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Rochester Castle

A Scheduled Monument in Rochester West, Medway

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Latitude: 51.3898 / 51°23'23"N

Longitude: 0.5016 / 0°30'5"E

OS Eastings: 574152.91344

OS Northings: 168611.128823

OS Grid: TQ741686

Mapcode National: GBR PPN.TXK

Mapcode Global: VHJLT.NB1D

Entry Name: Rochester Castle

Scheduled Date: 13 January 1915

Last Amended: 22 July 1995

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1011030

English Heritage Legacy ID: 24349

County: Medway

Electoral Ward/Division: Rochester West

Built-Up Area: Rochester

Traditional County: Kent

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Kent

Church of England Parish: Rochester St Peter Parish Centre

Church of England Diocese: Rochester


Rochester Castle, which includes a tower keep, a bailey with a curtain wall
and an outer ditch, dominates the point where the Roman Watling Street -
originally the main road between Canterbury and London - crosses the River
Medway. Although the castle dates from the immediate post-Conquest period and
has a well-documented history from its foundation onwards, the earliest
occupation of the site is likely to have been in the Roman period. The western
curtain wall overlies an earlier Roman wall at this point, making it likely
that the area of the castle was once within the Roman town of Durobreve. The
earliest references to the castle are in Domesday Book - where it is recorded
that the Bishop of Rochester had been given land in Aylesford `in exchange for
land on which the castle stands' - and in the Textus Roffensis, where the land
on which the castle was built is said to be `the best part of the city'. The
first fortification of the site in stone is generally accredited to Bishop
Gundulf after the siege of 1088. The wording of the agreement for work to be
carried out also implies that an earlier castle, not built of stone,
originally occupied the site, although no trace of this structure has yet been
The four-storeyed stone keep, one of the largest in England, is 21m square
with walls up to 3.5m thick and 34.5m high to the top of the parapet. The
south east corner of the keep has been rebuilt, probably as a result of the
breaching during the siege of 1215. To the north of the keep, an irregular
bailey, some 120m from north to south, is now partly defined by the curtain
wall which once enclosed it; this survives on the west side of the bailey
where it is all that can be seen of the Gundulfian period of construction.
This section was built on top of the foundations of the Roman city wall and
was subsequently altered in the 13th century. A long section of the
curtain wall on the south side of the castle was demolished in modern times,
but at the east end a section of wall with drum towers (the work of Henry III)
survives. Beyond the curtain wall on the landward side, but only now visible
to the east and north of the castle itself, are the remains of the castle
ditch. Although this has been partly infilled and built on over the years, it
still survives as a relatively deep buried feature. Below the levels of modern
disturbance, deposits will survive providing evidence for the occupation of
the site and the environment and economy of the surrounding area. It has been
suggested that a second bailey existed immediately to the south west of the
keep. However there is currently no confirmation of this and the area is not
included in the scheduling.
In 1127 Henry I gave the custody of Rochester Castle to the Archbishop of
Canterbury and his successors, and shortly after this Archbishop William de
Corbeuil began the construction of a stone keep in the southern part of the
bailey. Various repairs to the castle and town defences are recorded in the
Pipe Rolls for 1166-1167, 1170-1171 and the castle itself was strengthened
during the reign of Richard I (1189-1199). During the siege of 1215, the
curtain wall and the south east corner of the keep were undermined by King
John's engineers, and the castle eventually fell to the besiegers.
Subsequently, urgent repairs were made to the keep and the curtain wall, with
the tower on the south east angle being rebuilt between 1221 and 1222 on a
circular plan, thereby making it much more difficult to undermine.
In 1237 mention is made of a southern gateway to the castle wall and the
construction of a drawbridge - no trace of which can now be seen.
In 1264 the castle was subjected to another siege, when Earl Warrene and
Roger de Leybourne held it for the king against Simon de Montfort and Gilbert
de Clare. The barons breached the city wall and the outer defences of the
castle, but the great keep held out and they were eventually forced to
withdraw. Little effort was made to repair the damage caused by this
onslaught, and in the 1340 survey made for Edward III, it was reported that
there were `dilapidations over the whole extent of the castle'. Thus in 1367 a
programme of rebuilding was begun. Of the two mural towers to the south of the
main gate on the east of the castle, the northernmost was built new at this
time and the southern one was rebuilt. By 1370 the programme was complete.
Between 1378 and 1383, a new tower was built on the north angle of the curtain
wall. Further demolitions and alterations are known to have taken place
The keep and curtain wall are Listed Grade I, and are included in the
scheduling as is the ground beneath them.
All modern features within the bailey are excluded: these include: rubbish
bins, lamp posts, the bandstand, the two lavatory blocks to the north east of
the keep, the kiosk at the north of the bailey, the iron railings flanking the
steps down to the Esplanade, the steps themselves and their associated
Victorian gates (which are Listed Grade II), the surfaces of all paths, the
modern wooden stairs leading into the keep and all modern features within the
keep (the flagpole, wooden platforms, handrails, metal window bars, perspex
panels in the window openings, the modern protective roof, the metal grille in
the south west turret, all electrical fittings and cables and all the modern
additions in the English Heritage shop in the forebuilding); similarly, all
modern features within The Lodge are excluded, although the ground beneath all
these features is included within the scheduling.
Outside the bailey in the castle ditch, the surface of all car parks, roads
and paths, lamp posts, rubbish bins, all modern walling and railings are
excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

A tower keep castle is a strongly fortified residence in which the keep is the
principal defensive feature. The keep may be free-standing or surrounded by a
defensive enclosure; they are normally square in shape, although other shapes
are known. Internally they have several floors providing accommodation of
various types. If the keep has an attached enclosure this will normally be
defined by a defensive wall, frequently with an external ditch. Access into
the enclosure was provided by a bridge across the ditch, allowing entry via a
gatehouse. Additional buildings, including stabling for animals and workshops,
may be found within the enclosure. Tower keep castles were built throughout
the medieval period, from immediately after the Norman Conquest to the mid-
15th century, with a peak in the middle of the 12th century. A few were
constructed on the sites of earlier earthwork castle types but most were new
creations. They provided strongly fortified residences for the king or leading
families and occur in both urban or rural situations. Tower keep castles are
widely dispersed throughout England with a major concentration on the Welsh
border. They are rare nationally with only 104 recorded examples. Considerable
diversity of form is exhibited with no two examples being exactly alike. With
other castle types, they are major medieval monument types which, belonging to
the highest levels of society, frequently acted as major administrative
centres and formed the foci for developing settlement patterns. Castles
generally provide an emotive and evocative link to the past and can provide a
valuable educational resource, both with respect to medieval warfare and
defence, and to wider aspects of medieval society. All examples retaining
significant remains of medieval date are considered to be nationally

Rochester Castle was one of the first Norman castles to be fortified in
stone, and also has the distinction of being the tallest tower keep in
England. The construction of a castle in Rochester can be dated to between
1066 and 1088. Although a large number of these defensive structures were
built between the 12th and 15th centuries, many have been lost through factors
such as robbing and quarrying, subsidence, modification and adaptation to
other uses. Rochester Castle has survived in its original form, and although
some features have been lost over time, it still dominates the town, cathedral
and the river crossing it was built to defend. No major excavations have
been undertaken in the bailey of the castle and this part of the site will
therefore contain significant buried archaeological remains relating to the
structure of the site, the history of its occupation and the changing fortunes
of its inhabitants.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
City of Rochester upon Medway, (1990), 1
Pevsner, N, Newman, J, The Buildings of England: West Kent and the Weald, (1980), 490-491
Pevsner, N, Newman, J, The Buildings of England: West Kent and the Weald, (1980), 491
Colvin, HM, 'The History of the King's Works' in The History of the King's Works, , Vol. II, (1963), 806-814
Colvin, HM, 'The History of the King's Works' in The History of the King's Works, , Vol. II, (1963), 813
Colvin, HM, 'The History of the King's Works' in The History of the King's Works, , Vol. II, (1963), 808
Flight, C, Harrison, A C, 'Archaeologia Cantiana' in Rochester Castle, 1976, , Vol. 94, (1978), 39
Harrison, A C, Flight, C, 'Archaeologia Cantiana' in The Roman and Medieval Defences of Rochester, , Vol. 83, (1969), 77
Livett, G M, 'Archaeologia Cantiana' in Medieval Rochester, , Vol. 21, (1895), 32
Payne, G, 'Archaeologia Cantiana' in The Reparation of Rochester Castle, , Vol. 27, (1905), 177-192

Source: Historic England

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