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What links Charles Dickens, Steampunk and Medway's Fort Amherst?

Steampunk is a subgenre of science-fiction that incorporates retro-futuristic technology and aesthetics inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. Charles Dickens is not necessarily the first author you might think of when the genre of Steampunk writing is mentioned, maybe Jules Verne and HG Wells are better known for their Steampunk writing in the Victorian era, but there is an early set of stories written by Dickens that fits into this genre of mechanical men, airships, anachronisms and alternate histories.

Originally written for Bentley’s Miscellany, a magazine which Dickens edited in the 1830s, and where 'Oliver Twist' was first published in installments, are several stories set in the town of 'Mudfog' that give a hint of a different kind of author that Dickens might have become.

Published together as an anthology, The Mudfog Papers and Other Sketches, tells of an odd town and an interesting group of characters, and presents new inventions ranging from an impractical fire-escape, a pocket railway and a walled off city governed by automaton police.

Great Kentspectations

A photo of Katie Boorman in costume by Paula Wilkins
Katie Boorman by Paula Wilkins

We asked Katie Boorman from Kent-based Steampunk Group 'Great Kentspectations' (GK) to tell us a bit more about the group's link to Charles Dickens and also about the upcoming Fantasy Festival at Fort Amherst. If you came to last year's Welcome to Cloisterham festival, you may have seen the Great Kentspectations folk Tea Duelling and Familiar Flinging, as well as being onsite in their magnificent costumes.

Katie says "I became a Steampunk firstly because I fell in love with the fashion and look but as I discovered more about steampunk and met more people, I fell in love with the people and the community."

"The Family Festival at Fort Amherst is only in its 2nd year but we, as a team of volunteers, are so proud of what we have bought together and the event we have built. We didn't just want a Steampunk Festival, but a Festival that celebrates all aspects of Fantasy, Cosplay, Steampunk, DnD and SciFi, all at an amazing historical landmark, Fort Amherst. GK, Star Crossed Fairies and so many others have worked together with the fort team to bring Medway some Family Fantasy Fun this coming Easter and we can't wait!"

Victorian Science-Fiction bought to life

"Great Kentspectations is turning 11-years-old this year, our wonderful founders Louise and Mark created the group after realising that there were no Steampunk groups in Kent. Kent has strong ties to the history of Charles Dickens and the first official gathering of Kentish Steampunks was at the Rochester Dickens Festival, thus the play on words name 'Great Kentspectations' was born."

"Steampunk at its heart is Victorian Science-Fiction bought to life, so literature has always been a big part of the community. After a little research, we found some of Dickens' early short stories which upon reading seemed remarkably Steampunk in nature. So although Steampunk was never heard of in his lifetime, Charles Dickens' work and history still influences Great Kentspectations and the Steampunk Community all these years later."

You can find out more about Steampunk as part of Medway River Lit, as Katie will be presenting a talk about it, and the group will be appearing in a Steampunk Fashion Show in June! If you can't wait till then, you can catch up with Great Kentspectations (and some of the Medway River Lit team) at the Family Fantasy Festival in Chatham over the Easter Bank Holiday.

Family Fantasy Festival at Fort Amherst

Poster designed by Nick Ashton - fantasy characters  around the entrance to the fort
Poster designed by Nick Ashton

"Great Kentspectations will be hosting the Steampunk Zone at the Family Fantasy Festival at Fort Amherst.

We'll be joining the fun in our Splendid Steampunk attire, bringing the Victorian Sci-Fi genre to life at the event with Tea Duelling, Familiar Flinging and a quirky collection of costumes and curios!

Over Easter, Fort Amherst will be transported to a Fantastical world! Explore the tunnels and surrounding grounds to find pirates, fairies, princesses, Vikings, Steampunks, superheros, creatures, villains and so much more. Meet some of your favourite story and movie characters, have a go at some Table Top gaming, try your hand at Tea Duelling; there will be so much to see and do, with activities and games for the whole family.

There will be some fabulous stall holders inside and outside the tunnels selling lots of amazing and unique wares plus a multiverse of displays, curios and costumes to admire as you explore the Fort... you may even find a Wizard or two!

There will be something for everyone to enjoy over the weekend, arts and crafts to make, activities to have a go at, shopping sprees to be had, characters to meet and endless photo opportunities.

Why not join in the fun and come along dressed up too? Make a fancy dressed day of it with your friends and family enjoying the Family Fantasy Festival at Fort Amherst this Easter Sunday and Monday!"

£9.50 adult, £6.50 children, £7.50 concessions, family £25 and under 5s FREE!

* It's easy to get involved with Great Kentspectations, just find them on Facebook and take a look at their events and posts.


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