Rochester High Street
Rochester High Street © TAB

Rochester is an ancient fortress town, built to guard an important Medway crossing, where the old Dover Road (Roman Watling Street) crosses the river at its lowest point. When the Romans came they fortified the crossing and a walled town grew up beside it, called Durobrivae Cantiacorum; which means "the bridges of the stronghold". Sections of the old Roman town walls still survive to this day.

The town grew in importance during 7th-c after it was made a bishopric by St Augustine in 604. The Normans later built a cathedral on the site of his church in 1077. The Normans also built a great castle here to defend the crossing, and the wood and stone bridge was upgraded to provide a more permanent crossing. The cathedral and castle are some of the main historic features of the town.

Rochester Bridge
Rochester Bridge over the Medway © TAB

Other buildings of interest include the Guildhall (1687) with its splendid brick and plaster work and the Corn Exchange (1706), both commissioned by Sir Cloudesley Shovell. The impressive clock of the Corn Exchange overhangs the High Street.

Restoration House (1587), in Crow Lane, is an interesting Elizabethan house. Refaced in the 17th-c with finely decorated brickwork, it was awarded its name by Charles II, who briefly stayed here in 1660 on his way to London to be recrowned.

Watts Charity, established by Richard Watts in 1579 at 97 High Street, was built to house poor travellers. Below Castle Hill, on The Esplanade, is the restored Bridge Chapel, built in 1387, and just over the water is Temple Manor, a 13th-c hall that once belonged to the Knights Templars (open to the public Saturday & Sunday 11am–4pm).

Rochester retains much of its maritime tradition and the Medway area is a major port and an industrial and commercial centre. Other nearby Medway Towns include Strood, Chatham and Gillingham.

The famous English author Charles Dickens grew up in Rochester and his father worked as a clerk in the Navy offices in nearby Chatham. The city is closely associated with his writings and parts of it often feature in his novels. For example, Dickens mentions the 400 year old Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel (close to the town bridge) in his Pickwick Papers and also the Tudor Eastgate house on the High Street, where his writing chalet has been preserved.

Places of Interest to Visit in Rochester

Dickens Swiss Chalet

Although the exhibits from the Eastgate House Museum (now closed) have now moved into the Guildhall, visitors can still visit the gardens at the rear to view the original Swiss chalet where Dickens wrote some of his greatest works. The chalet was originally located at his home at Gad's Hill Place (to the north of the town) but was later moved here when the house became a public school. Dickens house may also be visited on special public open days or by prior appointment. For details contact the Dickens Fellowship

The gardens also contain a section of the original London to Dover medieval road surface and a horse driven water pump from Dickens house.

Location: Rear of Eastgate House, High St, Rochester.

Huguenot Museum

Huguenot Museum and Watts Charity

Unique museum covering the history of French Huguenots in England. With paintings, crafts, silver, documents, silks and other artifacts that tell the story of these early refugees and how the skills they brought helped the development of our country. The only museum of its type in Britain.

The fine 17th-c red brick and stone porticoed building also contains the Visitor Centre and Art Gallery. Next door is the grey stone building of the Watts Charity refuge for poor travellers, established by Richard Watts in 1579.

Opening times: Wed to Sat 10am to 5pm - Admission Charge
Location: 95 High St, Rochester ME1 1LX
Tel: 01634 789347

Rochester Cathedral

Founded in AD 604 by St Augustine, the cathedral was rebuilt by Bishop Gundulph around 1080 and is the second oldest cathedral in England after Canterbury. The cathedral library contains a number of important ancient manuscripts, including a copy of the Miles Coverdale Bible (1535).

The current building is predominantly Norman, the nave's wooden ceiling is 15th-c and the tower and spire are from 1904. The cathedral has a fine crypt and the tombs of several medieval bishops are interred there. The church was originally the core of a group of ecclesiastical buildings, which included a monastery and bishop's palace. The ruins of the chapter house and cloisters can still be seen in the cathedral precincts. The Vines, behind the cathedral, is now a public park that was once the monastery vineyard.

The cathedral became an important place of pilgrimage during the medieval period. Pilgrim's Passage, next to the precincts, once lead to the tomb of Sr William of Perth, who was murdered in Rochester in 1201.

Opening times: Regular Church Services open to all. Tours are available from 10:00 to 15.30 Mondays to Fridays; from 10:00 to 14:00 on Saturdays and from 12:30 to 14:30 on Sundays - Free Entry - donations always welcome
Location: Garth House, Rochester ME1 1SX

Rochester Castle

Rochester's key location at the mouth of the River Medway has always been strategic river crossing on the main road between Dover and London. The Norman castle, built in 1127 to defend this crossing, is one of the finest examples of Norman military architecture left in Britain. The massive 120 ft high and 70 ft square keep is the tallest in England and provides panoramic views over the Medway.

Rochester Castle and Cathedral
Rochester Castle © TAB

The castle is set on high on a chalk bluff and dominates the river bank. It was besieged by Simon de Montfort in 1264. Following which it was destroyed, and only the keep and curtain walls remain.

Opening times: Daily 10am till 6pm (closed Xmas) - Admission Charge (Run by English Heritage)
Location: Castle Hill, Rochester ME1 1SW
Tel: 0370 333 1181

Rochester Guildhall

The porticoed redbrick Guildhall, built in 1687, contains a public museum with general collections of arms and armour, ship models, Victoriana and period toys. Of particular interest is a full-size reconstruction of part of a Medway prison hulk, a Victorian drawing room and kitchen and the Dickens Exhibition.

The art gallery has a large selection of paintings and prints of the area. A special exhibition of contemporary Dutch prints of the Battle of Medway (June 1667) is also on display.

Opening times: Tue to Sun 10am to 5pm - Free Entry
Location: 17 High St, Rochester ME1 1PY
Tel: 01634 332680

Restoration House & Garden

One of the finest pre-civil war town houses in England. Originally pair of Medieval/Tudor dwellings, it was refaced in the 17th-c with elaborate brickwork. It was so named by Charles II, who stayed here with his family in 1660, on his way to London for the restoration of his crown.

Opening times: June to Sept; Thurs and Fri 10am to 5pm - Admission Charge
Location: 17-19 Crow Ln, Rochester ME1 1RF
Tel: 01634 848520

Map of Rochester


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