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Step inside the Guildhall Museum


Step inside the Guildhall Museum in High Street, Rochester and you’ll be taken on a journey through centuries rich in history.

This feature highlights some of the fascinating items and displays helping to bring the area’s past back to life.

The Seaton tool chest

This is the most complete set of eighteenth century cabinetmaker’s tools in the world. Benjamin Seaton, born in Chatham in 1775, the son of a cabinetmaker and church elder received them as a gift for his 21st birthday. His father paid £15, 10 shillings and four pence for the set, quite expensive for the time.

Benjamin make a chest to house and remained in the family until it was donated to the museum by his grandson in 1910.

The Fly Tool

During the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries one of the most important local industries was cement making.

One of the main ingredients used to make cement is clay and the clay used by Medway cement works was mud dug from the bottom of the River Medway by men known as ‘muddies’. These were teams of local men who, using tremendous physical strength and endurance, dug many tons of mud from the river by hand, using a cutting spade like this called a fly tool. It is thought to be one of the only of its kind still in existence.

Celtic carved stone head

This object was found in a Roman cemetery on the Isle of Grain, but is actually much older. It is thought to have been made between the third and first century BC. Carved heads like this were usually intended to represent departed ancestors, and were often placed at holy sites. 

Rochester City Mace

At the end of the English Civil War (1642 – 1651) King Charles the First was executed and power taken over by parliament and Oliver Cromwell. For nine years the country was ruled as a Republic, with many changes such as the closing of theatres and banning of public singing and dancing.

 In Rochester the cathedral was used for stabling horses at this time. When the monarchy was restored in 1661 and Charles II came to the throne, there was a great revival in civic pride. The Rochester City Mace, clad in silver and gold, was created at this time.

James McCudden’s swagger stick

This is a walking stick, also known as a swagger stick, which was carried as a badge of rank by James McCudden from Gillingham, the most decorated British fighter ace in World War One. He was born in 1895 and at the age of 15 in 1910 he followed in his father’s footsteps into the Royal Engineers and enlisted as a bugler. He transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in 1913 as an air mechanic, rising through the ranks to Major. In 1918 he was killed in an accident when his aircraft developed an engine fault. He is buried in the British War Cemetery, Wavans, Pas-de-Calais, France.

Prison ship (hulk) painting

During Napoleonic ward many thousands of French, Scandinavian and American prisoners-of-war were imprisoned on ‘hulk’ ships – old warships unfit for battle and turned into floating prisons.

Conditions were appalling but some prisoners tried to make their lives a little better by making small toys, gifts or paintings that could be sold to buy extra food. This work was produced by a French prisoner between 1812-1814 who would have been allowed off the ship to sit on the bank to paint the scene.

Drawing by Charles Spencelayh (1865 – 1958)

This Rochester born artist – whose father counted Charles Dickens amongst his friends – was obsessed with portraying ordinary people, often the elderly in cluttered domestic settings. He demonstrated ironic humour and a discriminating eye for social observation, all underpinned by his extraordinary artistic skill.

This is one of his largest drawings, depicting a local man with a copy of his favourite book by Dickens entitled ‘A lover of Dickens’ (1948).

The city seal of Rochester

This was probably made in the 13th century and features a detailed representation of the keep of Rochester Castle – the oldest known picture – ­ surrounded by an outer circuit wall and a moat. The reverse of this seal has a scene of the crucifixion of St Andrew, the patron saint of the City of Rochester. It continued in use until 1885, when it was withdrawn from service after cracking appeared.

Map of public bomb raid shelters in Gillingham

This map of the Borough of Gillingham dates from the second world war show where all the public shelters could be found, complete with a key to make for easy reading. The museum also has a copy of one of the propaganda flyers dropped out of a German plane telling the English that they’re for it.

Victorian period Horton collection

 This vast and detailed collection of Victorian items includes cigar cases, intricate match holders, snuff boxes and bonnets, which ladies of the time wouldn’t dare be seen without in public.

To find out more visit the main page for the Guildhall Museum and click on the links at the bottom of the page.