Rochester is a town in Kent, England. It is located within the unitary authority area of Medway and is at the lowest bridging point of the River Medway about 30miles 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. This is commonly translated as 'stronghold by the bridge' or 'stronghold by the bridges'. This could have been a Belgic Settlement or oppidum, but there was no bridge in AD 43. It was also known as Durobrovum and Durobrivis, which could be a Latinisation of the British word 'Dourbruf' meaning swiftstream
It is recorded as Durobrivis c.730 and Dorobrevis in 844. It was pronounced as '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.
As the name for the city of Rochester contains the Latin word 'castra', which is present in the names of many cities that were once Roman camps (e.g. Chester Latin 'Deva'), it is assumed that Rochester was a fortified Roman town, but no evidence has been found of such fort. The Roman street pattern suggest that it was a line of shops and houses built alongside a road, and systematic fortification did not take place until after AD 175.
The Latinised adjective 'Roffensis' refers to Rochester.
All this is evidence of an important and thriving continuous civic life.
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 Royal Dockyard at Chatham was the key to the Royal Navy's long period of supremacy. The town, as part of Medway, is surrounded by two circle of fortresses; the inner line of forts built during the Napoleonic wars are; Fort Clarence, Fort Pitt, Fort Amherst and Fort Gillingham. The outer line of "Palmerston" forts was built during 1860s in light of the Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom report, these consisted of Fort Borstal, Fort Bridgewood, Fort Luton, and Twydall Redoubts, with 2 forts on islands in the Medway; Fort Hoo and Fort Darnet.
During the First World War the Short Brothers' aircraft company manufactured the first plane to launch a torpedo,the Short Admiralty Type 184, and during the Second World War manufactured the first four-engined bomber, the Stirling, and flying boats at its seaplane factory on the River Medway not far from Rochester Castle.
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. On the closure of Chatham Dockyard the area saw an unprecedented surge in unemployment to 15.9%. This dropped to 3.5% in 2004.
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.
Rochester had long been a city but was accidentally stripped of its centuries-old city status in 1998 through 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.
There were three parishes within the city of Rochester, St Margaret's, St Nicholas' and the Cathedral.
The town is home to a number of important historic buildings, the most prominent of which are the Guildhall, the Corn Exchange, Restoration House, Eastgate House, 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.
See main article: Rochester Airport, England. Rochester City Council bought the land at Rochester Airfield in September 1933 from the landowner as the site for a municipal airport. One month later Short Brothers, who had started building aircraft in 1909 on the Isle of Sheppey, asked for permission to lease the land for test flying.In 1934-5 Short Brothers took over the Rochester Airport site when they moved some of their personnel from the existing seaplane works. The inaugural flight into Rochester was from Gravesend, John Parker flying their Short Scion G-ACJI.
In 1979 the lease reverted to the council. After giving thorough consideration to closing the airport, GEC (then comprising Marconi and instrument makers Elliot Automation) decided to take over management of the airport. It maintained two grass runways while releasing some land for light industrial expansion.
The town was for many years the favourite of Charles Dickens who lived nearby at Gads Hill Place, Higham, and who based many of his novels in the area. Descriptions of the town appear in Pickwick Papers , Great Expectations and lightly fictionalised as Cloisterham in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Restoration house located on Crow Lane was the house on which Charles Dickens based Miss Havisham's (from Great Expectations) house, Satis House. This link is celebrated in Rochester's Dickens Festival each June in the Summer Dickens Festival and December with the Dickensian Christmas Festival. 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 Dickens Centre was ultimately unprofitable and shut in November 2004. Medway Council's Cabinet agreed proposals for the restoration and development of Eastgate House as a major cultural and tourist facility, and for the project to be recognised as a key cultural regeneration project on 7 November 2006
Since 1980 the town has seen the revival of the historic Rochester Jack-in-the-Green May Day dancing chimney sweeps tradition, which died out in the early 1900's. Whilst not unique to Rochester, (similar sweeps gatherings were held right across southern England, notably in Bristol, Deptford, Whitstable and Hastings), the Rochester revival was directly inspired by Dicken's description of the celebration in Sketches by Boz
It has since grown from a small gathering of local Morris dance sides, to one of the largest in the world.
The current festival begins with the awakening of the Jack-in-the-Green ceremony, atop Blue Bell Hill at sunrise on May 1st. and continues in Rochester High Street over the May Bank Holiday weekend.
A new library was built alongside the Adult Education Centre, Eastgate. This will enable the register office to move from Maidstone Road, Chatham to the Corn Exchange in Rochester High Street (where the library was housed). As mentioned in a report presented to Medway Council's community services overview and scrutiny committee on 28 March 2006, the new library opened in late summer (2006)
Rochester is the setting of the controversial 1965 Peter Watkins television film The War Game, which depicts the town's destruction by a nuclear missile. . The opening sequence was shot in Chatham Town Hall, but the credits particularly thank the people of Dover, Gravesend and Tonbridge.
The 1959 James Bond Goldfinger (novel) describes Bond driving along the A2 road(Great Britain) through the Medway Towns from Strood to Chatham. Of interest is the mention of "inevitable traffic jams" on the Strood side of Rochester bridge, the novel being written some years prior to the construction of the M2 Motorway Medway bypass.
The model and actress Kelly Brook went to Delce Junior School, Rochester, and later Thomas Aveling School (Formally Warren Wood Girls School) Rochester
Billy Childish, artist, author, poet, photographer and co-founder of the art movement Stuckism lives nearby in Chatham and there is also a growing music scene of Medway groups, including Kid Harpoon and Lupen Crook
The University College for the Creative Arts, formerly the Kent Institute of Art & Design, can be found on the Rochester-Chatham border.
The main sports played in the town are cricket with many teams playing in the Kent Cricket League, and football, with teams competing in a Saturday league and a Sunday League.Rochester F.C. were one of the oldest football clubs but have been defunct for many decades. Nearby Gillingham F.C. are seen to represent the Medway area in football. Rugby is also played, Medway RFC play their matches at Priestfields. Local team Old Williamsonians also play nearby, and are connected to Sir Joseph Williamson's Mathematical School.
Speedway was staged a track in City Way. This opened in 1932. Proposals for a revival in the early 1970s did not materialise and the Rochester Bombers became the Romford Bombers.