Rochester is a small, historic town in Kent, at the lowest bridging point of the River Medway about 30 miles (50 km) from London.
About the town
The town is home to a number of important historic buildings, the most prominent of which are Rochester Castle and Rochester Cathedral. Many of the buildings in the town centre date from the 18th century or as early as the 14th century.
Rochester has long been technically a city but was accidentally stripped of its centuries-old city status in 1998 due to a local government reorganisation. This was not noticed by Medway Council until 2002; it has since written to the Queen asking for city status to be conferred again.
Rochester Cathedral viewed from the Castle (note cleaning and restoration work)
The town was for many years the favourite of Charles Dickens who lived nearby at Gad's Hill, Higham, a link that is celebrated in Rochester's Dickens Festival each June. The 16th-century red-brick Eastgate House once housed the town's museum. In the 1980s the museum was moved further west to the Guildhall so that Eastgate House could become the Charles Dickens Centre.
In the same decade the High Street was redecorated with Victorian-style street lights and hanging flower baskets to give it a more welcoming atmosphere. The town also has revived the annual Sweeps' Festival, which has ancient roots relating to the Green Man, and is celebrated by a large gathering of morris dance sides.
The Dickens Centre was ultimately unprofitable and shut permanently in November 2004. The future use of Eastgate House has not yet been decided: a plan to move the library there has been rejected.
Rochester has for centuries been of great strategic importance through its position near the confluence of the Thames and the Medway. Its castle was built to guard the river crossing, and the dockyard at Chatham was the key to the Royal Navy's long period of supremacy. The town is surrounded by a circle of fortresses - Forts Amherst, Luton, Borstal, Pitt, Clarence, Delce and others - built during the Napoleonic wars and in the 1860s. During World War II the Short Brothers' aircraft company manufactured flying boats at its factory on the Medway not far from Rochester Castle. However, the decline in naval power and in shipbuilding in general led to the Navy abandoning the shipyards and the demise of much of the marine industry in and around the town. Rochester and its neighbouring communities were hit hard by this and have experienced a painful adjustment to a post-industrial economy, with much social deprivation and unemployment resulting.
Rochester and its neighbours, Chatham and Gillingham, form a single large urban area known as the Medway Towns with a population of about 250,000. However, Rochester has always governed land on the other side of the Medway in Strood, and in recent times included the parishes of Cuxton, Halling and Cliffe, and the Hoo Peninsula. Watling Street passes through the town, and to the south the River Medway is bridged by the M2 motorway and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.
- Pre-Roman – Evidence of Neolithic settlement nearby at Kit's Coty. Belgic remains were found in 1961 by R E Chaplin under the Roman levels. Coin moulds suggest that this was a centre of some importance.
- AD 43 – Romans found a fortified town by a bridge - they called it Durobrivae (one theory). Alternatively, Aulus Plautius set up a small fort, which was not needed long, as Kent was soon settled. The Roman settlement provides us with the present High Street and Northgate/Boley Hill.
- 190+ – Systematic earthen fortifications were established.
- 225+ – This was replaced by stone, which is still extant. There is evidence that the Romans bridged the river at the same point as the present bridge, and constructed a causeway 14 ft wide, over the marshy ground the Strood Side of the river.
- 410–604 – Tradition states that Rochester was continuously occupied by Celts, Jutes and/or Saxons. The Jutish brothers Hengist and Horsa landed at Ebbsfleet in AD 449, and defeated the Britons at Aylesford. Jutish traditions were different from the Saxons.
- 604 – Augustine of Canterbury sends Justus to found a cathedral at Rochester, 42 ft high and 28 ft wide. The apse is marked in the present cathedral. This was the second see after Canterbury.
- 676 – Rochester was sacked by Ethelred of Mercia.
- 842 – Sacked by the Danes.
- 877 – Alfred of Wessex orders the building of ships to fight the Danes. This could be the start of Medway's military shipbuilding history.
- 884 – Under siege from the Danes again.
- 930 – Rochester has a right to mint coins.
All this is evidence of an important and thriving continuous civic life.
- 1077 – Gundulf is consecrated as Bishop.
- 1080 – Gundulf commences the new cathedral, on the site between the Roman wall and Watling Street, over the previous cathedral.
- 1087 – Gundulf commences building the Norman Castle. Its curtain wall follow Roman walls, and its keep is 113 ft high, 70 ft × 70 ft in breadth.
- 1130 – The Norman cathedral is complete.
- 1215 – Besieged by King John. It fell on November 30.
- 1227 – Completion of Early English quire at the cathedral.
- 1264 – City attacked by Simon de Montfort.
- 1343 – Central tower at cathedral raised.
- 1461 – The first mayor.
- 1470 – The great window at the cathedral is built.
Rochester Cathedral is one of England's smaller cathedrals, yet it demonstrates all styles of Romanesque and Gothic architecture.
- 1504–1535 – St John Fisher, bishop. 1535 appointed cardinal and executed by Henry VIII because he refused to sanction the divorce of Catherine of Aragon.
- 1547–1550 – Nicholas Ridley, bishop. 1554 executed by Queen Mary for demands of faith: a Protestant martyr.
- 1559 – Construction of Upnor Castle to protect the Chatham Dockyard. Upnor is an estuarine water castle.
- 1560 – Sir Francis Drake born in Devon, was six and moved to Upnor when his father was made Vicar of Upnor.
- 20 May 1666 – Sir Francis Clarke entertained King Charles II on the eve of his restoration to the throne. His home, Restoration House, in Crow Lane, was used as the basis of Satis House in Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens.
- December 1689 – King James II spent his last night as King at Abdication House in the High Street.
- 11 June 1667 – Dutch Raid on the Medway. In the Second Anglo-Dutch War the Dutch under de Ruijter broke through the chain at Upnor and sailed to Rochester Bridge capturing and firing the English fleet. Samuel Pepys, who was responsible at the Navy Board, describes the last successful invasion of British soil in his diaries. Tophies from the raid are in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
- 1687 – Construction of the Guildhall – the ceiling being given by Sir Cloudesley Shovel.
- 1765 – HMS Victory was launched in neighbouring Chatham. It became flagship of Admiral Lord Nelson at the Trafalgar.
Rochester is part of the Medway Towns.
- Medway Council Official Site (http://www.medway.gov.uk)
- Rochester, The evolution of the City. Ronald Marsh. 1974 p&p Medway Borough Council.
- City of Rochester upon Medway Visitors Guide 1996.
- Rochester Cathedral, Pitkins Guide ISBN 0-85372-669-8
- The Dutch Raid, p&p City of Rochester Society 1998.