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The story of Rochester Bridge
It seems almost certain that the Romans built the first
bridge across the Medway at Rochester. Their invading army may have
built a temporary crossing shortly after the invasion but this
would have been replaced with a stronger bridge some years later.
We do not know what it looked like but in 1851, during the building
of the modern cast iron bridge, the engineers struck the
foundations of one of the Roman piers. This tells us that the line
of the bridge was the same as today. The stone foundations those
Victorians found probably supported a wooden roadway.
Looking after a bridge is an expensive business. During the
Anglo-Saxon period, the English kings began to spread the cost
around local landowners by issuing charters which divided up the
bridge and named the people responsible for each section.
Despite partial reconstructions, by the middle of the 14th
century the bridge was collapsing almost every year. The final
straw was the winter of 1380/81, when the Medway froze and a large
section of the bridge was carried away in the following thaw.
A new bridge, made entirely of stone, was finished in about
1391. It was built a little upstream of the present structure and
was paid for by Sir John de Cobham and Sir Robert Knolles. Sir John
was a local landowner, while Sir Robert had made a huge fortune
during the wars with France. Together they worked to provide for
the upkeep of the bridge, maintaining the system of raising money
for repairs under the supervision of two elected wardens.
Rochester managed with the stone bridge until 1850, when work
began on a cast iron structure at about the time that the railway
bridge was also built. The new road bridge was finished in 1856 and
shortly afterwards the
Royal Engineers were called in to blow up the old one. All that
remains is part of the stone balustrade, which now lines the
Rochester esplanade. The new bridge was not without its problems,
as the arches which supported the roadway were always getting
tangled up with passing river traffic. As a result, the bridge was
rebuilt in 1913 and the number of arches was reduced. This gave us
the bridge we see today, although it is now accompanied by a second
road bridge, which was opened in 1970.
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