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
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.
The naval presence on the River Medway led to the expansion of Chatham from a village to a town.
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.
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.
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.
The pub appears to have acquired its present name by the end of the 18th century.
The Inn is considered one of the earliest LGBTQ+ venues in the country. Since the 1970s, the pub has been a home for the 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.
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.
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.
It was originally a pair of semi-detached cottages and was probably built in the late 18th or early 19th century.
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.
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 in 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 an eclectic style combining Romanesque and Byzantine elements.
To the south of the synagogue is a Jewish burial ground, in use from the 18th century.
The burial ground’s proximity of the cemetery to the synagogue is extremely rare, since the two are normally completely separate. The Chatham site is thought to be the only one in Britain to have a synagogue and adjacent cemetery, with both elements pre-dating the 20th century.
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. It is now seen through the glazing of the annexe which replaced the minister’s house around 1970.
Opposite the synagogue stands the Ship Inn and in 2021 the synagogue and pub were linked through an event of shared remembrance of marginalisation and persecution called ‘Closer Than You Think’.
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.