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Learning from maps

Medway Archives 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 1717Map of Rochester in 1717

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 modern online map.

What has disappeared?

Detail from map of Rochester showing Castle bridge


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.



Detail of Rochester map showing the bridge over river medway

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.

Detail of map of Rochester showing the location of the Court of Pie Powder


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.


Detail of the map of Rochester showing the Precint Gatehouse


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 Benedictine monks.



Detail of map of Rochester showing Satis House


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.

Detail of map of Rochester showin Town Hall


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 museum since 1979.


Detail of map of Rochester showing the cemetary gate


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.

Detail of map of Rochester showing Mural Towers


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.

Interactive map of Medway