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Rochester (England)

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Rochester is a small cathedral city on the River Medway in the north of the English county of Kent. Together with its neighbouring towns of Chatham, Strood, Rainham and Gillingham it forms a large urban area known colloquilly as the Medway Towns, or as the unitary authority of Medway (independent of Kent County Council).

Rochester Cathedral viewed from the Castle Gardens


Rochester has a rich history, with links to many key periods of Britain's past. Rochester lies at the lowest bridging point of the River Medway, 30 miles from London.

Charles Dickens[edit]

Rochester has strong links to Charles Dickens, who lived and worked in the area and based many of his novels in and around Rochester. Many shops and businesses have Dickens related names, and buildings and places featured in his novels are well signposted and a favourite for tourists. The town holds two Dickens festivals each year - 'The Dickens Festival', traditionally held over the May Bank Holiday over 3 or 4 days, and 'A Dickensian Christmas Festival' held at the beginning of December. Both attract large numbers of tourists from all over the world. Neighbouring Chatham houses the visitor attraction 'Dickens World'. Charles Dickens had wished to be buried in the churchyard at Rochester Cathedral. Instead, his body was buried in Poet's Corner inside Westminster Abbey. Rochester itself appears in the novels 'Pickwick Papers' and 'Great Expectations', as Dullborough Town in 'The Uncommercial Traveller' and as Cloisterham in 'Edwin Drood'. Dickens spent his final years at his home in Gads Hill, near to Rochester. He would often write in his Swiss chalet, in the gardens of his house. It was in this chalet that he suffered a stroke whilst writing the final chapters of 'Edwin Drood' - he died the following day, 9th June 1870. His chalet is now situated in the small garden behind Eastgate House, located on Rochester High Street. Tourists are not permitted inside, but can get fairly close to it.

Dickens sites[edit]

Eastgate House on the High Street
  • Restoration House, situated on Crow Lane (off the High Street) is also Satis House, the home of Miss Haversham, in Great Expectations
  • Eastgate House, situated on the High Street features (as Westgate House) in Pickwick Papers and (as Nun's House) in Edwin Drood
  • The Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel, situated on the High Street. Dickens stayed here many times and the bed he used can now be seen in Bleak House in Broadstairs. The opening scenes of ‘Pickwick Papers’ take place in the Bull and Pip celebrates his ‘Great Expectations’ in the Blue Boar Inn aka the Bull.
  • Chertsey's Gate, situated on the High Street, is the gatehouse home of Mr Jasper in Edwin Drood


Rochester has had many Royal visits and occaisions over it's long history.

  • The Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel Originally just called the Bull Hotel, it’s thought because bull-baiting tournaments were once held near-by, the coat of arms that adorns the front of the building is the Royal arms of George III. Queen Victoria, while still Princess Victoria was travelling through Rochester in 1835 when a very fierce storm arose. It was feared that the old bridge would not withstand the hurricane-force winds and so Victoria and her mother, the Duchess of Kent, put up at the Bull for the night. It is said that the proprietor then named it after her. Only later was it discovered that in her diary she had written that it was the most uncomfortable bed in which she had ever slept! The current building dates from the late eighteenth century although there has been an inn on the site as early as 1555. In 1855, Victoria returned, accompanied by Prince Albert, to visit wounded Crimean War soldiers at Fort Pitt Military Hospital.
  • Abdication House Best known to local residents as the Lloyds Bank Rochester High Street branch, a plaque on the façade of the building tells something of the colourful past of this building. It was here that King James II arrived in 1688 while escaping England during the revolution that saw him replaced on the throne by King William III and Queen Mary II
  • Restoration House Named after the visit of King Charles II on the eve of his restoration. Charles had landed in Dover on 25 May 1660 and by the evening of the 28th arrived in Rochester. He was received by the Mayor and eventually retired for the night to the home of Colonel Gibbon. The following day Charles continued to London and was proclaimed King on 29 May, his 30th birthday
  • King Henry VIII The imposing fortress of Rochester Castle was where Henry VIII first met Anne of Cleves, his fourth wife, in the timbered "Old Hall", standing behind the castle on Boley Hill. Anne was taken there shortly after her arrival in England and paraded before the King at the Castle. Henry bitterly disappointed with Anne's looks called her his "Flanders Mare" and six months after the wedding, divorced her. Henry wanted several resting places when travelling through Kent and one of these was the Priory attached to Rochester Cathedral. Always fearing invasion, he constructed the first dockyard at nearby Chatham.
  • Queen Elizabeth I Queen Elizabeth I came to Rochester in 1573, staying at the Crown Inn (still standing at the bridge end of Rochester High Street, albeit much changed). She also stayed at the home of Richard Watts, Member of Parliament for Rochester and the founder of the Watts Charity that still runs today. Queen Elizabeth later built Upnor Castle to defend warships anchored on the River Medway.
  • James I James I visited the city three times in the early 17th Century
  • King George VI and Queen Elizabeth King George VI visited the Short Brothers Airplane Works on Rochester Esplanade with his wife the future Queen Mother in 1938
  • Prince Philip The Prince visited in 1984 to inspect improvements to Rochester High Street

Get in[edit]

By car[edit]

Rochester station building. The railway passes at first floor level on a viaduct.
  • From London, take the A2 arterial road (32 miles / 51 km).
  • From Canterbury, take the A2 and the M2 to Junction 3 for the Rochester exit (32 miles / 51 km, about 40 mins).

Park and ride facilities are available on Saturdays only, see National Park and Ride Directory Rochester also has lots of car parks around the town, as well as parking for many coaches to house the tourists during peak season. The car parks are all pay and display.

By train[edit]

Rochester Station is located at the end of Rochester High Street, to the east of Star Hill (about 100 m walk from the High Street) Trains are operated by SouthEastern From London Charing Cross (via Dartford) (typical journey time 60 - 65 minutes) and Victoria (typical journey time 45 - 60 minutes). Trains from Ramsgate and Dover also serve Rochester, although in some cases it may be necessary to change at Chatham. The new Javelin high speed service operates every 30 minutes between Rochester and London St Pancras with a journey time of 35 minutes. There is a supplement for using this service unless travelling from outside of the London region.

The station was opened in 1892 and has served Rochester ever since. The station features 4 platforms and has recently received a newly renovated ticket office and automatic barriers. Also in the station building (at ground level) is a taxi office and small shop selling snacks, drinks and newspapers. Access to the platforms is via the stairs or by lifts. The London-bound platforms still feature much of the station architecture, shelters, iron work and buildings (public toilets and waiting room), but the coast-bound platforms are devoid of all period platform decoration with just the modern lift, staircase entrance and one small 90's era shelter.

Over a million people use Rochester Station each year.

There used to be a large and extensive network of sidings attached to Rochester Station, serving the various wharfs, industry and docks alongside Rochester riverside. During the 80's these industries began closing down, leaving the sidings obsolete. All the sidings have now been demolished and the former industrial area is now being redeveloped into a mix of residential and commercial use, although a very small amount of industry does remain.

By River[edit]

The River Medway used to have an established network of piers throughout the Medway Towns, allowing passenger services to operate, as well as other leisure based paddle steamers (with destinations in the local area, plus as far afield as Southend and Herne Bay, and other locations along the North Kent coast). Today only the pier in Rochester at The Esplanade (privately owned) is operational (Strood Pier is now half demolished and Sun Pier in Chatham lost it's lower portion during a nasty storm in 2007), and it does serve a very limited number of services (all leisure based) per year. There have been efforts in the past to re-establish a river bus network, but none have proved commerically viable. On the 19th March 2013 a new scheme to rebuild the lower pontoon on Chatham's Sun Pier was announced. Medway Council have pledged £180,000 to restore the lost pontoon, which in turn could signal a rennaisance of river travel along the Medway, linking Rochester once more with Strood, Chatham, Gillingham, Medway City Estate, Chatham Maritime and Upnor.

By Air[edit]

Rochester (and the whole of Medway) is served by the small municipal Rochester Airport. The airstrip is at the very top of Rochester's borders, about a 10 minute drive from the town centre. Many small light aircraft use the strip, along with a flying school. When established in 1933, the airstrip was used by the Short Brothers to develop their aircraft, and manufacturing was done on their works site along the Esplanade. Rochester became famous for the manufacture of Sea Planes and Flying Boats, often tested on the River Medway. During World War Two, the airstrip was heavily bombed.

Get around[edit]

Local buses are operated by Arriva [3], Nu-Venture [4] and ASD [5].

See[edit][add listing]


  • Rochester Cathedral [6] - free entry, although donations are encouraged. The second oldest cathedral foundation in England, after Canterbury. The Rochester diocese was founded by Justus, one of the missionaries who accompanied Saint Augustine of Canterbury to convert the pagan Southern English to Christianity in the early 7th century. As the first Bishop of Rochester, Justus was given permission by King Ethelbert of Kent to establish a church of St Andrew the Apostle. The cathedral suffered much from the ravaging of Kent by Aethelred of Mercia in 676. So great was the damage that Bishop Putta retired from the diocese and his appointed successor, Cwichelm, gave up the see “because of its poverty”. Later, in 762, the local king, Sigerd, granted land to the bishop as did his successor, Egbert. The charter is notable as it is confirmed by Offa of Mercia as overlord of the local kingdom. Following the invasion of 1066, William the Conqueror gave the cathedral and its estates to his brother, Odo of Bayeux. Odo misappropriated the resources and reduced the cathedral to near-destitution. The building itself was ancient and decayed. The diocese is one of the smallest English dioceses and, sandwiched between London and Canterbury, has always been financially challenged. The situation could not last. Archbishop Lanfranc of Canterbury, amongst others, brought Odo to account at the trial of Penenden Heath c. 1072. Following Odo's final fall, Gundulf was appointed as the first Norman bishop of Rochester in 1077. The cathedral and its lands were restored to the bishop. Gundulf's first undertaking in the construction of the new cathedral seems to have been the construction of the tower which today bears his name. In about 1080 he began construction of a new cathedral to replace Justus' church. He was a talented architect who probably played a major part in the design or the works he commissioned.
Rochester Castle
  • Rochester Castle, open daily 10am-6pm (April-September), 10am-4pm (October-March), last admission 45 minutes before closing, admission adults £4, child / student / concessions £3, family £11 - recognised as one of the best preserved and finest examples of Norman architecture in England, the great keep towering over the River Medway, square, massive and one of the tallest in the country, measures 113 feet high, 70 feet square and has walls 12 feet thick in places. Rochester Castle was originally a Roman castrum. A new castle was built on a hill near the site on which the castle now stands after the Norman invasion of 1066. This would have been a wooden motte and bailey type castle. In 1088 the castle came under attack in the conflict between William Rufus and Odo, Bishop of Bayeux. After William the Conqueror died in 1087 Normandy was split. Odo along with many others supported William's elder brother Robert, Duke of Normandy rather than William Rufus, the Conqueror's younger brother. Odo had control of the castle and it became the headquarters for the rebels. The castle fell to Rufus' army and Odo was forced into exile. Gundulf, the bishop of Rochester, orchestrated the creation of a stone castle alongside the cathedral. Over the centuries the castle was the scene for many conflicts including King John's attempt to regain to castle from rebellious Barons and, in 1264, Simon de Montfort's rebellion. By the 17th century, the castle had become neglected, the keep had been burned out, and the site was being used as a local quarry for building materials. In 1870 the castle grounds were leased to the City of Rochester, who turned them into a public park and eventually, in the 20th century, responsibility for this imposing old structure was taken over by English Heritage. Today, the castle stands as a proud reminder of the history surrounding the old town of Rochester, along with the cathedral, the cobbled streets and the Dickensian reflections.

Museums, Galleries and notable buildings[edit]

  • The Guildhall Museum - free entry, featuring permenant exhibitions based on Medway's history. Situated in an historic listed building, it was constructed in 1697 and has been part of the Guildhall Museum since 1979. (The museum extends to the building next door, built 1909. A notable feature is a weathervane dating from 1780 in the form of an 18th century warship. The Guildhall Chamber is said to feature in the novel Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, and the museum includes a room dedicated to the author.
  • The Six Poor Travellers House -a 16th-century charity house in Rochester, Medway, founded by the local MP Richard Watts to provide free lodgings for poor travellers. Watts left money in his will for the benefit of six poor travellers, each of whom, according to a plaque on the outside of the building, would be given lodging and "entertainment" for one night before being sent on his way with fourpence.The house was the inspiration for Charles Dickens' short story "The Seven Poor Travellers" (with Dickens himself, as narrator, being the seventh traveller). Watts' benevolence and the Dickens story are remembered during Rochester's fancy dress Dickensian Christmas Festival, when a turkey is cooked and ceremonially distributed to "the poor" at the house.The house features restored small Elizabethan period bedrooms, along with a herb garden in the rear, and is open to the public from March through October
  • Restoration House - Restoration House is a fine example of an Elizabethan mansion. It is so named after the visit of King Charles II on the eve of his restoration. Charles had landed in Dover on 25 May 1660 and by the evening of the 28th arrived in Rochester. He was received by the Mayor and eventually retired for the night to the home of Colonel Gibbon. The following day Charles continued to London and was proclaimed King on 29 May, his 30th birthday. Restoration House is more famously known as 'Satis House', the home of Miss Haversham in Great Expectations. Although essentially a private home, the house and garden are open to the public during the summer.
  • Chertsey's Gate - Chertsey's Gate was once part of the wall that separated Rochester Cathedral from the rest of the City. Made from patterned stone and flint, it dates from the early 15th century. The picturesque timber house on top of the gate was added in the 19th century. In Dickens', The Mystery of Edwin Drood, it is the house of Mr John Jasper. The Gate is named after Edmund Chertsey, and is also known as College Gate

Do[edit][add listing]


Rochester High Street
  • The Sweeps Festival - 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 1900s. 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 Dickens' description of the celebration in Sketches by Boz. The festival 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 nearby Blue Bell Hill at sunrise on 1 May and continues in Rochester High Street over the May Bank Holiday weekend.
  • The Dickens Festival - Rochester's largest annual festival, The Dickens Festival began in 1978 and has been held every year since. The festival is always held over the last weekend of May / early June - usually over three or four days. The event is a celebration on Dickens' links to Medway and features traditional Victorian costume, many people dressed up as Dickens characters, street entertainers, street food, markets and many other cultural events. The event attracts large crowds, both from the local area and tourists from around the UK, Europe and the world.
  • The Castle Concerts - The Castle Gardens host this popular annual series of concerts over four nights during mid-July. The event has attracted many major artists over the years, including Billy Ocean, Jools Holland, Steps, The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, Squeeze, Peter Andre, N-Dubz, Status Quo, The Saturdays, Will Young and Alfie Boe. The 2013 series of concerts will feature The Wanted, Tony Hadley, ABC, Go West, the return of Status Quo and the (now) traditional Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra perfomance of rousing classical music alongside fireworks.
  • Rochester Dickensian Christmas Festival - this highly succesful event, a mix between the summer Dickens festival and a traditional European Christmas Market has been extremely poplular and has grown year on year since it's inception. It features the same things as the summer event, but with a large Christmas Market in the Castle Gardens, a snow machine and a wonderful festive feel.

Buy[edit][add listing]

Rochester High Street is notable for its many antiques stores. There are also a number of secondhand bookshops, notably Baggins Book Bazaar near the Guildhall Museum, which claims to be "England's largest secondhand and rare bookshop". [7] Over the last decade, the range of shops has greatly increased. High Street offerings now include many one-off fashion outlets, homewares, fabrics, fossils, gifts and teddy bears.

Eat[edit][add listing]

  • The Golden Lion (Wetherspoons), 147–149 High Street, Rochester ME1 1EL, 01634 880521. Wetherspoon pub with reasonable bar meals. A main course and a drink is generally under £10.
  • The Eagle Tavern, 124 High Street Rochester, Kent, ME1 1JT, [1]. Friendly ran pub, nice food and wonderfull music. Live Music every weekend  edit
  • Pizza Express, 21-23 High Street, Rochester ME11LN. National chain of pizza restaurant. Good size, small amount of outdoor dining available in front of the restuarant  edit
  • Mama Mia, 4 High Street Rochester ME1 1PT. Delightful authentic Italian restaurant. Owned and run by Italians, this restaurant offers fantastic food in a lovely atmosphere. Check out the specials board. If visiting on a busy evening book ahead to avoid dissapointment. Small amount of outside dining available in front of the restaurant.  edit
  • Thai Four Two, 151 High Street Rochester, ME1 1EL. Fantastic Thai restaurant in a beautiful old building full of lots of character. Owned and run by Thai people, with a great authentic menu. Mid price and good sized portions. Advised to book table ahead of visit.  edit
  • The Rochester Coffee Company, 89 High Street Rochester, ME1 1LX. Very professional looking independent Coffee House. Has a superb range of coffees and teas, as well as being licensed to sell alcohol. Nice range of snacks, pastries and cakes. Open until 8pm some nights, so a good alternative to pubs and bars. Limited amount of outside seating available overlooking the Catherdral from the High Street.  edit
  • The Singapora Lounge, 51 High Street Rochester, ME1 1LN. Stylish contempory dining and lounge bar, offering 3 Licenced Bars, 2 lounges, a dancefloor, a stunning garden and a secluded restaurant. The menu consists mostly of dishes from the Far East in bar snack, tapas or main menu format.  edit
  • The Crown, 2 High Street Rochester, ME1 1PT. Large popular pub at the far end of the High Street (next to Rochester Bridge). Great affordable option for lunch or early evening dinner.  edit
  • Micawbers Fish Bar & Restaurant, 15 High Street Rochester, ME1 1PY. New (opened at the end of 2012) fish & chip restaurant and take-away. Traditional style.  edit
  • Cafe La Torretta, 32 High Street Rochester, ME1 1LD. Traditional Italian coffee shop, serving authentic Italian snacks and pastries alongside many imported coffees and other beverages. Venue is also licensed for those who desire alcohol. Also serves good quality ice cream.  edit
  • Mandaloun, 186 High Street Rochester, ME1 1EY. Lebanese restaurant. Large and modern with an authentic Lebanese menu. Lunch time specials available.  edit
  • Subway, 100 High Street Rochester, ME1 1JT. Popular sandwich chain. Large unit, but only has seating for 8.  edit
  • The Precinct Pantry, College Yard, 3 High Street Rochester, ME1 1LB. Small shop selling home-made sanwiches, cakes, ice creams and drinks. Outside seating available with good views of the castle and cathedral.  edit
  • Topes, 60 High Street Rochester, ME1 1JY. Modern British restaurant in a beautiful old building. Popular and highly respected. Book tables well in advance.  edit

Drink[edit][add listing]

The Crown Pub in Rochester
  • The Eagle Tavern, 124 High Street Rochester, Kent, ME1 1JT,. Friendly ran pub, nice food and wonderful music. Live Music every weekend  edit
  • The Golden Lion (Wetherspoons), 147–149 High Street, Rochester ME1 1EL. Wetherspoon chain pub. Frequented by younger more rowdy drinkers on Fri/Sat evenings. See above for food details  edit
  • The Singapora Lounge, 51 High Street Rochester, ME1 1LN.. See above for dining options. Popular stylish evening drinking venue.  edit
  • The Two Brewers, 113 High Street Rochester, ME1 1JS. The Two Brewers is a traditional style public house dating back to 1683, situated in the High Street. Home to many gigs and performances from bands and vocalists.  edit
  • The Crown, 2 High Street Rochester, ME1 1PT. Large popular pub at the far end of the High Street (next to Rochester Bridge). Very busy at weekends, with an additional upstairs bar used in peak trade periods. No beer garden, but plenty of space at the side and front for smokers and summer drinkers. Food also available.  edit
  • The Rochester Coffee Company, 89 High Street Rochester, ME1 1LX. Very slick independent Coffee House. Licensed to sell alcohol also. See above for more details.  edit
  • Cafe La Torretta, 32 High Street Rochester, ME1 1LD. Traditional Italian coffee shop licensed to sell alcohol. See above for dining options. Limited outside on-street seating is available.  edit
  • Ye Arrow, Boley Hill, Rochester ME1 1TE. Popular large pub just off the High Street by the castle. Hosts many gigs, open mic events and other musical evenings. Also serves food. Large ouside seating area overlooking the cathedral and castle.  edit
  • The Jolly Knight, 56 High Street Rochester, ME1 1LD. Traditional, established pub.  edit

Sleep[edit][add listing]

Medway Manor Hotel
  • Holiday Inn Rochester, Maidstone Road, Chatham, Kent ME5 9SF, 0871 942 9069, [2]. checkin: 14.00; checkout: 12.00. The Holiday Inn Rochester is situated with easy access to all the main routes through Kent. The hotel has 149 well equipped bedrooms, a Leisure Club with gym facilities, swimming pool sauna and Jacuzzi. The Traders Restaurant is open to serve breakfast and dinner daily.  edit

Get out[edit]

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