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Learning from maps
Medway Archives and Local Studies Centre has a
wonderful selection of old maps that can give you clues about
what life was like long ago.
To get the most out of maps, try these tips:
- Compare with a modern A-Z and imagine the sights, sounds and
smells from a particular point on each map
- Make a display by annotating the ancient map with photographs
of today's buildings and streets
- Collect some words from the map: the horse wash, the common,
the workhouse, the tide mill, the almshouses. What do they tell us
about people's lives?
Rochester in 1717
A full size map of Rochester in
1717 shows a mixture of streets in plan view and 3D pictures of
buildings. The writing uses an old-fashioned form of the letter s
which resembles the modern f. It has two keys. The letters show who
rents which parts of the city from the Bridge Wardens (the people
who look after Rochester bridge). The numbers point out important
features of the city.
Compare it with the appearance of Rochester today in this
What has disappeared?
This part of the map (left) shows part of the vanished
fortifications of Rochester Castle: the old main gate of the castle
bailey. Although already ruined in 1717, it survived until the
castle grounds were turned into a public garden in the 1870s, when
its last fragments were removed.
The 14th century bridge (above) over the River Medway was
demolished in 1857. Its replacement, although much altered, is
still with us today, carrying traffic across the river to Strood.
The map shows the stone arches of the medieval bridge quite clearly
and its position, downstream of Rochester High Street and the "Kay"
(quay) where boats could unload cargo.
The top lefthand corner of the castle ditch is the location of
the Court of Pie Powder (left). Under an elm tree
here, the mayor pronounced judgement on disputes which had arisen
in the city market. The name comes from pied poudre, which
is French for dusty feet. This was because many of the people
involved were travelling traders. The tree was cut down in 1831 but
a plaque still marks the spot.
This gate (right) runs between the west front of the Cathedral
and Boley Hill. It was taken down in 1788. It is called the
Precinct Gatehouse on the map because it was
originally the main entrance to the monastery which lay to the
south of the Cathedral. This was founded in 1082 and was run by
At the top of the map is Satis House (left),
once the home of Richard Watts, elected MP for the city in 1563 and
founder, by his will, of the Six Poor Travellers in Rochester High
Street. The house's name was taken from a comment made by Queen
Elizabeth I, who expressed her approval of her reception there with
this single word, which means enough in Latin.
Only 30 years old in 1717, this building (right) on the High
Street served as a court as well as a meeting place for the city
government. It is now better known as the
Guildhall and has housed a fascinating local
The arch of the Cemetery Gate (left) spans the
road which leads down from the Cathedral to the High Street. The
road has now been moved to the right to admit cars but it is still
possible to walk through the arch in the way people would have done
in 1717. Charles Dickens used this gatehouse as the model for the
home of John Jasper in The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
The Mural Towers (right) were completed around
1370 and can still be seen today. The map captures the way in which
the tower to the south (here the one at the top) sits across the
wall. The other tower should be sticking out towards the Cathedral,
not in towards the keep. By 1900, the castle ditch was filled with
houses and gardens; you can see a few here. All are now gone.
map of Medway