About The French Hospital
West side of the Square [Tim Rawle]
The French Hospital's presence in Rochester started with the purchase of 19 terraced houses that made up Theobald Square in the cathedral city of Rochester in Kent. The square had been laid out as an elegant speculation in the 1840s on the site of an old brewery, whose vaults still lie beneath the road and gardens. The houses were completely restored and rearranged to make 39 self-contained flats where residents could enjoy privacy in their own surroundings but with help in sickness or emergency always at hand. La Providence, at its fourth home, was opened by the Lord Lieutenant of Kent, Lord Cornwallis, on 21 June 1960. The accommodation was enlarged by the addition of 14 new flats in 1974. In 1983, on land acquired between the square and the old Roman city wall, four more flats were built, together with a common room for the residents with gardens on either side, including a 'Huguenots' garden', in which flowers and shrubs associated with the Huguenots are planted. The Common Room is also home to the chapel where the French Hospital's chaplain conducts Holy Communion once a week. The development of the 'City Wall site' was completed in 1988 with the addition of three flats beside the drum tower at the northern end of the wall. Four flats in the square have also been reconstructed with special features designed for disabled residents. Thus there are now approximately 60 residents' flats, predominantly with single bedrooms and fitted with an emergency call system when appropriate and overseen 24 hours a day by a duty Steward. There are also two guest flats. Residents' contributions towards rent, heating and hot water are subsidised by the charity.
The Huguenots' Garden [Tim Rawle]
A general rise in living standards, together with constant changes in legislation, have meant that the French Hospital is always looking at ways of improving the accommodation and facilities that it provides. In addition to the redesigned flats, ramps have been installed in kerbs, lifts have been incorporated within buildings to give the majority of the flats either level or lift-serviced access, most have showers, and some are designed to ease the problems of failing eyesight. The acquisition of an adjoining property has also allowed for the provision of secure car-parking facilities accessible from the square. And improvements are not only practical. A Jubilee garden was opened in 2001, with seating and tables, a sun-dial and a water feature so that the residents can enjoy the summer months out of doors if they so wish. In recent years the French Hospital has become a place for the display of items of significant Huguenot interest, with historic pieces from both the Hospital's past and also from other sources throughout the world.
Management of the French Hospital is still carried on as set out in the first Royal Charter of 1718, though a Supplemental Charter was granted by H.M. The Queen in 1953 to allow it to become a housing association. The General Court of the Hospital consists of 'between 25 and 50' (but in practice about 40) Directors, who are mostly themselves representative of French Protestant refugee families, and who serve 'for their natural lives'; from within this General Court smaller Quarterly Committees of management are elected. The Court is presided over by the Governor, who is elected every three years, or the Deputy Governor, who is elected annually, as are the Treasurer and Secretary. The first Governor was Henri de Ruvigny, Earl of Galway, the revered leader of the Huguenots of the diaspora. For over 200 years, almost without a break, the office of Governor has been in the Pleydell-Bouverie family, held by the hereditary Earls of Radnor, the present Governor being the 9th Earl. The lists of Directors' names enhance the theme of continued care within the Huguenot community that has been passed down the generations; the pattern is fascinating and intricately woven - just as there were Bosanquets, Cazalets, Champion de Crespignys, Duvals, Minets and Ouvrys in the 18th and early 19th centuries, so these names, and many others, have echoed and re-echoed into our own time.
Outside steps to
In 1720 a necklace of orient pearls, the St Leger necklace, was donated and sold to raise funds for the new Hospital; it was among the first of a continuing stream of gifts of all kinds that have been received from well-wishers and grateful beneficiaries thus enabling the work to be carried on into times of changing values; many financial bequests are administered as charitable funds to help people with special needs.
The Huguenot Society (then of London, now of Great Britain and Ireland) was founded in 1885 by Directors of the French Hospital to preserve and maintain the records of the Hospital and to promote the publication and interchange of knowledge about the Huguenots. The further aim, of equal importance, is to develop a bond of fellowship among those who, whether or not of Huguenot descent, respect and admire the character of the Huguenots and seek to perpetuate their memory.