Rochester Castle Facts: Explore This Stone Tower In England | Kidadl


Rochester Castle Facts: Explore This Stone Tower In England

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In the picturesque town of Rochester, England, stands a castle, a stone tower rich with history and charm. This magnificent structure is none other than Rochester Castle, a place that seems to transport visitors back to a time of knights, battles, and royal grandeur. Erected in the 12th century, the castle's towering walls and impressive keep are among the best-preserved in all of England.

Those who visit the Rochester castle remains can explore captivating dungeons, marvel at the new stone castle and breathtaking panoramic vistas, and immerse themselves in a living piece of history. Families with little explorers will delight in special events that bring the castle's rich past to life, igniting the imaginations of young and old alike. Rochester Castle is one of Europe's most iconic English Heritage sites and one of the earliest English castles built. Built by the Bishop of Rochester in a small Roman town, it is best known for its splendid stone curtain wall, magnificent keep, and role in English history. Unfortunately, the stone castle was abandoned after extensive damage during the sieges, which left it unfit to serve as a royal residence. Relive the castle's rich history among its once-mighty, now crumbling stones.

History Of Rochester Castle

Rochester Castle is located in Kent, South East England, on the east bank of the River Medway. The castle's most notable feature is a stone tower from the 12th century called The Keep. It is among the best-preserved structures in England or France to date.

  • The Bishop of Rochester received land at Aylesford, Kent, in exchange for the territory that would later become the site of Rochester Castle, according to the 1086 Domesday Book.
  • Rochester is the only one of the 48 castles identified in the survey where landowners were compensated when their property was taken to build the castle.
  • It strategically served as a crucial royal castle because of its location on the River Medway and Watling Street. It assisted in defending England's southeast coast from invasion in the late medieval era. Rochester's first castle was built soon after the Norman Conquest.
  • According to speculation by historians, it was granted to Bishop Odo by his half-brother William the Conqueror.
  • Odo backed Robert Curthose, the Conqueror's eldest son, in his battle with William Rufus during the Rebellion of 1088 over the English throne.
  • Under Odo's ownership, the castle first experienced military action during this struggle; the city and castle were sieged after Odo designated Rochester as the rebel's headquarters.
  • Rochester Castle's location in Kent made it the ideal rendezvous point for troops aiming to employ raids on London, and its garrison could face William's royal forces there. This early castle was abandoned following the garrison's surrender during a siege.
  • The Bishop of Rochester, Gundulf, was then permitted by the King to construct stone walls as new defenses. Bishop Gundulf is also known for being the brain behind the construction of the White Tower of the Tower of London.
  • William de Corbeil, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was given the castle by Henry I in 1127 on the condition that he fortify it. 
  • Throughout the 12th century, successive archbishops of Canterbury maintained ownership of the fortress on behalf of the monarch, especially during the tumultuous dispute between Henry II and Archbishop Thomas Becket.
  • New disagreements between the King and archbishop in the early 13th century culminated in the siege in 1215.
  • King John's siege of Rochester Castle in 1215 is a defining moment. The castle withstood a brutal attack under his orders, lasting several weeks. Although King John eventually captured the castle using mining and other siege tactics, the castle's resilience remains an iconic symbol of medieval warfare.

Importance & Significance Of Rochester Castle

Rochester Castle's Keep is seen as an architectural marvel in Europe with a rich history. The interior of the stone castle's outer walls stands as a testament to the complexity and intricacy of medieval art of Norman design, despite being known for its simplicity compared to cathedrals and other grand structures of that time.

  • It is also remarkably easy for historians to deduce the historical patterns of movement around the building and the purposes of various floors and rooms by studying the doors, fireplaces, windows, floors, and partitions of the castle.
  • Another reason why Rochester Castle is so important is the proximity of its castle and cathedral, which serves as a testament to the two pillars of authority that characterized medieval society: the religious authority of bishops and monastic orders and the secular power of the Crown and nobles.
  • One could argue that the castle's presence had an impact on several odd features of the cathedral's design, such as the placement of the monastery south of the cathedral chancel.
  • Traditionally, the castle would have a direct view of the more commonplace location, south of the nave. However, it faced the bishop's palace instead.
  • From a historical standpoint, Rochester Castle is remembered for the two sieges on it- in 1215 and 1264. King John's siege and eventual seizure of the castle in 1215 after breaking the Rochester bridge and the outer wall astounded the populace at the time.
  • Thanks to the meticulous chronicle accounts, it is still one of the most important occurrences in English history.
  • The narrative of Rochester, which describes how the defenders used the spine wall as a last line of defense, is largely responsible for the traditional view of the major towers of castles as buildings of 'last resort' during sieges.
  • Even though it is less well remembered, the 1264 siege, brought on by the Baron's War between Henry III and Simon de Montfort, is extraordinarily extensively documented in chronicles and Exchequer accounts, allowing current academics to recreate how the garrison consumed food as the siege developed.
  • The fortress itself did not fully recover from the 1264 siege, which was arguably more damaging. The abandoned keep has been the subject of literary accounts and artistic depictions, most notably those by Charles Dickens in the 19th Century.
  • The tower's intimidating size and height are thought to have inspired reflection on the meaninglessness of the modern individual and the destructive force of time.
  • The Castle Gardens in the former bailey, formerly densely planted and dotted with monuments, have now been converted into a public park for the residents of Rochester.
A view of Rochester Cathedral from the grounds of Rochester Castle in the historic city of Rochester in Kent, UK

Description, Size & Height Of Rochester Castle

Rochester castle is located at a vital Medway River bridge inside the ancient Roman city walls of Rochester. The spectacular Norman stronghold, which has a roughly square layout, dominates the site. The bailey, which structures would have inhabited in the middle of the 13th Century, surrounds the southeast tower of the keep and is now home to the Castle Gardens.

The size of the old main bailey and the Castle Gardens are quite comparable. The keep is located in the southwest corner, and the entrance to the northeast is close to the location of the major gatehouse from medieval times.

The several structures that once stood within the bailey during the Middle Ages are barely discernible among the contemporary flat lawns that have replaced more ornate Victorian gardens.

Due to its impressive height, standing at 125 ft (38 m), the keep is among the most spectacular remaining medieval castle structures. The building's corners and arched windows are made of precisely cut Caen stone from Normandy, while most of the external walling is made of uneven courses of Kentish ragstone.

Despite the erosion of many window moldings, enough remains to demonstrate that the higher levels' windows were bigger and more complex than those lower down, with recognizable chevron carvings around the arches.

These variations indicated how the floors were decorated according to their importance. Contrary to the square turrets on the other corners, the keep's southeast turret has a circular design. After the original square tower fell during the siege of 1215, it was rebuilt in the 1220s.

The first-floor rectangular turret facing the north front served as the main entrance to the keep. The front door was located at the top of an exterior step. This door led to a waiting area from which an inner door into the main portion of the keep was accessible behind a portcullis.

The keep's interior is just as impressive if not more than its spectacular outside. It is a vast, roofless expanse that was built in the 17th Century and continues to do so to date.

Deep sockets indicate the levels of the missing timber floors, and remnants of windows, bathrooms, and fireplaces can be found on the exterior walls. In the towers to the east and west, there were spiral stairs.

The keep's main state rooms were located on the second story, above two ground-floor chambers, a basement, and storerooms (probably for the garrison).

The exquisite arcade that separates the second floor features round columns, scalloped capitals, and round-headed arches with chevron detailing.

On the second floor, a gallery extends within the thickness of the outer walls. Before the 1215 siege, there may have been a tall niche in this wall that contained a throne or table for the King, according to changes in its level at the southeast corner.

A chapel can be found to the north. Although remarkably bare of sculptured adornment, it likely had wall paintings as part of its original decoration.

The floor above, which was once directly beneath the roofs, most likely served as the King's quarters, complementing the second floor's more open hall.

The east and west sides of the curtain walls surrounding the castle bailey still exist. Herringbone brickwork, early battlements, and rare upstanding material from the 11th Century are all found in the west wall.

The nearby section of the wall was once a two-story chamber block constructed by Henry III in the 1220s.

The King also ordered the construction of the round drum tower in the southeast bailey. The castle underwent a refortification in the 1370s, under the reign of Edward III, which is evidenced by the features of the eastern wall and its two rectangular towers.


1. What is Rochester Castle made out of?

Rochester Castle was built mainly from Kentish Ragstone.

2. Why does Rochester Castle have one round tower?

The original tower of Rochester Castle collapsed during the 1215 siege when King John and his army set it alight. It was replaced in 1226 with a round tower, which is believable to be stronger and more durable than the traditional square ones.

3. Was Rochester Castle a Motte and Bailey?

Rochester Castle is considered to have originally been built with a motte and bailey.

4. What special features does Rochester Castle have?

Rochester Castle is best known for its round tower, which is one of the tallest of its kind in England, its iconic keep, and the thickness of its walls, which are no less than 12 ft (3.6 m) in many places.

5. How long did Rochester Castle take to build?

Various components were added to Rochester Castle over the years.

6. Wow old is Rochester Castle?

The original castle, known as 'Boley Hill', was built presumably around 1066-1067 by the Normans.

7. Who was Rochester Castle built for?

Rochester Castle was originally built as a point of defense after the Norman Conquest. It was gifted by William the Conqueror to his half-brother, Bishop Odo.

Exploring Rochester Castle is truly like stepping into a different era, filled with historical allure and architectural marvels. The pros of a visit are abundant, from the well-preserved keep that whispers tales of the past to the breathtaking views that offer a snapshot of England's stunning landscapes. But do remember, like many historic sites, some areas closely linked to the castle and residential buildings may be less accessible for those with mobility issues, so planning is wise. Families will find joy in the engaging activities often hosted on the grounds, making the past come alive for young adventurers. Whether it's a passionate history lover or a curious sightseer, Rochester Castle has something for everyone.

Written By
Amelia Grace

<p>Amelia is interning as a content assistant and editor at Kidadl, utilizing her academic background to provide engaging and valuable content. She studies English and Communications at the University of Exeter and enjoys reading and running in her free time.</p>

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