High Street until the Georgian era (1714-1830) when a residential house was constructed. At this time it was known as 58 High Street and remained as such until the High Street was renumbered in the 1890s.

georgian view

During the Victorian period the Georgian exterior was replaced with a frontage more in keeping with current fashions. It is recorded that the interior of this building was quite large. At the rear of the entrance hall was a large apartment with a gallery running along all-four sides which gave access to the various rooms. The staircase was the full height of the two stories and it was lit by means of a skylight.

Directories tell us that the building was occupied in 1832 by J. Nightingale who was a solicitor and magistrate. By 1865 it had become the home of London & Co. Stock bank but by the 1870s it had returned to a private dwelling when a J L Edwards, Mayor of Rochester lived there.

gas company

In 1818 the Rochester, Chatham and Strood Gaslight Company was formed. They purchased 95 High Street sometime between 1877 and 1890 and the Company remained in this building until 1993.

In 1924 the original Victorian façade of the building was demolished and a refurbished head office and showrooms opened. The ground floor of the building became the show room. Here all the appliances were plumbed in so that they could be turned on for demonstrations. In later years the Gas Board would make bespoke appliances for customers who had arthritis or were visually impaired and they employed a team of people to visit customers in their homes to help them get used to their new appliances.

95 High Street was nearly destroyed during the Second World War. At 2am on 8th October 1940 two mines were dropped near the Rochester Gas Works. During another air-raid two of the Gas Company’s employees were awarded medals for their actions. Charles Ernest Metcalf, a station engineer of the Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham Gas Company was awarded an MBE and William Edward Divers a British Empire Medal. The pair were awarded their medals for putting out fierce fires caused by air-raid incendiary bombs that had fallen on the gas-works. They carried out this act whilst the bombs were still falling.

In 1993 Medway Council took over 95 High Street from the Gas Show Rooms and opened Rochester’s Visitor Information Centre. The building has stayed in use as an information centre ever since. The French Hospital bought the building from Medway Council in 2012 and today Medway Council continue to run the Visitor Information Centre from the ground floor, whilst the top two floors are now occupied by the Huguenot Museum.