The Medway Towns are a collection of Kentish towns situated along the banks of the River Medway, hence the name. Many great cities have
been built around a river. The Ancient city of Rochester is no exception; the River Medway winds its way through Rochester, Chatham,
Gillingham and Strood. Rich fine buildings representing virtually every era of history adorn these towns. The whole area is immensely
steeped in history and splendid architecture.Whatever period of history you are interested in, the Medway Towns has something to offer.
There are numerous places where you can allow your imagination to run free and be transported back to a variety of times gone by.
Surrounding the Medway Towns are miles of beautiful countryside, bespeckled by tiny Kentish villages, ancient churches and castles.
THE GUILDHALL Exhibits at this well designed Museum are laid our chronologically, visitors step through Prehistoric and Roman times to the 16th century then on to Victorian and Edwardian times. The
emphasis is very much 'hands-on', with brass-rubbing, and coin minting. There are also some educational audio visual displays making the Museum enthralling for children. Open every day. BROOK PUMPING
In Chatham the BROOK PUMPING STATION provides an insight into 20th century industrial archaeology. Open Tuesday evening and Saturday morning only.
Situated 25 miles S.E of London, on the River Medway's north side at its lowest
fordable point, the city of Rochester controls the main road from Dover on the Channel coast
to London. It enjoys a strategic importance appreciated since pre-Roman times. The Romans
built a walled city, here, which was then refortified by the Anglo-Saxons in their time. In 604,
Augustine established Rochester as England's second bishopric (Canterbury was the first) and
consecrated the cathedral at that time. The present cathedral building was begun around
1080 by Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester, and has been added onto in almost every century
since. A small building, as English cathedrals go, but beautiful and very well kept. William the
Conqueror recognized Rochester's importance and ordered that a castle should be built to
defend it. The work was begun by Gundulf, who had had previous building experience at the
Tower of London, and at Rochester Cathedral, but was probably not finished until around
1140. Today, the wall is intact as is the impressive great tower. Also known as the keep, the
tower is 70 ft. square and 125 ft. high and still conveys the impression of power and solidity.
A highlight in the history of the castle came in 1215, the year Magna Carta was
signed, when the castle was held by the rebel barons against King John. There was a great
siege which ended when the forces of the King undermined the south turret. It collapsed,
allowing his troops to enter and take the castle. Rochester's most famous resident was
Charles Dickens , who lived at Gad's Hill Place for many years prior to his death in 1870. Many
of the local houses and inns feature somehow in Dickens' many novels. In the High Street,
there is the Charles Dickens Centre where, through creative use of sound and light, the
displays of Dickens' characters seem to come to life.
This impressive Norman keep survived complete demolition in the 18th Century. In
a ruinous state it was decided to pull the castle remains down. Building materials had already
been removed to build Upnor Castle further along the river and possibly some of its stones
were incorporated into many farm buildings dotted around the Kentish countryside. Life of
the fortress and a noble home began under the auspices of Bishop Gundulf when he began
work on Rochester Castle in 1087, one of the earliest Norman stone castles in Britain.
Materials used from previous occupiers, the Romans, were used in the foundations.
Forty years later, Archbishop William de Corbeil added the keep. Today this great four-square
walled imposing tower, the highest in England, stands as a landmark along the River Medway.
The castle was granted to by Henry I to the Archbishop's see at Canterbury but it lost its
clerical control when Archbishop Langton disobeyed King John's order to yield the castle to
Bishop of Winchester, a supporter of the King. The castle came under attack from King John
when rebel barons held the castle but the task proved difficult for the royal army. The rebels
held out for other 2 months until John grew desperate so decided to ' undermine ' the castle.
He dug a tunnel into the foundations and filled the cavity with combustible material i.e. fat
from 40 of the fattest pigs. The south east corner of the tower was brought down. The
defeated army retreated behind a cross wall where after a while they were starved out and
had to surrender. The damage d square turret was replaced by the round tower that is
different from the rest of the corners. Further repairs were carried out in the reigns of
Edward III and Richard II and fortunately for all visitors to this impressive Norman building it
survives today as one of the best preserved examples of Norman architecture in the country.
Rochester first became a cathedral city in 604 A.D when Bishop Justus created the Rochester diocese.
Thus Rochester is the secondest oldest see in England, behind Canterbury. Sadly the original building was
often attack by marauding Vikings and none of the original buildings can be seen above ground, although
traces remain below. Bishop Gundulf who later built the Rochester Castle nearby rebuilt the religious fabric of
the building in 1080. Gundulph's original western crypt can still be admired and is the oldest part of the present
day building. It has an altar to the Anglo-Saxon bishop Ithamar and some fascinating medieval paintwork is
still visible on its walls. Also remnants of Gundulph's nave still exist alongside later Norman additions.
However much of the rest of the cathedral, the quire, transepts and presbytery date from the Gothic period of
architecture. It was towards the later part of this period that the West Window was inserted into the cathedral.
Also at this time ( 15th Century ) clerestory were added to replace the smaller Norman originals to allow more
light into the nave.
The cathedral has had a chequered history. It survived two major fires in the 12th Century. And it also
suffered when King John held siege at the castle opposite. Further damage was caused to the religious building
during the Reformation and the Civil War when Cromwellian soldiers used the cathedral was used as stables
for Cromwell's horses. Today it is a fascinating and tranquil religious building. Among the many treasures it
has to offer is an original Gundulph Tower, the coloured Wheel of Fortune (an impressive 13th C wall painting
fragment in the cathedral quire). Some very fine Norman and Gothic architecture and a splendid part Norman
crypt with some interesting graffiti etched on the wall.
Rochester's long history and culture derives from its strategic site, guarding the approach to London
and the heartlands of England. Many battles have been fought here down the ages - from Ancient Britons
fighting Romans to the RAF fighting the Luftwaffe. But Rochester's story is not only one of wars: it is also the
story of faithfulness to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Among its great symbolic constructions are not only a
castle but also a cathedral.Nearly 200 years after the Romans left these shores Pope Gregory sent Augustine
with other monks to preach to the English nation. In AD597 Augustine was well received at Canterbury by
King Ethelbert and his Christian queen, Bertha, and sought to expand his mission westwards. In 604 he
consecrated two of his fellow missionaries as Bishops of Rochester and London. At the same time King
Ethelbert built a church here dedicated to St Andrew. The diocese and cathedral are thus the second oldest in
England. Its dedication was changed at the Reformation in 1542 to Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Early bishops included St Paulinus (the apostle of Northumbria and founder of the bishopric of York),
and his successor Ithamar, the first man of the Anglo-Saxon race to be made a bishop. He in turn consecrated
the first Anglo-Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury. There is a chapel dedicated to him in the crypt. Nothing of the
original Saxon cathedral remains above ground, though archaeologists have located its foundations at the west
end of the present nave.
The Norman Cathedral By Norman standards Rochester was spiritually and economically impoverished.
William the Conqueror's policy was to replace church leaders with his own men and it was to Gundulf, the
second Norman monk appointed Bishop (1077-1108), that the cathedral owes its present form. Gundulf was
renowned for his piety, leadership and his effectiveness as a builder (his other foundations include the Tower of
London and the keep of Rochester Castle). He assisted Archbishop Lanfranc in establishing a Benedictine
monastery here, with a complement of 22 monks which had grown to 60 by the time of his death. Gundulf's
Architecture was functional, monumental and severe. Little of it remains unaltered today. He laid out the
ground plan of the nave and quire, and later work was merely the reworking or enlargement of what he
planned. His work is seen at its best in the nave arcading and the western part of the crypt.
Wealthy and confident, the Normans embarked on a second phase of building, characterised by rich
ornamentation & adventurous technical innovation. Though the smallest of their English cathedrals, Rochester
is large by continental standards. The site between Watling St. and Roman wall is constricted (for this reason
the church is not properly orientated) and space had to be found for the priory buildings to the south of the
choir. Most of the Norman work in the cathedral, the remains of the cloisters and the Chapter House belongs to
this period and is the work of Bishop Ernulf ( 1115-24) and of Bishop John of Canterbury ( 1125-23 ).
The new cathedral was consecrated in 1130 in a ceremony attended by King Henry I and no less than
13 bishops. It consisted of a nave partly for the use of the parishioners and. for the monks, a quire with aisles,
rather smaller than the present one. Six bays of the original nave survive, each with differently worked piers.
The nave was too broad to be vaulted in stone. Its wooden roof was destroyed in two l2th-century fires. The
originally plain west facade was rebuilt c.1160 in the third phase of Norman architecture. Its sculptures were
finished about 15 years later. Despite the addition of Gothic battlements and the insertion of a large
Perpendicular window this is still the finest Romanesque facade in England.
The Gothic Cathedral
At the end of the l2th century work began to enlarge the quire. This was a time when pilgrimages were
becoming a chief feature of popular religion. The cathedral thus became a centre for pilgrimage, as well as
serving parish, priory and diocese. Fulfilling these four roles remains the raison d'être of the cathedral today.
In 120l William. a pious baker from Perth, stayed at the priory while on pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
He was murdered nearby and his body brought back to the cathedral. Miracles were reported at his tomb and
before long a cult had started which brought much wealth to the priory. To the east of Gundulf's quire was
added a fine square-ended presbytery and the broad quire transepts. William's tomb was placed against the
north wall of the north transept. Next a shrine, destroyed with all the other shrines in England in 1547, was
erected in the centre of the north transept. The quire, which was completed in 1227, has a superb Early English
vault which has recently been cleaned. Work continued westwards along the nave. The first two bays were
wholly rebuilt with Gothic arches of the same width as the Norman arches they were displacing, but high
enough to take in the triforium as well. When funds ran out the work ceased at the third bay, the north side
having already been dismantled and then rather clumsily re-erected. Many believe that the best early Gothic
work in the cathedral is the north nave transept (c.1240-1255). The south nave transept was finished around
1280, its thin wooden vault designed to look like stone. The 13th century, however. was not a time of peaceful
and continuous development. The cathedral was ruthlessly plundered in 1215 when King John held it against the barons in the castle. In 1264 it was even more thoroughly desecrated by the troops of
Simon de Montfort when they captured the city. The fires of the l2th century, the ravages of image-breakers at the Reformation and during the Civil War and the Commonwealth help to explain why
the cathedral has a 'face that looks lived in'. Vestiges of the Decorated period are few but important. Of particular note is the chapter room doorway built as a night entrance for the monks with its
intricate stone carving. The l5th century brought one major alteration and one major addition to the cathedral. A great window (c.1470) was set in the west wall of the nave and new clerestory
windows replaced smaller Norman originals. Last of all a Lady Chapel was added. Because of monastic buildings at the east end, it stood at the angle of the nave and the south transept. The
completion of the Lady Chapel in 1492 brought the cathedral's construction to a close.John Fisher became Bishop of Rochester in 1504, a trusted councillor of Henry VII and Henry VIII, and was
well known on the international scene as a close friend of Erasmus and Thomas More. However, he fell out with Henry VIII when he refused to sanction the divorce from Catherine of Aragon and the
subsequent break with Rome. He would not consent to recognise Henry as supreme head of the English church. In 1535, he was accused of playing a leading part in a fabricated plot which involved
Elizabeth Barton, the 'Nun of Kent', and imprisoned. In May the Pope appointed him a cardinal, which did little to help his survival, and he was executed in June. This execution was followed by that
of More. It was an extraordinary occurrence, as it was the first time in English history that a bishop was executed the monarch. Fisher's death, largely caused by the ego and paranoia of Henry VIII,
resulted in widespread international protest.
Fisher had been Chancellor of Cambridge University. During his chancellorship a group of young Protestants used to meet in the White Horse, a city tavern. Group members included two
future archbishops, Cranmer and Parker, and two future bishops - Latimer and Ridley. The latter was appointed Bishop of Rochester in 1547 and served the Protestant regime of Edward VI. However,
the accession of Queen Mary in 1554 saw Ridley face demands of faith which he could not in conscience accept. He was burnt in Oxford with Latimer in that year, as was Cranmer a year later.
Fisher and Ridley both perished for their beliefs as the tides of official religious observance shifted, and their deaths characterise a somewhat tragic, if formative, period for the Christian
Church in England. In the ecumenical perspective of today we give equal honour to these learned and brave men.
Later History The monasteries were dissolved by 1540 but worship in the cathedral was uninterrupted with the last Prior becoming the first Dean. King Henry VIII, however, appropriated the priory
buildings as a royal palace staging post between London and Dover.
The cathedral was badly damaged in the Civil War. In 1642 `the cathedral suffered much From the fury of the rebel soldiers under Col Sandys who, having plundered it and broken into
pieces what they could, made use of it as a tippling house. The body of the church was used as a carpenter's shop and yard, several saw pits being dug and frames for houses made by the city joiners
in it.' Rebuilding and repair of the fabric was a slow process after the restoration of Charles II. The King received a great welcome in Rochester on his return journey to London in 1660.
The l8th century saw a burst of building in the cathedral precinct. Minor Canon Row, for the six minor canons of the cathedral, was built then as was Oriel House and the Archdeaconry. A
seventh house, for the cathedral organist, was added to the Row later. Around this time, subsidence started to affect the south quire transept a number of attempts were made to halt this movement
until L.N. Cottingham (1825-40) succeeded. He rebuilt the ashlar facing of the south quire transept and constructed the large single flying buttress on the outside of the south door. He also removed
the original spire which was by then in a very poor state.
In 1840 the quire pulpit was removed and a significant portion of a magnificent l3th C wall painting of a Wheel of Fortune was uncovered. From 1871-77, Sir George Gilbert Scott restored
the nave transept roofs to their medieval pitch and rebuilt the organ case, built in two turrets placed upon the screen. His design for the high altar was less successful but he did at least do away with
an inappropriate Late Gothic east window and replace it with a row of `Early English' lancets. He also floored the eastern end with encaustic tiles similar to the medieval ones in the transepts. Later in
the century the west side of the organ screen was remodelled as a memorial to Dean Scott (1870-77). The spire was replaced in 1904, but for a period of nearly 70 years after that the fabric of the
cathedral may be said to have slumbered gently.
Return to Index Page
© 2013 PJAllen Copyright. All Rights Reserved Paul J Allen 2013