Rochester : Early Modern Resettlement
The earliest certain reference to a settlement at Rochester occurs in the schedule for the day and night watches of Redesdale, which is incorporated in the 1552 Border Survey conducted by John Dudley, Earl of Northumberland, and Lord Dacre, (cf. Hodgson 1827, 71). The inhabitants of Birdhope and 'Richester' were to furnish two men to mount the day-watch on 'Berehope-law' under the direction of Clement Hall and Matthew Cookson. On the night watch Birdhope and 'Ratchester', Horsley and the Stobbs, Allshaugh and the Spitelhaugh were to watch the street of Acamside Moor and Pringlehaugh, providing a total of four men.
The setters and searchers for this duty were Clement Hall, again, and Thomas Anderson of Birdhope. 'Richester' and 'Ratchester' should clearly both be identified with Rochester, particularly as they occur in conjunction with Birdhope. Although Clement Hall himself was probably a resident of Birdhope (perhaps the father of George Hall in the Border survey, cf. 1604 Survey, 94), the Halls also formed the inhabitants of Rochester when more detailed records become available early in the following century. Hodgson (1827, 70) noted that the Halls were the senior clan of Redesdale. Even at this date Rochester, along with Birdhope, Woolaw and Evistones still represented the uppermost limit of settlement in the valley.
Rochester appears on Saxton's map of 1576 and subsequently on Speed's maps of 1611 and 1623. Harrison's geographical description of Redesdale in 1577 also includes mention of the site (1586, 90; cf. Hodgson 1827, 161).
In 1546 the manor of Harbottle including Redesdale had been absorbed into the crown on the recommendation of Sir Robert Bowes, to improve Border security and exert greater control over the lawless district (Hodgson 1827, 66-67). A subsequent survey of crown property and that of other principal proprietors, compiled in 1568 by Lawson the Queen's feodary in Northumberland (cf. Hodgson 1827, 75; 1835, lxi), includes mention of a site called 'Whitchester'. It is sandwiched in the following sequence of royal possessions in Redesdale:
Elishaw, Stobbs, Whitchester, Evistones, Kellyburn, Rattenraw, etc, exactly where one would expect to encounter Rochester. It seems reasonable therefore to correct Whitchester to 'Ritchester' and equate it with Rochester, bearing in mind the ways in which the place-name is spelt in the 1552 schedule. The list does not mention any site in the valley above Rochester, again suggesting that Rochester stood on the high-tide mark of permanent occupation at that stage.
An upland settlement like this, so far up Redesdale and close to the Border, was obviously vulnerable to raiding despite the watch arrangements noted above. In 1581 the inhabitants of Rochester lodged a complaint with the Queen's commission, against the Elliots of Liddesdale, declaring that the latter had raided the settlement on several occasions "taking 180 kye and oxen, gotes, sheep and household stuff, so that the town has laid waste for five years" (Hedley NRO 542.19: Rochester; Charlton 1986; Mitford 1989, 41).
Habitation gradually advanced, however, and Rochester had become less isolated by the start of the 17th century. In the Border Survey of 1604 the settlements of Bellshield, Birdhopecraig and Sills are listed above Rochester, as well as Birdhope and Woolaw mentioned by earlier sources (1604 Survey, 82, 94).
Recognition of the site's historical importance also began around this time, with a visit by the intrepid Bainbrigg in 1601, his notes subsequently forming the basis of Camden's account in the 1607 edition of Britannia.
Picture: Rochester Bastle