The Rochester Cathedral
another impressive one that we visited while here.
When we were in Chatham last fall for a few days before going to London for the winter we heard about the nearby town of Rochester. We were told that it was an interesting town and that we should try to get to the castle and cathedral. Unfortunately we didn’t have time then, but now that we were in Chatham for some time we took their advice. The town has preserved many of its historic buildings in the downtown section making it a pleasant place to walk with its numerous pubs and many references to Charles Dickens. Rochester is known to be one of Dickens’s favorite places and the setting for many of his stories.
The Rochester Cathedral is the home of the Diocese of Rochester which founded Kings School in 604 AD. making it the 2nd
oldest school in the world. As with most cathedral’s it is located next to the Rochester Castle which made it easy to visit both on our walk through the town.
As with all Cathedrals this one has a long history of changes starting from the first Saxon church built in 604 AD with the present nave built in 1083 after
the Benedictine priory was established in 1082. The Norman Cathedral was consecrated in 1130; however fire destroyed the roof in 1137. The Gothic style was used in the rebuilding efforts that took place in 1180. Many additions were made to the Cathedral making for a mixture of styles up to the newest addition of the spire and tower in 1904. It is always interesting to see the variations of architectural styles blended within Cathedrals that we have seen. It helps to tell the history of the times through its changes from the simple designs of the Normans to the intricate ones of Gothic and Renaissance.
The nearby Rochester Castle stands overlooking the banks of the River Medway. It is a 12th
century keep (tower) which is the best preserved one in England. This was a very strategically located castle in its protection of the Southeast coast of England. The first castle located here was built just after the Norman invasion. It was during the rebellion of 1088 over the succession of the crown that the castle was involved in its first military action as the Bishop that held the castle supported the rebels of the crown. This
The Rochester Bridge
is not an opening one so we can't come down this far with the sailboat
first castle was made of wood and was destroyed. A stone castle replaced it in 1089 and in 1189 it was given by King Henry I to the Bishop of Canterbury who kept it through the 12th
century. The castle bounced back and forth under the control of royalty vs the barons over the years with damage to the castle itself being the result of various battles. The last military action seen here was in 1381 but it remained as a viable fortress into the 16th
century. Thankfully the castle and grounds were taken over in the 1870’s and it was made into a park. This is now an English Heritage site which protects it for future generations.
The River Medway was a strategic one that needed to be protected and even more so after the Royal Dockyard which was the precursor of the Royal Navy was located at Chatham. The Upnor Castle which is located just across the river from the marina was another place we wanted to check out. Queen Elizabeth I ordered that this castle be built in 1559 as a gun castle to protect the English fleet that was anchored in the river
as well as those in the shipyard at Chatham. It was strategically located on a bend in the river enabling it to see ships entering the River several miles away. In 1585 an additional defense was added with a chain across the river to stop any enemy ships. Guns were added to the castles defenses and higher walls were added. The outcome of the 2nd
Anglo-Dutch war in 1666 was not good for the Dutch causing King Charles II of England to think that they would not attack again. This was faulty reasoning and in June 1667 Admiral deRuyter of the Netherlands led a very successful attack in the River Medway. Disaffected British soldiers helped the Dutch pilot the ships up this tidal river and they succeeded in getting through the chain barrier, setting fire to some of the British warships and capturing three of their best vessels. The Dutch also attacked the Chatham Dockyard and did not meet much resistance as the dockyard workers had not been paid for 2 years and were not willing to go to battle for the British.
After the disgraceful showing of the castle during this battle it was used mainly
as a storehouse for ammunition and in 1718 barracks were added for the men that worked there. It remained a storage facility for gunpowder until 1840.
When you drive to this castle your walk from the parking area leads you through the streets of the village with many historical homes lining the street. It definitely helped you in getting the feeling that you were stepping back in time. The English Heritage who control this castle are doing an excellent job of preserving the history of this country.
The one place we were very sorry to not make it to was the Historic Dockyard in Chatham. We had heard it was an excellent museum but even though we had been in Chatham for quite a long time we didn’t find the time to do it justice. We have to remember that we can’t fit everything in and we have to pick and choose what we visit.
One interesting aside was seeing a very derelict submarine in the River Medway. We found out that it was a Russian submarine, a Foxtrot B-39, built in 1967 and operated until 1994. It was bought
by some businessmen that brought it to London as a tourist attraction for a few years. They were evicted from their mooring and came down the River Medway looking for a new “home”. They ran out of fuel and it has sat there in the mud ever since rusting away.
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