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History of Rochester

Rochester comes from the British word ‘duro’ meaning a ‘gate, town with gateways, walled town’ with and Old English word ‘ceaster’ as a ‘city, an old fortification, roman site’ combined with an unknown place-name. Probably 'Roman town called *Hrofi'. *Hrofi seems to be a substantially reduced form of the British name Durobrivis, recorded in the 4th century, meaning 'walled town with bridges'. The Domesday Book chronicles Rochester as Rou(e)cestre.


Rochester has seen much over the years: Aethelberht walled it in 600AD, and founded a missionary church, which became the nucleus of the cathedral. Ethelred plundered it in 676. The Danes attacked it in 839 and 885 and driven off, in the latter year, by Alfred the Great. Etheldred besieged it in 986. The Danes sacked it in 998. William the Conqueror built a new castle on the site of the Saxon and Roman fort and gave it to Bishop Odo. William Rufus besieged and took the castle in 1088. Henry I attended the dedication of the new or re-constructed cathedral in 1130. Fire destroyed much of the cathedral in the same year and again in 1137. King John seized the castle from the barons in 1215, and Prince Louis, took it in the following year. The city held a tournament in the presence of Henry III, in 1251. Simon de Montford took the city and besieged the castle, in 1264. Wat Tyler, in his insurrection, attacked the castle; and Edward IV repaired it. Henry VIII visited the city in 1522. Two Protestant martyrs were burnt in it in 1556. Elizabeth visited it in 1573, and Charles II, at the Restoration. The plague ravaged it in 1665. James II embarked at it, in his flight, in 1688. Christian VII slept at it in 1768, and Queen Victoria went repeatedly through it in 1856. 

Being the second oldest cathedral foundation in England,
Rochester Cathedral’s history goes back to 604AD when Augustine sent Bishop Justus to establish the house, founded by King Ethelbert of Kent. At the time of the consecration of Bishop Gundolf, in 1077, the church was in a state of devastation following several invasions by the Danes.  Immediately he began a major building campaign, and the establishment of a community of Benedictine monks in 1080.

The church suffered misfortune again in the mid-12th century with two serious fires, resulting in a further rebuilding programme. Since then, continuous remodelling, refurbishments and restorations, has taken place, due, in the main, to other historical events when the cathedral sustained damage. As a consequence of its very chequered history,
Rochester Cathedral displays the varied building styles of each period, from the functional austerity of Gundulf's original structure, through the Romanesque, Gothic and Early English architectural periods, and continuing with renovation and restoration well into the 20th century following war damage....more


In 1154, three bells were hung by Prior Reginald in the Gundulf Tower. Richard of Waldedene added a further bell in 1251. In 1343, Bishop Hamo de Hythe built up the central tower and hung four bells in it. By 1545, there were six bells in the central tower, whilst the bells in the Gundulf tower, had disappeared. They rebuilt the upper part of the tower and spire in 1749. In 1823, L N Cottingham demolished the old tower down to the ringing chamber level and replaced it with a taller pinnacle construction, subsequently replaced with a new bell chamber and spire in 1904. Mears and Stainbank augmented the ring to eight, with the dedication taking place on 30 November, of that same year, by Dr Randall Davidson, Archbishop of Canterbury, and former Bishop of Rochester. In 1921, Gillett and Johnston retuned all the bells and rehung them plus two additional bells, making ten.

Rochester Castle stands on the east bank of the River Medway, to protect both the river and the crossing. It is one of the best-preserved castles of its kind in the UK. There has been a fortification on this site since Roman times circa. 43AD, though it is the keep of 1127 and the Norman castle which can be seen today. With the invention of gunpowder, other types of defence became more appropriate, and the military centre of the Medway Towns moved to Chatham.....more

Despite the East Kent Railway’s (EKR) extended line from Chatham to Strood passing through Rochester, no station materialised. However, when EKR, - renamed London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LC&DR) commenced through running to Victoria on 3 December 1860 they opened a station on the opposite side of the river Medway, called Strood, although changed a year later to Rochester Bridge, due to the confusion caused of having two Strood stations. It was left to the South Eastern Railway (SER) to open the city’s first station, on its extended line from Strood to Chatham. ‘Rochester Common’ railway station opened on 20 July 1891. This prompted LC&DR to open a much more convenient Rochester station, with direct access to East Kent and London, on 1 March 1892….more


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