Higham Parish Council
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Gad's Hill School Allows for International Dickens Heritage Centre
The former home of the world renowned author Charles Dickens is set to be opened to the public for the first time since his death in 1870 by its current owners, Gad's Hill Independent School.
It follows the completion of the first phase of a multi-million pound project undertaken by Gad’s Hill to build two new state-of-the-art schools in the grounds of the old house, increasing public access to the historic Gad’s Hill Place.
The Grade One listed Georgian property in Higham, near Rochester - where Dickens penned classic novels such as ‘Great Expectations’ and ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ - has been used by the school for teaching since the 1920s.
The past decade has seen a significant period of growth and progress for Gad’s Hill; the pinnacle being named as the country’s top independent school by the BBC, The Times and in the Government’s School League Tables, as well as eighth best school overall when including state schools.
It is this success that enabled Gad's Hill to invest in two new school constructions and to mark the completion of the first phase of the project an official opening ceremony was held on Wednesday 4th September 2013.
The John Melville Building - named after school’s Chair of Governors who, alongside Headmaster David Craggs, has long campaigned for pupils to vacate the historic and increasingly fragile 18th century house - will be officially opened by Marion Dickens, Dickens’ great-great-granddaughter and trustee of the charity due to take over Gad’s Hill Place, along with Mr Melville and the Headmaster. They will be joined by current and former pupils and staff, members from local community groups and those involved in the construction.
Spanning two floors, the new school at Gad’s Hill boasts an outstandingly large sports hall, theatre/concert hall, a first-class dining area, a great ensemble and performance room as well as two performance spaces and academic classrooms for Kindergarten and Junior school children. Learning spaces are safe, accessible, bright and spacious and are capable of being adapted to meet future needs as technology and teaching strategies change over time.
Headmaster of the school for three to sixteen year-olds, David Craggs, said: “Ninety years ago John Burt brought Gad’s Hill Place to convert it into a residential school. Since then, thousands of children have had the rare honour of being able to learn English in what was Charles Dickens bedroom! However, this old building can no longer keep up with the demands of modern day education.
“While I will miss the unique privilege of running a school from the great man’s own study, I feel that we have built a new school of the highest quality and standard that the 21st century can provide, which is only right for our truly outstanding students. I feel certain that in 90 years time, everyone involved in the school will look back and be proud of the values and the building that they have inherited.”
Marion Dickens, Dickens’ great-great-granddaughter and trustee of the charity set to embark on a series of refurbishment works on Gad’s Hill Place, ultimately leading to a visitor attraction based around the Georgian building said: “Since the house was turned into a school, public access to it has been very limited. Now, for the first time, people who love the books will be able to visit his home.”
John Melville, Chairman of the Board of Governors for Gad’s Hill School said: "This school which we have been building over the last few years is having a major impact on the community it serves.
"You only have to see the delight of pupils, parents and staff to understand why we invested so much in improving facilities and buildings at Gad’s Hill.
"Gad’s is committed to teaching our young people in buildings fit for the 21st century.
"This is a wonderful time for the pupils and staff at Gad’s and I wish them many happy years in their state-of-the-art new school."
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