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Between Chatham and Rochester: the Story of Intra High Street in 6 Places

With its development linked to the growth of the Royal Dockyard, Chatham Intra High Street has a wealth of fascinating historic buildings.

Chatham Intra is the name given to an area along the River Medway that links the historic settlements of Chatham and Rochester in Kent.

Into Rochester or Chatham… because if anybody knows to a nicety where Rochester ends and Chatham begins is more than I do!

Charles Dickens, ‘The Seven Poor Travellers’, 1854.
A black and white aerial photograph of a coastal town with a long street between the buildings.
An aerial photograph from 1920 showing the road (now the high street) connecting Chatham and Rochester in Kent. © Historic England Archive EPW000453.

Here are some of the key sites in and around the area.

1. The Royal Dockyard, Chatham

Chatham Intra’s development is closely tied to establishing a Royal Dockyard at Chatham from the 16th century onwards.

A photograph of a wide river with a dockyard on the far side.
View looking across the River Medway to Chatham dockyard. © Historic England Archive DP187773.

The naval presence on the River Medway led to the expansion of Chatham from a village to a town.

A 17th century painting of several stylised ships on a river alongside a stylised coastal town.
The Medway River from Chatham towards Rochester, painted around 1675. The river is populated with vessels probably related to the Chatham dockyards. © National Maritime Museum.

The River Medway soon became the favoured site for repairing and servicing English naval ships during the winter.

The dockyard expanded in the 17th century and, by the 18th century, was Chatham’s primary employer.

2. Former Brewery, Hulkes Lane, Rochester

The area between the high street and river was once private gardens and wharves before industrial use took over, including boat repair, coal distribution, brewing and manufacturing.

Brewing was established in Chatham Intra by the 17th century, and the complex of buildings on Hulkes Lane tells the story of changing industry in the area.

A photograph of a small, single storey, 19th century corner building. Over the entrance is the name ‘LION BREWERY’.
The brewery office building, Hulkes Lane, Rochester, Kent. © Historic England Archive DP289326.

In the 18th century, the site was leased by brewer Isaac Wildash and his son John, who later went into business with Thomas Hulkes, who took it over in 1795.

In 1877, the brewery and its adjoining mansion house were sold to Charles Arkcoll & Co., who renamed it the Lion Brewery. Brewing ceased on the site in 1912.

After various commercial uses, the former brewery was leased by the furniture removal business Curtiss and Sons, whose painted signage survives on the wall of one of the buildings.

A photograph of a tall yellow brick building with painted ground floor.
The brewery building on Hulkes Lane, Rochester, Kent. © Historic England Archive DP289328.

By the inter-war years, the brewery complex had been sub-let to the Featherstone family, who operated a department store in the area for much of the 20th century.

3. The Ship Inn, Rochester

The brewery on Hulkes Lane relied upon connected public houses to sell its products throughout its working life. One of these was the Ship Inn.

A photograph of a 2 storey, 18th century public house painted white and red.
The Ship Inn, Rochester, Kent. © Historic England Archive DP289317.

The pub appears to have acquired its present name by the end of the 18th century.

Since the 1970s, the Ship’s Inn has been a home for the LGBTQ+ community after landlord Don Rose offered a room for the Medway Gay Switchboard to operate from. Keys were also given to locals who found themselves in need of refuge.

Over the years, the pub has welcomed the likes of Barbara Windsor, Jo Brand, Tom Robinson and Doris Troy.

4. Chatham House, Rochester

Chatham House is a building dating from the 18th century.

A photograph of a 3 storey, 18th century painted brick mansion.
Chatham House in 2021, before restoration. © Historic England Archive DP289321.

It was constructed as a substantial and prestigious residence for the owner of the adjoining brewery on Hulkes Lane, which it fronted. It remained in use as a house until the early 20th century.

A black and white photograph of an 18th century mansion with a shopfront extension.
Chatham House in 1962 with the Featherstones’s Ltd shopfront extension. © Historic England Archive KWG01/BF476.

In the inter-war years it was converted into the furniture department of Featherstone’s multi-sited department store and given a front-shop extension in 1936 that was demolished in 2003.

5. The Cottage, Cooks Wharf, Rochester

Some of the alleys that ran off the high street contained modest houses. One rare survivor is the building now known as the Cottage.

A photograph of a 2 storey, 19th century red brick semi-detached pair of cottages, seen from the rear.
The Cottage, Cooks Wharf, Rochester, Kent. © Historic England Archive DP289314.

It was originally a pair of semi-detached cottages and was probably built in the late 18th or early 19th century.

An early 20th century sepia photograph of adults and children standing and sitting outside terraced cottages.
The North end of Ship Lane around 1900. We think the tall chimney in the top-right corner might be the chimney of the Cottage. Photo via Medway Archives.

The good-quality brick construction marks the Cottage as a slightly higher-status dwelling than the more usual timber houses, such as the row on Ship Lane, shown above.

6. The Chatham Memorial Synagogue and burial ground, Rochester

A Jewish community in Rochester can be traced to 1087, but references cease after 1290 when Jews were expelled from England on the orders of King Edward I until readmission in the 17th century.

A photograph of a 19th century, Byzantine-style stone synagogue seen through tree branches.
Chatham Memorial Synagogue, High Street, Rochester, Kent. © Historic England Archive DP289273.

By the 18th century, Chatham had an established Jewish community. Their presence in the area was mentioned in the writings of Charles Dickens and James Grant, although often in antisemitic terms.

There was a synagogue on this site from the 1770s. The present building, Chatham Memorial Synagogue, began construction in 1865 and was opened around 1870.

It was built by local merchant Simon Magnus as a memorial to his only son, Captain Lazarus Simon Magnus, who died in 1865 at the age of 39. The building was designed by the architect Hyman Henry Collins in the Byzantine style.

To the south of the synagogue is a Jewish burial ground, thought to have been in use from the 18th century.

A photograph of a burial ground with several large tombstones and monuments.
The Jewish burial ground in Chatham Intra. Photo courtesy of Joanna Smith.

The cemetery may be unique in England because Jewish custom usually requires separating a synagogue and a burial ground. 

Lazarus’ tomb is a focal point in the burial ground and there is a condition in the synagogue’s deed of trust that it must always be visible from the road.

Chatham Intra is Where we Meet

In Summer 2022, musicians Thomas Harvey and Dani Osoba worked with Trinity School to write and compose a brand-new song about the High Street in Chatham Intra.

‘Chatham Intra is Where we Meet’ was born out of workshops between the musicians and members of the local community, celebrating icons of Chatham’s history, including the Ship Inn, the Sun Pier and the dockyard.

Chatham Intra High Street Heritage Action Zone
Our High Street Heritage Action Zone hopes to help the area become a cultural and creative hub with a rich mix of artists, creatives and makers occupying under-used historic buildings that are currently in need of refurbishment and conversion.

9 comments on “Between Chatham and Rochester: the Story of Intra High Street in 6 Places

  1. artculturetourism

    Fascinating and beautiful! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Very interesting tale of highways and byways. I personally am a lover of old chimney shots and was trying to work out where the lovely old cottage was. I do enjoy to sea sailing ships in harbour………so romantic a view. Then a piece of Art on the River Seven in the 1600s. Enjoyed this very much even the position of the jewish cemetery so very close ……i didnt realise the Lazarus was so important to the Jewish faith so off to search and more reading. I really love this site. It gives me things to search, to read about and more important to think about. BRAVO

    • You can find more information in a book Foreigners, Aliens, Citizens – Medway and its Jewish community, 1066-1939

  3. Very interesting study thanks for binging to our attention,

  4. Fascinating history. Well written article. Surprised Bill Rothschild wouldn’t take an interest in the areas.

  5. BrianBowman

    Wonderful article on one of my favorite subjects.

  6. Learnt loads from this post and I’ve been a Medway resident all my life. What a wonderful read, thanks

    • Maggie Major

      A fascinating item, I have often walked the same route and photographed these old buildings but didn’t know their history. I’ve always lived in Medway and love the old architecture, thank you.

  7. Michael Keane

    I have lived here all my life and I still don’t know where Rochester and Chatham high street begin.would be lovely if the high street was restored to its former glory as I have lovely memories from when I was a kid walking along the high street

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