Rochester Castle

From Academic Kids

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Rochester Castle

Rochester Castle stands on the east bank of the River Medway, in Rochester, Kent. There has been a castle on his site since Roman Times though it is the Keep of 1127 and the Norman castle for which Rochester is deservedly famous. With the invention of gunpowder other types of defense became more appropriate, and the military centre of the Medway Towns moved to Chatham.


The Romans under Aulus Plautius built a fort on the site of the present castle to guard the important river crossing, where they constructed a bridge. There is evidence of an earth rampart later replaced by a stone wall. The timber piles of the Roman bridge were discovered during the construction of the present road bridge.

The Norman period commenced with the victory of William the Conqueror at Hastings. He appointed his half brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, as Earl of Kent. Rochester's first Norman castle was probably of the motte and bailey type - that is a wooden tower and pallisades on Boley Hill. This was the castle that was besieged by William Rufus during the Rebellion of 1088.

As a result of this siege, Bishop Gundulf was persuaded to build the stone castle. Bishop Gundulf was a talented architect, he had started to build Rochester's Norman Cathedral in 1080, and was also responsible for the White Tower of the Tower of London.

Henry I granted the custody of the castle to the Archbishop of Canterbury, William de Corbeil. He started to build the great stone keep in 1127. The keep which has dominated the city for 800 years is not only a massive fortress but also a splendid residence.

Following the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, King John besieged and eventually took the Castle which had been occupied by dissident barons. Henry III had the castle repaired and a further ditch dug to strengthen the defenses. Simon de Montfort laid siege in 1264.

The Wars of the Roses were not fought in Kent, so the castle was spared. It was briefly taken by Wyatt's men during his futile uprising. But now with the invention of gunpowder, this form of castle was no longer so secure. It became expensive to maintain so fell into disrepair.

The Castle is now maintained by English Heritage and the keep is open to the public, although it is little more than an empty shell.

Later military history

Rochester, however, remained of strategic importance, and the Naval Dockyard grew in importance. In the Napoleonic wars, the dockyard was protected by a circle of Forts, Fort Luton, Fort Borstal, Fort Pitt, Fort Clarence, Fort Amherst etc. HMS Victory, Admiral Nelson's flagship was built in Chatham (though now "exiled" in Portsmouth). During the twentieth century wars, Chatham has provided a home for the Royal Engineers, and built aircraft such as the Sunderland. The Dockyard built and serviced nuclear submarines.


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