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Rochester Medway Bridge

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: TQ74016881
Latitude 51.39165° Longitude 0.49969°

Rochester Medway Bridge has been described as a certain Fortified Bridge.

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains.

This is a Grade 2 listed building protected by law*.


Chapel with offices of the Rochester Bridge Fund. Chapel built and endowed as a chantry by Sir John de Cobham in 1386-7 at the S end of the bridge he and Sir Robert Knowlles built across the Medway (demolished 1856); it fell into ruin and was restored and partially rebuilt in 1937. (Listed Building Report)

Close to Bridge Chapel is a City of Rochester plaque: "The Mediaeval stone bridge built by Sir Robert de Knolles and Sir John de Cobham in the reign of King Richard II (1377-99) and demolished in the year 1856 crossed the river opposite this spot." Of this bridge, centred at approx. TQ 7401 6881, no trace remains. (PastScape)

By them it appears, that this antient bridge was made of wood, and that it consisted of nine piers, which made ten intermediate spaces in the length of the bridge, and from one end to the other was about twenty-six rods and an half, equal to four hundred and thirty-one feet, which corresponds nearly to the present breadth of the river, where this bridge stood, in a direct line with the high-street of Rochester, and that of Stroud. And that towards the reparation and maintenance of it, different persons in respect of their manors, and lands in the adjacent neighbourhood were bound to bring certain materials, and to bestow both cost and labour in laying them, which duty grew either by tenure or custom, or perhaps by both, and it seems, that according to the quantity and proportion of the land to be charged, the materials found were either more or less. (Lambarde's Perambulation, p. 426).
The owners of the manors and lands, chargeable with the repairs of this bridge, were used by antient custom to elect two men from among themselves to be wardens, or overseers of the repairs of it, at which time there was a wooden tower erected on the bridge, with strong gates, and it was probably near the east end of it, and was used as a fortification for the defence of this passage into the city. (Hasted 1798)

In c. AD 975 a new bridge was built over the Medway to replace the Romano-British one, with local lords, the king, the bishop of Rochester and the archbishop of Canterbury being responsible for its upkeep. Nine stone piers with ten arches supported a timber superstructure c. 130m long, possibly with a wooden defensive tower and a drawbridge at its eastern end.
The late Saxon timber bridge was still in use at the Norman Conquest, although it may have been restored in the early eleventh century. As there seem to have been neither balustrade nor handrail, crossing the bridge could be hazardous, and there are numerous twelfth and thirteenth century records of people falling into the river and drowning. When the city was besieged in 1215 there was an unsuccessful attempt to burn the bridge and its defensive tower, and in 1343 the west end of the bridge was extended with a barbican and drawbridge.
Repairs were carried out on the ever more fragile bridge at least nineteen times between 1277 and 1381, but it was swept away in February 1381. Between 1383 and 1392 a new stone bridge was erected on a new site closer to the castle, with ferry boats plying the river while it was under construction. The new bridge was carried on twelve piers with eleven openings, all arched except the seventh which had a drawbridge and a winding house above; its carriageway was of ragstone and was c. 180m long and c.4m wide. In 1393 a bridge chapel was built on the east bank. In 1421, Henry V confirmed the constitution of the Wardens of the Commonalty of Rochester Bridge, who were thenceforward to be responsible for its upkeep. The bridge was subject to continual repairs because of the pressures put upon it by the strong currents of the Medway. It broke in 1445, and after it collapsed c. 1489 it was not rebuilt until 1522. (Kent Historic Towns Survey 2000)

The stone bridge across the Medway, built between 1383 and 1393, had a drawbridge and winding house between the sixth and seventh piers. The bridge was privately funded but the windinghouse and drawbridge was funded by Richard II. This drawbridge was probably more to allow masted ships to pass the bridge although it could have been used defensively. The Saxon precursor bridge of timber is said to have had a gatehouse for which there is some documentary evidence. The modern bridge is a little downstream of the site of the medieval bridge.
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This record last updated 15/08/2017 15:56:54

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