The Hall was a queer place, I thought, with higher pews in it than a church - and with people hanging over the pews looking on - and with mighty Justices (one with a powdered head) leaning back in chairs, with folded arms, or taking snuff, or going to sleep, or writing, or reading the newspapers - and with some shining black portraits on the walls, which my unartistic eye regarded as a composition of hardbake and sticking-plaister. Here, in a corner, my indentures were duly signed and attested, and I was “bound;” Mr. Pumblechook holding me all the while as if we had looked in on our way to the scaffold, to have those little preliminaries disposed of.’ Great Expectations. Chapter 13.
The Guild Hall in Rochester dates back to 1787. An imposing building, it is little wonder that Pip finds it intimidating when his apprenticeship to Joe is formalised here in Great Expectations. His being ‘bound’ to particular characters and places, often against his will, is one of the keynotes of the novel. Ironic connections between himself and Magwitch infiltrate the scene, as a resentful Pip uses images of arrest and incarceration to depict his resignation to becoming a blacksmith:
The Justices were sitting in the Town Hall near at hand, and we at once went over to have me bound apprentice to Joe in the Magisterial presence. I say, we went over, but I was pushed over by Pumblechook, exactly as if I had that moment picked a pocket or fired a rick; indeed, it was the general impression in Court that I had been taken red-handed, for, as Pumblechook shoved me before him through the crowd, I heard some people say, “What’s he done?” and others, “He’s a young ‘un, too, but looks bad, don’t he?” One person of mild and benevolent aspect even gave me a tract ornamented with a woodcut of a malevolent young man fitted up with a perfect sausage-shop of fetters, and entitled, TO BE READ IN MY CELL.’
This scene anticipates a moment much later in the novel, when Pip will release himself from his own guilt by showing public support to Magwitch at his trial.
The Guildhall itself does not feature again in the novel, but Pip would have to pass it on his many journeys through the town, when staying at the Blue Boar inn, paying his respects to Miss Havisham at Satis House or making his less frequent visits to Joe at the forge.
See also Mobile Landscapes
Want to see Pip’s local town for yourself? You may want to try this Rochester Walk
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations