Rochester - Encyclopedia

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ROCHESTER, a city, municipal and parliamentary borough of Kent, England, on the river Medway, 33 m. E.S.E. of London by the South-Eastern & Chatham railway, contiguous to Chatham and Strood. Pop. (1901) 30,590. Chatham lies east of the city on the same bank of the river, while Strood is opposite, on the left bank, being connected with Rochester by a railway bridge and by an iron swing bridge, the latter occupying the site of a bridge which spanned the Medway before the Conquest. The cathedral church of St Andrew was originally founded by Augustine in 604, for whom lEthelbert built the church. It was partially destroyed by the Danes, but was rebuilt, with a long choir and square east end, by Bishop Gundulph, the second Norman bishop (1077-1108). Gundulph at the same time (1089) established an order of Benedictine monks here. Bishop Ernulf (1115-24), who as prior of Canterbury and abbot of Peterborough had already distinguished himself as a builder, completed and also renovated the church, lengthening it by two bays eastward; the old chapter-house remains. The beautiful Norman west front was built about 1125-30, and in 1130 the new cathedral was consecrated About 1201 a baker, William of Perth, while on a pilgrimage was murdered near Rochester by robbers. He was buried in the cathedral and was canonized, his shrine becoming a famous resort of pilgrims, who brought much wealth to the monastery. The edifice suffered from fire in 1137 and in 1171. During the whole of the 13th and a part of the 14th century a gradual rebuilding, or sometimes mere recasing, of the church was effected from east to west. The work included an extended choir by William de Hoo (1227), enlargement of the main transepts, the building of piers for a central tower, and treatment of the nave to the third bay. About 1352 a low central tower was built, to which a spire was added in the next century. Towards the end of the 15th century St Mary's chapel was added, the Norman clerestory was rebuilt, and a great west window inserted. Though a comparatively small building, being only 306 ft. in length and 65 ft. in breadth at the nave, the cathedral is of much architectural interest, and exhibits a variety of styles from Norman to Perpendicular. The rich and varied decoration of the Norman nave (especially the triforium) is very noteworthy, as is also the chapter-house doorway, a fine example of Decorated work. The Early English portion of the building is less successful. The ruins of Giindulph's Tower stand detached from and are earlier than the church; this tower was built by Bishop Gundulph probably as a defensive work for the eastern boundary of the city. The crypt beneath the choir is of special interest, showing early Norman work in the western part. The remainder is Early English, and there are traces of mural painting. The cathedral contains many interesting monuments, including a plain slab assigned to Gundulph, and several tombs of bishops of the 13th century, among them that of Bishop Walter de Merton, founder of Merton College, Oxford (d. 1277). The library attached to the modern chapter-house contains, among various valuable relics, the Textus Roffensis, being records of the cathedral compiled in the time of Bishop Ernulf. The old episcopal palace is partly converted into dwelling-houses. Portions of the wall of the priory dormitory and the refectory doorway may also still be seen. Among various restorations of the cathedral in the 19th century the earliest was that of Lewis Cottingham (1825-27), who erected a Decorated central tower unsuited to the general character of the building. Bishop Hamo de Hythe (1319-52) had erected a tower with short spire of timber and lead, and of this the general design is reproduced in the present tower and spire from designs of Mr C. H. Fowler, begun in 1904 under Dean Hole, who, however, did not survive to see its dedication on St Andrew's day at the close of the same year.

The parish church of St Nicholas was built in 1421, and restored after a fire in 1892. In Saxon times the cathedral was the parish church, but after the establishment of a monastery here, monks and parishioners quarrelled as to their rights, and a new parish church was built.

On the eminence overlooking the right bank of the river and commanding a wide view of the surrounding country are the extensive remains of the Norman castle, part of which was built by Bishop Gundulph at the order of William Rufus towards the close of the 11th century. The castle was besieged by King John, by Simon de Montfort in the reign of Henry III., and in the reign of Richard II. by a party of rebels during the insurrection of Wat Tyler. It was repaired by Edward IV., but soon afterwards fell into decay, although the massive keep is still in good preservation. This, one of the finest relics of its kind in England, is considered to be the work of William de Corbeil, archbishop of Canterbury, to whom the castle was granted in 1126. It is a quadrangular four-storeyed structure, flanked by turrets, with an extreme height of 120 ft. Remains of the 13th-century walls which once surrounded the city also exist. Gad's Hill, above Strood, to the north-west, is famous as the residence of Charles Dickens. At Borstal, south-west of Rochester, is a large convict prison. Among the principal public buildings of secular character in the city are the town hall (1687), the corn exchange with free library and a museum, the county court offices, and the Richard Watt's almshouses (1579). Besides these almshouses there are a number of other charities, among which the almshouse of St Catherine originated in 1316 as a leper's hospital. A picturesque Elizabethan mansion was acquired by the corporation for a museum as a memorial of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. The principal schools are the cathedral grammar-school or King's School, founded in 1 544, and the Williamson mathematical school (1704), formerly for the sons of freemen, but now open to all. Rochester has an oyster fishery of some importance, and there is a considerable shipping trade, a quay and landing-place having been erected by the corporation. There is a large steam-engine manufactory. In Strood, which is a ward of the borough of Rochester, there are oil-mills, and brick and cement works. The dockyards and government works of Chatham employ many inhabitants of Rochester. The parliamentary borough returns one member. The city is governed by a mayor, six aldermen, and eighteen councillors. Area, 2933 acres.


Its situation on the Roman way from the Kentish ports to London, as well as its strategical position on the bend of the river Medway, gave Rochester (Durobrivae, Hrofescester or Hrobicester, Roffa) an early importance. It was a walled Romano-British town (though of no great size), and the original bridge across the Medway probably dated from that period. The church of St Andrew was founded by King iEthelbert, who also made Rochester a bishop's see. Rochester was a royal borough in the time of William I., who raised a castle here, probably on Boley Hill. Richard I. granted the citizens quittance of passagium from crusaders in the town of Rochester. In 1227 Henry III. granted them the city at a fee farm rent of £25; he also granted them a gild merchant, the right to be impleaded only within walls, and other liberties. These charters were confirmed by subsequent sovereigns down to Henry VI., who in 1446 incorporated the city by the title of the bailiff and citizens, and granted them the power of admiralty and many privileges. Edward IV. by his charter of 1461 altered the style of incorporation to the mayor and citizens. Charters were granted in successive reigns down to Charles I., whose charter of 1629 remained the governing charter until 1835. A fair on the 18th, 19th and 10th of May was granted to the citizens by Henry VI., and another fair was formerly held in December by prescription. At the present time fairs are held on the 18th of May and the 26th, 27th and 28th of August. A "formarket" was granted in the second charter of Henry III.; the market days were formerly Tuesday and Friday. Corn and cattle markets are now held on Tuesday.

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