‘An ancient city, Cloisterham, and no meet dwelling-place for any one with hankerings after the noisy world. A monotonous, silent city, deriving an earthy flavour throughout from its Cathedral crypt, and so abounding in vestiges of monastic graves, that the Cloisterham children grow small salad in the dust of abbots and abbesses, and make dirt-pies of nuns and friars; while every ploughman in its outlying fields renders to once puissant Lord Treasurers, Archbishops, Bishops, and such-like, the attention which the Ogre in the story-book desired to render to his unbidden visitor, and grinds their bones to make his bread.’
Charles Dickens’s fictionalised Rochester as Cloisterham in his novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood
‘Bright and pleasant was the sky, balmy the air, and beautiful the appearance of every object around, as Mr. Pickwick leaned over the balustrades of Rochester Bridge, contemplating nature, and waiting for breakfast. The scene was indeed one which might well have charmed a far less reflective mind, than that to which it was presented’. Pickwick Papers
Rochester has had many illustrious visitors. Henry VIII met Ann of Cleves in the town. ELizabeth I stayed there.
The dramatist and courtier, John Lyly, may have been born in Rochester c. check date 155 and set his ‘realistic’ comedy ‘Mother Bombie’ in the town.
James Temple who was convicted of the regicide of Charles I was born in Rochester in 1606.
Samuel Pepys, the diarist, was appointed the Clerk of the Acts of the Navy Board and visited the Medway towns as part of his work. In 1661, he stayed at the Salutation Tavern where he was entertained with “with wine and oysters and other things”.1 On subsequent visits (1662, 1665 and 1667), he visited the Crown for wine, supper and making merry. It was during one of these visits that he walked to the castle ruins and “there going up I did upon the stairs overtake three pretty mayds or women and took them up with me, and I did ‘baiser sur mouches et toucher leur mains’ and necks to my great pleasure”.2 In June 1667, He stayed at the White Harte Inn but complained that he could get “no sheets to our bed, only linen to our mouths”.3
Sarah Dixon who wrote Poems on Several Occasions was baptised in Rochester, in 1671. Elizabeth Carter was one of the subscribers to her collection.
Chemist, Dr Robert Plot wrote to Dr Charlett from Rochester in 1693 to tell him: “the greatest rarity I have met with has been here, viz. a medicine for the bite of a mad dog”. The medicine consisted of being dipped in the salt water below the bridge “without fig-leaves” by two lewd fellows.4
Friend and mentor of Charles Darwin, John Stevens Henslow, botanist and geologist was born in Rochester in 1796.
Artist, Richard Dadd was educated at the King’s School.
Ellen Ternan, actress, was born in Rochester in 1839.
Thomas Aveling, iron founder and agricultural engineer was mayor of the city and has a school named after him.
Phyllis Bottome, novelist and short story writer was born in Rochester and inspired James Bond author Ian Fleming.
Sybil Thorndike, actor, moved to Rochester at the age two. Her brother Russell, actor and novelist known for his Dr Syn stories set in Romney Marsh, was born in the city in 1885. Mathematician, John Edensor Littlewood whose father taught at the King’s School, was also born in this year, but later moved to Dover.
Enid Bagnold, author of National Velvet was born in Rochester in 1889, although she did not live in the city for long.
Pepys, Samuel. https://www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1661/04/10/ ↩
Pepys, Samuel. https://www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1665/10/02/ ↩
Pepys, Samuel. https://www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1667/06/30/ ↩
Aubrey, John ‘Letters written by eminent persons in the 17th and 18th centuries : to which are added, Hearne’s Journeys to Reading, and to Whaddon Hall, the seat of Browne Willis, Esq., and Lives of eminent men.’ London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, And Brown, 1813. ↩