Posted by: madkentdragon | April 25, 2011

Rochester Bridge Part 1 Quirky Kent 17

How many times have you crossed a bridge and not even thought about its history? I must admit that I have travelled over Rochester
Bridge by both car and train and not really considered it at all. However when I started doing these “Quirky Kent” posts, I kept coming across the words “provided for the upkeep of (n) pier of Rochester Bridge” in the old historic documents and it piqued my interest.

So here is the history and why I found those words:

The first bridge was built by the Romans, quite an architectural feat as the Medway is wide here, it was built in line with the old Watling Street which was the main Roman road from Richborough, their main port, to London. It had nine piers holding the bridge up, I won’t go into the
technical details, and was in use from just after 43AD until 1381.

After the Romans left, the bridge still had to be maintained and so the parishes surrounding Rochester which either belonged to the King, the
Archbishop of Canterbury or the Bishop of Rochester were charged with the repairs. Each parish was given a part of the bridge as their responsibility and whenever that section needed repair, a bridgeworks list would be consulted and the parish or parishes responsible were tasked to carry out the repair. That is why I was finding those words!

Disaster struck in 1381, the Medway froze completely, this was one of the years when records at Winchester show that the climate changed, bad wet summers followed by freezing winters resulted in famines over several years, including this one. The bridge was so weakened by the amount of ice in the river of that year that when in February 1381 the ice finally started to melt the river became a rushing torrent of water and ice and large parts of the bridge were washed away with the flood.

The following year, a Royal Commission was set up to decide who was responsible for the repair of the wrecked bridge and it was decided that Rochester needed a new bridge with stone, not wooden arches. Sir John de Cobham and Sir Robert Knolles paid for the construction of the new bridge and placed it about 100 yards upstream from the old one. This has been confirmed by several archaeological surveys carried out at the site of the old bridge. Construction of the 560 foot bridge began in 1387 and took four years to complete; the final pier of the crossing was a draw bridge, so that larger vessels could go upstream.

The parishes must have heaved a sigh of relief when the two knights petitioned Richard II for a Royal Patent to establish Wardens and Commonalty (Corporation) of Rochester Bridge, it granted them powers to own property (normally only the Church and Crown held property) and to use the income from it to maintain the bridge.

Further grants of property from Henry IV and Henry V plus the added income from Sir John de Cobham meant that the maintenance was well
provided for; much of the property from that time is still held in trust to this day.

This bridge served Rochester for nearly 500 years, what happened next will be in part 2!


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