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Gundulfs Tower, Rochester Cathedral

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Gundulph's Tower

In the civil parish of Rochester.
In the historic county of Kent.
Modern Authority of Medway.
1974 county of Kent.
Medieval County of Kent.

OS Map Grid Reference: TQ74266852
Latitude 51.38905° Longitude 0.50350°

Gundulfs Tower, Rochester Cathedral has been described as a Tower House although is doubtful that it was such.

There are major building remains.

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


The tower standing close to the north choir aisle has been attributed to Bishop Gundulf, builder of the first Romanesque cathedral church begun c.1080 but is probably nearer to 1100 in date. It has been suggested that the tower dates to the mid-twelfth century and was erected as a bell tower. On the basis of a re-examination of the evidence it is suggested that an early post-Conquest and pre-Gundulf date is more likely, and that it was probably erected as a strong tower for defensive purposes. (Kent HER)

The tower is square in plan with broad shallow buttresses clasping each angle. It is built of coursed ragstone rubble with tufa used for the quoins of the buttresses. There are two set-backs in the external faces. Two windows remain on the north face at different levels. The lower window, now blocked, is possibly of 15th century date. The upper window with a semi-circular arch is likely to be in its original form. Two massive projecting buttresses have been added possibly in the 13th century. A barrel-vaulted passage in the west wall at original first floor level may have been the original entrance. There are now two ground floor entrances neither of which is original. Only the north face of the tower and parts of the west and east sides are fully and easily visible. The interior is used as the choir robing room and not readily accessible. (Kent HER)

Between the two cross isles, on the north side without the church, stands an old ruined tower, no higher than the roof of the church. This is generally allowed to have been erected by bishop Gundulph, and there is a tradition of its having been called the bell tower, and of its having had five bells hanging in it; yet the better conjecture is, that it was first intended as a place of strength and security, either as a treasury or a repository for records. The walls of it are six feet thick, and the area on the inside twenty-four feet square. (Hasted)

Small tower next to Rochester Cathedral. This was formally detached from the nave. Gundulf's Tower, alongside the early cathedral at Rochester, has been recently argued to be a strong, defensible tower. Recent excavation suggests a building date close to 1100. It has similarities with St Leonard's Tower, West Malling, also on an episcopal estate. Both these three-storey towers are strongly built. They have windows at a high level, but there is little to indicate high-status accommodation internally; only St Leonard's Tower has external arcading on two faces, which points to an element of public display. This form of defensive structure has similarities with two strong towers at Oxford: the late-Saxon St Michael's Tower, beside a gate through the town defences, and St George's Tower, within the confines of the Norman castle. Renn suggests this was just a bell tower and it should be realised that swinging and vibrating bells have need of a strong structure well beyond that purely required because of their mass.
Tim Tatton-Brown (2015) reports this was recorded as a bell tower in the later middle ages and there is no real reason to think this was ever anything other than a bell tower.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:19:31

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