Rochester and the women’s suffrage movement

It is right in 2018, a century after some women gained the vote, to recognise the leadership of Emmeline Pankhurst and Millicent Fawcett however their success could not have been achieved without the support of thousands of women in towns and cities up and down the country. So in this blog I wish record something of the contribution made and experiences of women in Rochester who supported the calls for women to have the vote. However as will be seen they may well have been less driven by wanting the vote out of principle but more by it being the means by which they could lives of women and infants.

It was not just women who campaigned for women to get the vote – there was a men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement. This movement was particularly keen to force Cabinet Ministers, who were ignoring the will of the House of Commons, to hear the Suffragist arguments. As many parliamentarians were unwilling to hear the arguments many women took to ‘disrupting’ political meetings with questions and challenges that the speaking politician did not wish to address.

Campaigning in Rochester

In Rochester the Liberal Party secured a pledge from women not to interrupt their public meetings with their campaigning. However men were not willing to give such an undertaking so were therefore not permitted to buy tickets to the meetings. That however did not prevent them protesting by climbing on to the roofs of halls in which meeting were being held in order to gain attention for their campaign. However there are reports of suffragists being ejected from political meetings in Medway – presumably not those of the Liberal Party – as a consequence of their protest.

The women of Rochester were firmly in the camp of the non-violent suffragist movement. One of the early campaigners in Rochester was Vera Conway-Gordon. She moved to Rochester with her family in 1890 when she was 16 years old. Her family rented Longley House in Boley Hill and Vera attended Rochester Girl’s Grammar until she was 18.

In 1912, aged 38, Vera started the local branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) who called themselves ‘Suffragists’. The group stressed they were non-militant to set them apart from the more militant ‘suffragettes’. Vera organised many public meetings and protest marches and held groups meetings in the gardens of Satis House.

Vera would have undoubtedly been well supported by Mrs Packman, president of the Rochester Women’s Liberal Association and the wife of a local doctor. During WW1 it appears that Lady Darnley also took an active role in attending and chairing women’s meetings in Rochester.

Although the movement stressed it was not anti-men it seems the male cartoonists tried to portray it otherwise. In the Chatham Observer (14/9/12) a cartoon was published under the heading of “The spread of the sex wars”. In the cartoon the women are told they could bring their husbands to a mother’s meeting – but they wanted to enjoy themselves!

Although the prime movement in Rochester and indeed Medway would have been ‘suffragist’ that is not to say there wasn’t support for the direct action advocated by the suffragettes.

In October 1912 there appears to have been two meetings in Rochester that were addressed by a Pankhurst. Both meetings were arranged by Miss Evelyn (Eve) Billing (157 Maidstone Road) who was the organiser of the West and North Kent branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). It appears that she may have been arrested twice in 1913 but not it would seem for taking ‘direct action’ in Kent.

The first of the two meetings was attended by Sylvia Pankhurst who addressed a large crowd at an open air meeting held in Northgate on the subject of women’s suffrage. It was reported that the meeting was mostly orderly although there was some heckling when Sylvia spoke. As Miss Pankhurst’s left it was reported that a few crackers were thrown at her van as by some boys who were quickly brought under control.

In the introductory address to this meeting Evelyn Billing pointed out that in countries where women had the vote infant mortality, and sickness and disease amongst parents was less. (This emphasis may explain the future shape of the women’s movement in Rochester.)

The second meeting was addressed by Mrs Pankhurst who was described as the “leader of the militant suffragists” The meeting New Corn Exchange was described as very large and enthusiastic. Doors opened 7:30 and the meeting commenced at 8pm. The admission charges were 3d, 6d and 1s. What was obtained for the higher price was not explained in the advertisement for the meeting. Mrs Pankhurst’s address was, as would be expected, strident and highlight the disparity in the treatment of men and women. She drew comparisons between the punishment being meted out to women who were breaking the law, and that given to men in Ireland who were not only breaking windows but also looting.

It is perhaps interesting to note that Mrs Pankhurst stated that intended to resort to hunger-striking every time she is arrested – regardless of the division she is put in – all the time the men in Ireland were not being arrested for similar or worse offences. (The prison system at this time categorised prisoners into Divisions that had more or less privileges / harshness. The suffragettes lobbied to be clarified as political prisoners who were placed in Division One. In this division they would have been entitled to more visits and to be able to write books and articles.)

In making her argument for women having the vote Mrs Pankhurst said that if women had enough intelligence to pay tax they had intelligence enough to chose the men who were going to spend their hard earned money in the form of taxation. When asked about women in Parliament Mrs Pankhurst answered that that was not something she was concerned about as that would be decided when men and women had the vote.

It was clear that the Rochester meeting was attended by suffragists as one asked Mrs Pankhurst whether she felt that the ‘eradication of the birthrate’ may be more effective in gaining the vote than smashing windows. Mrs Pankhurst replied that she did not see this as being politically effective and could not advocate such a course. (Presumably the woman asking the question could have had in mind the actions of the women of Lysistrata who withdrew from ‘conjugal relations’ until the men ended their ‘warring’ .)

The appearance of the ‘New Woman’?

Editorially the Chatham Observer in November 1912 noted that there was increased reporting of the achievements of women. There was acknowledgment of women revolutionaries, women in the professions and trades, and that women had been employed as a war correspondent and as Marconi (radio) operators. The correspondent thought a women’s first thoughts should be towards humanity and more especially child-life. Not wanting to demean this role the corresponded felt that having women on municipal bodies would help ensure issues of public moralities would be addressed – something that men appeared to show no interest in. -The writer thought that Chatham was particularly in need of this ‘attention’. At a similar time the Dean of Rochester, Dr. Randall, speaking at the Girl’s grammar, seemed to ‘push-back’ the role of women to the home when he said that women were the makers of the character of England inasmuch as they were the makers of homes in England.

Based on snippets within the news reports, it appears that the Labour Party to which many working women looked to support their calls for the vote, had some difficulties in getting behind their cause. This led to many Labour speakers/MPs being heckled. A Mr. Philip Snowdon, when questioned by suffragists in Rochester, told the women that the Labour Party did not have the power to give them the vote. He was robustly told that Labour would have the power by going into opposition and adopting anti-government policies. When Snowden was asked if he would vote at the third reading of the Franchise Bill if women were not included in it on equal terms with men, he declined to answer.

Although suffragettes were not particularly militant in Medway a suffragette was blamed for breaking the window of the premises of Mr. E. Bates (94 & 95 High Street, Rochester) in 1913. The following morning Mr. Bates placed a notice in the shop’s window:

“We regret any inconvenience caused by the temporary closure of one of our large windows. Suffragists (militant) are reminded Sunday is not an opening day with us – Bates for Value.”

This incident happened to be the subject of the first telegram sent from Rochester’s new post office. Personally I’m not convinced – based on the newspaper reports – that the smashed window could be attributed to a suffragette as the accusation was based on the supposition that it could not have been done by anyone else. As no stone was found it was presuming a hammer had been used – no drunks were known to have been in the area, and when neighbours looked out on hearing the smash, they saw no one – the window must therefore have been broken by a suffragette!

At the 1913 AGM of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WPSU), held in Rochester, it was reported that although members had been lost because of the militants, the membership in the previous 12 months had increased from 44 to 160; this made the Rochester branch of the WPSU the third largest in Kent. (This suggests that not all members of Mrs Pankhurst’s moment supported the taking of militant action). The increase in membership of the WPSU also suggests there was growing support for the campaign to address the rights of women. The meeting heard that girls of 16 years were allowed by law to give their consent for immoral purposes but not until they were 21 had they the right to settle their own affairs concerning property etc. The meeting was also concerned that many good unmarried women were excluded from work because of their sex. It was highlighted that more women doctors were needed, and women clergy were need to work in women’s prisons. The meeting also wanted the issue of unequal pay to be addressed – illustrating their point with the fact that women teachers were paid 75% of what a man received.

Despite the strong feeling of many that women’s rights needs to be addressed and that this was unlikely until they had the vote, there were many, including women, who did not agree that women should have the vote. A Miss Ward, who addressed the WPSU’s AGM at Rochester, said that she had been a member of the Anti-Suffragist League but had become disillusioned by the movement when she heard it agued that women did not have the same brain power as men – even though all the male speakers stated that the female speaker’s points hit home. Mrs E. S. Packman (later a major campaigner for a maternity centre for Rochester mothers) announced at the meeting that that she was going to leave the Liberal Party because of the attitude of Mr. Dysdale Woodcock (prospective MP) who had stated that he would never support any measure extending the franchise to women so long as their militancy continued.

Anti-suffrage groups existed across the country. Many – particularly it would seem in Kent – maintained a low profile. It’s perhaps worth considering that the suffragists were not beyond direct action themselves – but were perhaps more ‘passive-aggressive’. Women were the major shoppers – as became evident in reports pertaining to WW1 – and as there were many suppliers of similar goods within the Towns, a boycott of a store would not seriously disadvantage the shopper but could seriously harm a business. It has therefore been suggested that many business men who were ‘antis’ did not speak out for fear of losing business.

Based on contemporary reports it is easy to assume that there were only two campaigns for the enfranchisement of women – one led by Emmeline Pankhurst and the other by Millicent Fawcett. However there were a number of organisations lobbying for the political enfranchisement of women. In Medway there were reports of the Chatham, Rochester and Gillingham branch of Women’s Labour League, which was affiliated to the Labour Party, that lobbied for the enfranchisement of women workers. The group though was particularly frustrated by the failure of the Labour Party to support their cause. The Labour Party appears to have been championing full adult suffrage rather than female suffrage, and had trouble in supporting the cause of women because of the behaviour of the suffragettes who disrupted the speeches of Labour candidates.

The Great Pilgrimage reaches Rochester

In July 1913 the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, the largest and oldest non-militant and non-party society, undertook Pilgrimages throughout England, all to converge on London. The aim was to explain the work and aims of the law-abiding suffragist. There were two routes through Kent that converged on Tonbridge. The southern Kent pilgrims started off from Sandwich on 3 July and made their way to Tonbridge via Folkestone and Ashford. The north Kent Pilgrims left Margate on July 1 and progressed through the Thanet towns before heading to Canterbury for a service in the Cathedral. The north Kent Pilgrims then progressed along the north Kent coast to visit the Medway Towns (Gillingham on the 15th, Chatham,16th and Rochester 17th) before heading to Tonbridge via Maidstone. On their pilgrimage the suffragists passed though a number of towns in which they held meetings. From Tonbridge the combined pilgrimages made their way to London for a meeting in Hyde Park.

Suffrage Route

The North Kent pilgrims reached Rochester on 17th July where they attended a service in the Cathedral in the afternoon. The numbers arriving at Rochester though were far less than the expected 200.

Between 30 and 40 local suffragists eventually gathered at the foot of Star Hill in the early afternoon on the 17th July. They then marched from Star Hill to College Gate, behind the banner of the National Union, to attend evensong at the Cathedral. All the pilgrims displayed their colours of of red, white and green prominently. The picture below shows the group passing from under College Gate as they made their way to the Cathedral.

Passing from under College / Chertsey’s Gate

Amongst the group was Mrs Packman and Miss Moore (the erstwhile champions of Rochester Women’s Liberal Association) and Miss Conway-Gordon, (local hon. secretary). Although the Dean had given permission for the pilgrims to attend the service he refused permission for them to bring in their banners into the cathedral – however it was reported that the big notice board that had been carried by Miss Conway-Gordon, which stated the group was the Rochester & District branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, was seen just inside the West Door. During the service the Rev. H. Baird Turner stated there was ‘no rational reason against the ladies claim’ for the vote; coincidently the anthem sung was “ All Thy creatures praise thee” reminding everyone that everyone was equal.

During the Great War

With the declaration of WW1 the suffragists and suffragettes ended their campaigning and got behind the war effort. The organisational skills of the campaigners were put to good use in providing services to support women coming into the area for work, the moral protection of women, supporting the wives & girlfriends of the enlisted men, and in fundraising.

Within weeks of war being declared a committee of ladies/erstwhile suffragists of which Mrs. Pollard was the president and Miss Conway Gordon the vice president, opened a club and recreation room for women at 114 High Street, Strood. The laudable objective of the club was to provide some pleasure and cheer for the wives of soldiers and sailors so that their work might be better done while the men were away.

Although the suffragists ceased active campaigning during war for the vote, the women of Rochester never gave up on the cause of promoting the welfare of women, and continually highlighted the important roles fulfilled by women during the war and perhaps more importantly, the contribution they could make in reconstructing the country after the war.

Regular meetings were held throughout the war that attracted eminent speakers on matters pertaining to the role and wellbeing of women – the subject matter of these presentations in Rochester appears to have been focused less on politics and more on the stating and building on the traditional roles of women.

In June 1915 “Mrs Henry Fawcett” (Millicent Fawcett) addressed an enthusiastic meeting, at the Victoria Hall Rochester, of the Rochester Branch of the NUWSS. In the welcoming address Lady Darnley said that “the meeting might almost be called a unique one in Rochester insomuch as there were already women laden with work yet they had come to hear how they might shoulder still greater burdens.” Depending on which news report is read Mrs Fawcett spoke on “What Women can do during the war” or “Thank God, I am a Woman”.

In November 1916 a women’s group invited Laura Ormiston Dibbin Chant a social reformer and writer to Rochester to address them on “Women’s responsibility for child welfare” at a meeting held in the Guildhall.

The focus of women’s meetings in Rochester did move onto politics after the Royal Assent was given in February 1918 to the Representation of the People Act that gave the vote to some women. In July 1918 the inaugural meeting of the Women’s Citizens’ Association for Rochester, Strood and District was held at the Guildhall, Rochester. The meeting was addressed by its President, Mrs. Storrs, wife of the Dean of Rochester. Mrs. Storrs made two suggestions to the attendees. 1 – women should not be afraid to ask questions and to give opinions, and 2, they should be non-party and non-sectarian in their deliberations, and they should meet as sisters bound by the love of God and the Country, to form their own opinions on the matters of the day.

The Women’s Citizens’ Association at the meeting they held just before the Armistice, looked forward to the ending of four years of awful anxiety and sorrow, and a bright and full future. “If the men could do such mighty deeds abroad, then with their new rights and their hearts full of love and pride the women of England could surely do great things for their beloved country.” They foresaw a future where the woman employee could become the woman employer, the artisan woman would meet the commercial woman, the woman who worked with her brains would meet the woman who worked with her hands. The resultant unity, the women believed, would show the State that they recognised their duties and were willing to use them for the good of the Country.

The Association met again on the evening of the Armistice where it was address by Miss Isabel Cleghorn, who had been born in Rochester and was first woman president of the National Union of Teachers. Miss Cleghorn stressed the importance of education in the reconstruction of the country, and although there would be difficulties to come she hoped that women would not act in a way to antagonise the men. I suspect this was more aimed at women who she thought might have been inclined to resume the militancy of the pre-war suffragettes as there appears to be a suggestion in some national news reports that political parties, previous to the war, resisted the women’s campaign because they / the Government could not be seen to capitulate to violent protests.

So how is it possible that Rochester’s women focused more on campaigning for improved services for women, mothers and children and did not become particularly politicised? Perhaps it could be due the the roots of the women’s movement in Medway?

Background to the women’s movements in Medway?

The following is a matter of supposition based on news reports. I therefore offer this section as a ‘starter for 10’. More skilled social scientists may be able to ‘dig deeper’ and find primary sources. However I suspect it could be difficult to find an authentic woman’s voice from the middle of the 19th century as there appears to be few news reports based directly on the views and actions of local women. Women undoubtedly had a voice – but it doesn’t seem to have been widely reported, and may well have to be found private correspondence.

It is possible that Emmeline Pankhurst and Millicent Fawcett visited Rochester and the Medway Towns so regularly because of the ease of getting here from London. However it’s unlikely that they would have visited just because of the ease of the journey – they probably came to Medway because they were sure of a receptive and campaigning audience.

Women would have clearly been behind the challenge to the Contagious Diseases acts 1864, 1866 and 1869, that enabled the authorities to incarcerate, in a Lock Hospital, women in garrison or naval towns, that included Chatham, who were believed to have a venereal disease. A woman who refused to submit herself to the humiliating medical examination – by men – could be assumed to be infected and locked up – but based on a report in The Times this may not have happened to any ‘respectable women’. For about six years the locked wards in Medway were in St. Barts hospital before a ‘specialist’ unit was built in the Chatham/Maidstone Road near to the railway station.

The campaigning for the abolition of the various Contagious Diseases acts brought prominence to the cause of women’s wellbeing and rights. These acts which were widely resented, may well have led to the start of an active feminist movement.

According to a dissertation by Liza Axford held in the Medway Archive’s Centre, Strood, a women’s suffrage society was founded in Medway in 1875. Whether the group formed as a consequence of the Contagious Diseases legislation is unknown. In 1882 Sir John Otway, MP for Rochester, presented a petition to the House of Commons for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act – it seems to me improbable that this would have happened without the ‘invisible’ involvement of local women as the campaign was driven by the National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts that had been set up by women. Parliament suspended the Acts in 1883 and repealed them in 1886.

Women involved in this campaigning would have needed to have been organised and to have established a network of contacts – essential components for a campaign that would lobby for the political enfranchisement of women.

During WW1 women undertook a wide range of caring duties and responsibilities and actively lobbied consistently throughout the war for a maternity centre in Rochester. In 1915 the Women’s Cooperative Guild and Women’s Liberal Association wrote to the Council asking that a maternity centre be provided without delay. In 1916 the lobbyists succeed in getting the Local Government Board to press Rochester Town Council to establish a ‘maternity and child welfare centre’. In June 1917, Mrs S. Packman, a leader of the Rochester Suffragist movement wrote how the Mothers of Rochester envied those of Chatham who were soon to have a maternity centre. Even at the end of the war women’s groups in Rochester lobbied for a crèche at Rochester for munition workers. It may have been a bit late in the day to seek such a facility for munition works but it may have been a rouse to be able to seek a grant to get a maternity centre in Rochester.

It was not though just about maternity centres that the women of Rochester concerned themselves. They organised or supported many events that focused on mothers as a means to reduce infant mortality. In addition to this being an ‘interest’ of the female leaders in Rochester, it was also patriotic as nationally there was a requirement for the country to be re-populated in order to rebuild itself and to continue to assert control over its Empire.


Numerous news reports found on the British Newspaper Archive, and on microfilm held by Medway Archives.


St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, Rochester, 1078 to 1864

The making of a ‘new model hospital’ – with ‘buried treasure’?

I have heard many people mistakingly say that St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, at Rochester, was the oldest hospital in the country. The site could be oldest that has had a hospital on it, but it needs a fair stretch of imagination to accept that there was a functioning hospital on that site prior to the ‘new model’ hospital opening on 10 October 1863. I also suspect some 150 years ago there were folk in Chatham who believed the new hospital was not built on the site of the original 1078 hospital – as that was in Chatham! Further, the ground upon which the new 1863 hospital was built was described as “garden ground on New-road, in the occupation of Mr. J. Hulkes, the whole of which was be covered by the building.”

Nevertheless there is a story to be told. I therefore offer the following as a ‘starter for 10’ in the hope that it may help someone far more able than I to pull together a history of the hospital. In this blog I offer a sequence of events that led to the building of the hospital that we know today as St. Barts. In a later blog I will tell something of its history from 1863 to the creation of the NHS.

Early history

The original St. Bartholomew’s founded by Gundulph, bishop of Rochester in 1078, was a ‘lazer-house’ or ‘lepers house’ that received leprous and other poor persons native to Kent. It would have been built on the edge of the City but close enough and on a route that would enable lepers to beg or trade. The actual design is not known but based on other sites it probably consisted of a group of small cottages close to a chapel – a news report on findings relating to the chapel at St. Barts did refer to the recent demolition of old houses. Reference was made to the removal of houses on the south side of the chapel revealing the original Norman work .

Gundulph endowed the hospital with land that provided an annual income of £13. Its original staffing was a prior, and sisters & brethren from the priory of St. Andrews, that was part of Rochester Cathedral.

Funding has always been a challenge for St. Barts as the rental income realised from its land was insufficient to meet the cost of running the hospital. It was therefore always dependent on grants from the Crown (Henry III, Edward III and Henry IV all made grants) and other persons, and a liberal allowance from the monks of St. Andrew’s Priory.

Before the dissolution of the priory the brethren of St. Bartholomew’s received allowances from the convent, and the oblations of two alters in the cathedral. They also had the privilege of collecting alms from the persons who dined at the bishop’s table on the day of his installation. 

After the dissolution of the Priory of St Andrew the only income the brethren could expect was the rental income that it received from its land – in fact the hospital was so poor it was of no interest to Henry VIII who commandeered most of the hospitals in the kingdom, so he left it in the hands of the Dean & Chapter of Rochester Cathedral. At the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603) it is said the hospital was only occupied by two “impotent persons”. 

The hospital’s financial circumstances improved somewhat when the royal dockyard at Chatham began to establish itself as the value of the land rapidly increased through the necessity of needing to provide accommodation for artisans and others involved in the development and running of the dockyard. By 1849 it was accepted that the income from the hospital land was £3,500 but still insufficient to support the hospital!

Questions were therefore raised as to where that money was going if it wasn’t being used to bring more benefit for the poor in the district. This was regarded by some as a scandalous situation made all the worse by the scandal of the minuscule allowance the Dean & Chapter paid to the poor scholars of the Kings School – but that’s a story for another blog! At the same time there were also serious concerns related to the way in which the trustees of the Watt’s Charity were administering the bequeath of Richard Watts.

In 1849 it was reported that several influential inhabitants of Rochester made a claim to the whole amount due to the hospital with a view to building and maintaining a new hospital for in-door and out-door patients.

Was St. Barts in Rochester or Chatham?

This became an important issue when consideration was being given to how the land endowed to the hospital could be divvied out. Certain deeds described the hospital as being “at or near Rochester” whilst other deeds fixed the hospital as being “in the parish of Chatham”.  In the Charter granted to the City of Rochester by Edward IV the hospital was set as one of the boundaries. Despite numerous court hearing that set St. Bartholomew’s in Rochester, the Rev. S. Arnott at the Court Leet dinner at Chatham, was still supporting, in 1863, the view that the old hospital was in Chatham.

Matters end up in Court

A complex series of events took place between 1849 and 1859 with the Court of Chancery and the Attorney General becoming involved in resolving matters relating to the management of the Watt’s charity, the Dean & Chapter’s management of the Cathedral School and the management of St. Bartholomew’s hospital. Concerns about the mismanagement of these charitable funds became a national scandal – even Dickens in his “Seven Poor Travellers” made mention of concerns about the management of the Watt’s Charity and the poor scholars of the Cathedral School. (As these matters were resolved the Government came to accept some statutory oversight was needed and the foundations were laid for what we know today as the Charity Commission.)

In 1858 the Court of Chancery ordered that St. Bartholomew’s hospital was to be restored and remodelled, and set up new trustees under the management of the Dean of Rochester. It directed that an 80 bed hospital and dispensary was to be built to receive and relieve poor persons of the parishes of Chatham, Frindsbury, Gillingham, Rochester Cathedral precincts, St. Margaret’s and St. Nicholas, in the City of Rochester, and Strood. The Court further directed that the hospital should receive patients with any kind of disease excepting, no parish pauper, no lunatics, no person with small pox, or confirmed consumption, ulcerated legs of long standing or the itch, (this could have been scabies) or any female far advanced in pregnancy except where she had had a severe accident and required surgery. The Court further directed that 30 of the 80 beds should be for the reception and treatment of women infected with a venereal disease in a ‘Lock’ ward, and that the Ministry of War and the Admiralty would share the cost of the building and running of that facility.

The first meeting of the new trustees took place in August 1859. The building had not started –  indeed the land had not yet been acquired from Mr. J. Hulkes  – but the mayor was in receipt of a beautifully executed drawing of the exterior of the building provided by the Attorney General. The design was not very ornamental but provided for two large charity wards for males and females respectively – capable of receiving 40 patients, and some smaller wards for 10 accident patients. The design also made provision for the locked wing that was secured from the rest of the hospital. (More about Locked Wards and how they may have laid the foundations for the local feminist movement in the Towns, in a future blog.) The most prominent feature of the hospital was the tower of four floors that housed two slate water tanks that together were capable of holding 1,500 gallons.

The building cost was put at £7,000 or which £4,000 was to come from the Watt’s charity and £3,000 from the hospital’s estates. The Government supplemented this amount with a large grant for the construction of the Lock ward. It was expected that the revenue funding would come from the hospital estates, £1,000 from the Watt’s charity, £750 from the war office, and that the Admiralty would pay £25 for each bed provided for a Lock patient.

The invitation to tender was issued in January 1861 for the building, on ground near New Road in the parishes of St. Margaret’s and Chatham, a dispensary and hospital comprising wards for 80 patients, with “apartments for Officers and Servants of the establishment”. (No mention was made on any existing hospital buildings.)

By April 1861 it was reported that Mr Stump, the winning contractor, had made great progress but it was not until August that the Foundation Stone was eventually laid. It had been hoped that HRH Prince Consort would perform the ceremony but this was not possible so HRH the Prince of Wales was invited but he was unable to attend because of his military duties in Ireland. So as not to delay progress, as it was hoped to open the hospital in early 1862, it was decided to hold a private ceremony.

Laying of the Foundation Stone – celebrated by dignitaries and workers alike.

The foundation stone was placed to the right of the entrance. Beneath the commemoration stone was placed a sealed leaden box containing the inscription written on vellum, that was read out at the ceremony, and one each of the current coins of the realm.

To the glory of God, and in honour of St. Bartholomew the Apostle, this stone commemorating the building of this Hospital, and the resurrection of the Charity founded by Bishop Gundulph, 1078, was laid by Thomas Hermitage Day Esq., one of the brethren on behalf of the Patron, Brethren and Trustees of the Hospital.”

After the ceremony the trustees repaired to the Deanery where an elegant luncheon was prepared for them and other dignitaries. In the afternoon a substantial dinner was provided for about 90 workman who were employed on the building of the hospital. After their dinner they indulged in various outdoor amusements on the greensward until dusk. They then returned to the house and were regaled with punch etc. ad libitum, provided by the same liberal hands which supplied the dinner.  After enthusiastically drinking the health of the Trustees the men departed to their own home – highly gratified with the day’s proceedings.

The hospital opens

The hospital opened on the 10th October 1863 with no pomp other than it was opened for public inspection on the 9th. The Trustees wished it to be known that their funds were not in a “flourishing condition” and they had been compelled to borrow £1,500 to complete the hospital. They also believed that the hospital’s annual income would not become sufficient for some years, and not until regeneration of the Towns improved land values and in turn, rental income. Until that time the hospital trustees pressed hard to recruit more subscribers and requested gifts of old linen or cotton to be sent to the matron.

Hospital staffing

Staff on the opening of the hospital comprised of a consulting physician, consulting surgeon and an honorary dentist who provided their services gratuitously, others received an annual salary – bracketed. 

Chaplain (£150) 

Surgeon (£120)

Dispenser (£60) 

Steward (£50) 

Matron (£30, aged between 30 & 50, with experience in the management of a hospital for the sick)

Nurses – female x 7. (£12 / annum aged between 25 & 50 and accustomed to nursing)

Porter (£15, unmarried aged between 35 and 55)

Cook – female (£16)

Laundress (£16), 

Housemaid (£12), 

Under housemaid (£8) and a 

Scullery maid (£8).

Gaining admission to St. Bartholomew’s for treatment

As was the case with all hospitals patients who had had a recent accident were admitted at once without recommendation. In other cases the applicants had to be recommended for admission by one of the following:

A trustee, a medical officer, the Dean or Canons of Rochester, clergyman of Parish churches, Trustees of Watt’s charity, or a subscriber to the funds of the hospital. As a rule no patient was to be permitted to remain more than two months – although cases would be considered on their merit. 

Out patients could be prescribed everyday but Sunday. The Watt’s Trustees could nominate no more than 20 in-patients or outpatients. In order to recruit more regular donors and to encourage larger subscriptions, a donor could nominate one in-patient and two outpatients for every guinea they subscribed. If a Trustee wished to nominate someone for admission they were required to become a subscriber. (This probably dealt with the concern at the root of the earlier scandals that trustees in the past had managed charities for their own best interests.)

Within a week of opening seven women were admitted to the Locked wards from the Medway Union which previously provided those wards.

Weekly admission figures were published in the press:

Beginning of November: 

33 general patients, and 15 women in the Locked ward. 152 out-patients treated.

Beginning of December: 

44 general patients, and 16 women in the Locked ward. 245 out-patients treated.

To be continued …… the story of a hospital that was to become a truly modern hospital of its time.


South Eastern Gazette – 29 June 1852

Maidstone Journal and Kentish Advertiser – 4 October 1853

West Kent Guardian – Saturday 31 March 1855

Maidstone Journal and Kentish Advertiser – 8 May 1855

Maidstone Journal and Kentish Advertiser – 18 September 1855

South Eastern Gazette – 2 August 1859

South Eastern Gazette – 30 August 1859

South Eastern Gazette – 29 January 1861

South Eastern Gazette – 16 April 1861

Kentish Gazette – 27 August 1861

Maidstone Journal and Kentish Advertiser – 27 August 1861

South Eastern Gazette – 4 February 1862

South Eastern Gazette – 25 March 1862

Kentish Gazette – 30 September 1862

Chatham News – 24 January 1863.

Chatham News – 21 February 1863

Chatham News – 30 May 1863

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette – 16 July 1863

Chatham News – 19 September 1863

Chatham News – 26 September 1863

Chatham News – 3 October 1863

Dover Express – 10 October 1863

Chatham News – 17 October 1863

Chatham News – 31 October 1863

Chatham News – December 1863

Chatham News – 19 December 1863

John Bull – Saturday 18 October 1873

Nature has it sorted!

A symbiotic relationship between the fallow deer and the jackdaws living in Knole Park, Sevenoaks. The following video was taken in April. Not exactly professional as it was opportunistic ‘filming’ on a small pocket camera. It however shows you what to look out for. 

The video shows jackdaws ‘helping’ the deer loose some of their winter coat by collecting it to line their nests. 

Jackdaws nest in cavities such as holes in trees and buildings. Their nests are made of twigs – not the most cosy of materials but made more comfy with a lining of fur. Around this time you can also see the Jackdaws collecting twigs. Sit quietly and see where they fly to – this may help you locate their nest but it will almost certainly be to high to reach. The following picture is of a jackdaw nest in the hollow of a tree found in Knole Park.

jackdaw nest

In the following picture of the Jackdaw note the bright blue eyes – much brighter in life. The thought is that the eyes will be very visible and scary in the dark of a hollow and will scare off any predator wanting to steal the jackdaw’s eggs or young.


Jackdaws form stable relationships – a pair can stay together for years – even if they don’t have young.

Rochester MP’s campaign ends flogging in the British Army

In 1880 the principled opposition of Arthur Otway, MP for Rochester, brings flogging in the British Army to an end.

Arthur Otway was the MP for Rochester from 1878 to 1885, and before that Chatham from 1865 to 1874. He was extremely popular and fought a long and at times a seemingly hopeless battle, to abolish the use of the lash in the British army. The ending of flogging did not result in the collapse of military discipline – rather the opposite as within two years of flogging being abolished the army was able to close the Fort Clarence military prison!

What follows is perhaps a moralistic tale that demonstrates how the ‘carrot’ was more effective that the ‘stick’ (lash) when it comes to expecting and realising the best of people.

Although considerably ‘sanitised’ compared with the detail conveyed in the press at the time, some readers my find some aspects of the following upsetting.

Continue reading “Rochester MP’s campaign ends flogging in the British Army”

Rochester women knew how to deal with a sexual predator!

August 1838 saw an extraordinary riot in Rochester by a mob comprised of an estimated thousand respectable persons, principally women, intent on executing summary vengeance on the bigamist John Alexander Willmett (jnr), the son of a local solicitor of the same name.

This is a true story – the stuff of Dickens – or for writers seeking a plot for a novel concerning the ‘exploitation of an innocent maiden by a villain who gets his comeuppance’.

But this is real-life and although the villain got his comeuppance it would not have reversed the damage suffered by his victim who was had her happiness destroyed, and perhaps her life ruined.

Continue reading “Rochester women knew how to deal with a sexual predator!”

Three men with Rochester connections who ‘helped’ Britannia Rule the Waves.

And the ‘story’ of the ‘missing’ portrait.

Visit the Guildhall Museum in Rochester and you will see portraits of two of the three men, Sir Joseph Williamson and Sir Cloudesley Shovell, but not the third, Mr. John Byng – the reason for this will become clear.

Rochester until 1885 was represented in Parliament by two MPs. Owing to the proximity of Chatham dockyard and the Admiralty being the largest employer at Rochester, the Admiralty often nominated both men to represent Rochester – one of whom was always an admiral. Sir Joseph Williamson, Sir Cloudesley Shovel and John Byng were all Navy nominations. Elections at this time bore little resemblance to those of today. The ‘nominated’ men were at this time elected by an electorate of probably no more than 600 freemen of Rochester – many of whom could have had trade connections with the Navy.

The contribution made by these three men in making the British Navy so effective had little to do with their roles as MPs – their contributions, that I will be considering, were made postmortem!

Continue reading “Three men with Rochester connections who ‘helped’ Britannia Rule the Waves.”

An amazing story of a first and lasting love.

Did a Rochester marriage help reform a slave trader?

Marriage Announcement

12 February 1750 – Mr & Mrs George & Elizabeth Catlett are pleased to announce the marriage of their daughter Mary (Polly) Catlett, of Chatham, to Mr. John Newton – an adventurer, naval deserter, slave trader and an incurable romantic. The couple married at St. Margaret’s Church, Rochester, on February 1st. 1750.

John Newton wrote the words to the hymn Amazing Grace.

Continue reading “An amazing story of a first and lasting love.”

Rochester’s ‘Chamber of Horrors’ – 1938

Exhibition of ‘Tools of Torture and Punishment’ and the barbaric execution of the Bishop of Rochester’s Cook – by boiling.

Eastgate House closed as a museum in 2004. For many years previous it fulfilled the role of the City of Rochester’s museum. Just as today, the museum put on special exhibitions. One that attracted the interest of the Press, back in 1938, was the ‘Chamber of Horrors’ that it curated in the cellar. The exhibition though was not open to the wider public as admission was restricted to “members of the council and privileged persons”. Continue reading “Rochester’s ‘Chamber of Horrors’ – 1938”

A New Year ‘Love Story’ that started in Rochester?

The less familiar ‘Love Story’ between Anne of Cleaves and Henry VIII – that began in Rochester over the New Year 1539/1540.

Fake News? Some dramatists and storytellers like to portray the relationship between Anne of Cleves and Henry VIII as a disaster. Certainly their relationship had a very rocky start – but once divorced Henry heaped gifts upon her, titled her “the King’s Beloved Sister”, used her as a confidant – and they may even have become lovers. The fact that Henry decided to have investigated one of the rumours that Anne was pregnant by him suggests Continue reading “A New Year ‘Love Story’ that started in Rochester?”

1951 – Death of 24 Cadets in Dock Road, Gillingham

Bishop of Rochester denounces the idol of speed on the road.

Hopefully reader you will understand why I decided to blog on this subject at what should be a time of happiness, when you realise that as a walking-rambler (as opposed to a verbal-rambler) I frequently have to dive into hedges to avoid speeding traffic – including buses with projecting wing mirrors.

Continue reading “1951 – Death of 24 Cadets in Dock Road, Gillingham”

Body of executed boy given to Rochester surgeons

(Detail from the image by William Hogarth – The Four stages of Cruelty : The Reward for Cruelty, 1751)
In 1831 between 8,000 and 9,000 people – mostly members of the fair sex and fashionably dressed – gathered outside Maidstone Prison to witness the hanging of 14 year old John Amy Bell. He had pleaded guilty to murdering Richard Taylor (13) just outside Rochester.

Continue reading “Body of executed boy given to Rochester surgeons”

Rochester’s House of Correction

Rochester’s lock-up for the lewd and disorderly! 

The Six Poor Travellers – ME1 1LX

The next time you walk past the Six Poor Travellers in Rochester, High Street, look to the ground and to the right of the door as you face it. You will see the ‘grill’ to a cellar. Pause a while reflect of what you may have heard had you been standing there, say, 250 years ago.  The cellar was used to house prisoners and to administer whippings to those so sentenced. 
The story of the Six Poor Travellers will be told at another time – but it was not always used to provide a night of free accommodation for travellers. Over its time it has been an orphanage and a House of Correction – it is this last function that is the subject of this blog.

Continue reading “Rochester’s House of Correction”

Pre-Raphaelites in Knole Park

The Pre-Raphaelite’s “Trip to the Forest” – Knole Park, Sevenoaks, 1850.

But where in the park did the artists position themselves?

In the autumn of 1850 William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, visited Knole Park referring to their visit as the ‘trip to the forest’. Here they painted the backgrounds of two pictures: ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona, Valentine Rescuing Sylvia from Proteus’ (Holman Hunt), and ‘The Bower Garden, with angels playing psalteries in a paradisiacal garden’ (Dante Gabriel Rossetti). Continue reading “Pre-Raphaelites in Knole Park”

Rochester’s fire service gets a motor fire engine

Just over 100 years ago – and somewhat later than its neighbours – Rochester’s fire brigade acquired its first powered fire engine – and breaks it!

On display in the Guildhall Museum is Rochester’s first fire-pump from around 1741. Prior to its acquisition Rochester, like so many other places, needed to rely on buckets of water to fight the ever-present threat of fire that destroyed lives, homes and livelihoods. Continue reading “Rochester’s fire service gets a motor fire engine”

Early balloon flights from Rochester

Coal-gas balloon flights from Rochester!

The invention of the balloon was a technical and theatrical marvel of the 19th Century; balloons wherever they were inflated or exhibited, drew huge crowds.

Rochester was well placed to be on the balloonist’s circuit because it had a gasworks . Early gas-filled balloons were inflated with hydrogen that was both expensive and difficult to transport, but this was soon replaced with coal/town gas that was more readily available and was, so to speak, ‘on tap’. Continue reading “Early balloon flights from Rochester”

Ghost of Rochester

OMG – he’s accidentally shot his fiancé!

This is a type of ‘West Side This story’ plot that occurred around 750 years at Rochester. It is a story of two men from warring ‘gangs’ who desired the love of one women, and that tragically ends with the death of a pretty young woman – Lady Blanche Warrene – and one of her suitors. Continue reading “Ghost of Rochester”

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