The Medway Towns
Rochester has produced two Martyrs, St. John Fisher executed by Henry VIII because he refused to sanction the divorce of Catherine of Aragon and Nicholas Ridley executed by Queen Mary as a Protestant
martyr. The city was raided by the Dutch as part of 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.
Trophies from the raid are in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.In 1701 Sir Joseph Williamson left a bequest to establish the Mathematical School. Unlike earlier schools (such as King's) it was not tied to a religious
establishment but was open for practical instruction. In the following century Thomas Avelingstarted a small business in 1850 producing and repairing agricultural plant. In 1861 this became the firm of Aveling &
Porter, becoming the largest manufacturer of agricultural machines and steam rollers in the country. The ancient City of Rochester merged with the borough of Chatham and part of the Strood Rural District in 1974 to
form the Borough of Medway. It was later renamed Rochester-upon-Medway, and the city status transferred to the entire borough. In 1998 another merger with the rest of the Medway Towns created the Medway unitary
authority. The outgoing council neglected to appoint ceremonial "Charter Trustees" to continue to represent the historic Rochester area, causing Rochester to lose its city status - an error not even noticed by the council
for four years, until 2002.
Rochester has for centuries been of great strategic importance through its position near the confluence of the Thames and Medway. Its castle was built to guard the river crossing, and the Royal Dockyard at
Chatham was the foundation of the Royal Navy's long period of supremacy. The town, as part of Medway, is surrounded by two circles of fortresses; the inner line built during the Napoleonic wars consists of Forts
Clarence, Pitt, Amherst and Gillingham. The outer line of "Palmerston" forts was built during the 1860s in light of the report by The Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom and consists of Fort
Borstal, Fort Bridgewood, Fort Luton, and the Twydall Redoubts, with 2 additional forts on islands in the Medway, Fort Hoo and Fort Darnet. During World War I the Short Brothers' aircraft company manufactured the
first plane to launch a torpedo, the Short Admiralty Type 184, at its seaplane factory on the Medway not far from Rochester Castle. In the inter-war period the company established a world-wide reputation as a
constructor of flying boats with aircraft such as the Singapore, Empire 'C'-Class and Sunderland. During the Second World War, Shorts also designed and manufactured the first four-engined bomber, the Stirling. The
decline in naval power and in shipbuilding in general led to the government abandoning the shipyard at Chatham in 1984, and the subsequent demise of much of the marine industry. 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. This was known as Strood Intra; before 1835 it was about 100 yards wide and stretched to Gun Lane. In the 1835 Municipal Corporations Act the boundaries were extended to
include more of Strood and Frindsbury, and part of Chatham known as Chatham Intra. In 1974, Rochester City Council was abolished and superseded by Medway Borough Council, which also included the parishes of
Cuxton, Halling and Cliffe, and the Hoo Peninsula. In 1979 the borough became Rochester-upon-Medway. The Mayor of Rochester was also Admiral of the Medway and this dignity was transferred to the Mayor of
Medway when that unitary authority was created, along with the Admiralty Court for the river which is constituted as a committee of the Council.
Like many of the mediaeval towns of England Rochester had municipal Freemen whose civic duties were abolished by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835. The working guild of Free Fishers & Dredgers
continued and still have rights, duties and responsibilities on the Medway, between Sheerness and Hawkwood Stone. This authority is effected through their attendance at the Admiralty Court as the jury of Freemen
responsible for the conservancy of the river through current legislation. The freedom is passed through 'servitude' i.e. apprenticeship to a working freeman. The annual ceremonial beating of the bounds on the river takes
place after the Court, usually on the first Saturday of July. Rochester obtained city status in 1211, but due to an administrative error when Rochester was absorbed by the Medway unitary authority it lost city status.
Subsequently, the Medway unitary authority has applied for city status for Medway as a whole, rather than for Rochester. Medway applied unsuccessfully for city status in 2000 and 2002, and is applying again for the
Queen's Jubilee Year in 2012, but is competing with a number of other towns for the honour. The City of Rochester Society has argued that the application for city status should be under the name of "Rochester-upon-
Medway" rather than "Medway", as city status has only ever been given to places rather than notional government districts, and the Green Party have also campaigned for the application for city status to be for
Rochester rather than Medway.
From a passing Saxon reference, there may have been a church in Eastgate dedicated to St Mary the Virgin. There were three medieval parishes: St Nicholas', St Margaret's and St Clement's. St. Clement's was in
Horsewash Lane. When the last Vicar died (1538) the parish was amalgamated with St Nicholas'. The building remains were finally eradicated by the building of the railway in the 1850s. St Nicholas' was built in 1421
alongside the Cathedral to serve the Rochester people. The Cathedral was part of the St Andrew Benedictine monastery and hence not a parish church. After the Reformation it was re-founded as the Cathedral church of
Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary and remained not a parish church. In the 19thC the parish of St Peter's was created to serve the burgeoning city the new church being consecrated 1859. Following demographic shifts
St Peter's and St Margaret's were recombined into a joint parish in 1953 and in 1971 the parish of St Nicholas with St Clement was absorbed into it.The combined parish is now "The Parish of St Peter with St Margaret"
centred on the new (1973) Parish Centre in the Delce (St Peter's) with St Margaret's being retained as a Chapel of Ease. Old St Peter's was demolished in 1974, St Nicholas' Church has been converted into the Diocesan
offices, but remains consecrated. Continued expansion South has led to the formation of a further new parish of St Justus (1956) covering the Tideway estate and surrounding area.
Dickens Winter Festival
Rochester is a town and former city in Kent,
located within the unitary authority area of
Medway and is at the bridging point ofhe River
Medway about 30 miles from London. The town is
known for its cathedral and castle, and for an epic siege in 1215.
Rochester, together with neighbouring Chatham, Gillingham,
Strood and a number of outlying villages, makes up the
Medway unitary authority area. The Romano-British name for
Rochester was Durobrivae, later Durobrivis c.730 and
Dorobrevis in 44. The commonly cited origins of this are:
'stronghold by the bridge' or 'stronghold by the ridges'. A
Latinisation of the British word 'Dourbruf' meaning swiftstream.
Durobrivis was pronounced 'Robrivis. Bede copied down this
name, c730, mistaking its meaning as Hrofi's fortified camp
(OE Hrofes cæster). From this we get c730 Hrofæscæstre, 811
Hrofescester, 1086 Rovescester, 1610 Rochester. The Latinised
adjective 'Roffensis' refers to Rochester. Rochester was
variously occupied by Celts, Jutes and/or Saxons. King
Ethelbert of Kent (560-616) established a legal system which
has been preserved in the 12th century Textus Roffensis. In AD
604 The bishopric and cathedral were established. During this
period, from the recall of the legions until the Norman conquest,
Rochester was sacked at least twice and besieged on another
occasion. Such activity attests to the importance of the
settlement and its bridges. The medieval period saw the building
of the current cathedral (1080–1130, 1227 and 1343), the
building of two castles and the establishment of a significant
town. The castle saw action in the sieges of 1215 and 1264. The
basic street plan was established, constrained by the river,
Watling street, the castle and the priory.
Return to Index Page
© 2013 PJAllen Copyright. All Rights Reserved Paul J Allen 2013
The Romano-British name for Rochester was
Durobrivae, later Durobrivis c.730 and Dorobrevis in 844.
The commonly cited origins of this are: 'stronghold by the
bridge' or 'stronghold by the bridges'. A Latinisation of the
British word 'Dourbruf' meaning swiftstream. Durobrivis
was pronounced 'Robrivis. Bede copied down this name, c.
730, mistaking its meaning as Hrofi's fortified camp (OE
Hrofes cæster). From this we get c. 730 Hrofæscæstre, 811
Hrofescester, 1086 Rovescester, 1610 Rochester.The
Latinised adjective 'Roffensis' refers to Rochester.
Neolithic remains have been found in the vicinity of
Rochester. Immediately prior to the Roman invasion it was
one of the two administrative centres of the Cantiaci tribe.
During the Roman invasion a fierce battle was fought over
the river crossing. The first bridge was subsequently
constructed early in the Roman period. During the later
Roman period the settlement was walled in
stone.Rochester was variously occupied by Celts, Jutes
and Saxons. King Ethelbert of Kent (560-616) established
a legal system which has been preserved in the 12th
century Textus Roffensis. In AD 604 The bishopric and
cathedral were established. During this period, from the
recall of the legions until the Norman conquest, Rochester
was sacked at least twice and besieged on another
occasion. Such activity attests to the importance of the
settlement and its bridges. The medieval period saw the
building of the current cathedral (1080–1130, 1227 and
1343), the building of two castles and the establishment of
a significant town. The castle saw action in the sieges of
1215 and 1264. The basic street plan was established,
constrained by the river, Watling street, the castle and
the priory. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++.