Rochester : Toponymy And Settlement
A further problem is posed by site toponymy. Petty Knowes, Hillock, Dykehead and Nether Rochester (i.e. Low Rochester) all figure in the late 17th century registers, as noted above, as well as Rochester itself. This enables the population of the surrounding farmsteads to be distinguished from that of the High Rochester. 'Rochester' still denotes the hamlet in the fort in the registers for the period 1670-1730, but the placename was also be used in a broader sense in documents such as freeholder lists to designate the settlement as a whole, embracing particularly Nether/Low Rochester and Petty Knowes as well as High Rochester itself.
This trend increased as the 18th century progressed and is marked the appearance of the parallel site-names of High and Low Rochester, the latter supplanting Nether Rochester in the registers. High Rochester is first mentioned in the parish records in 1776, when John Murray of Petty Knowes married Jane Main of High Rochester (EPR, 197) and Margaret, daughter of Joseph and Hannah Corbit of that place, was baptised (EPR, 152). However 'H. Rychester' is marked on Horsley & Cay's map of Northumberland of 1753.
Low Rochester appears in the parish records in 1777, when the same Margaret, whose parents had by now moved down the hillside, was buried (EPR, 214). The case of Margaret Corbit illustrates the problems involved in using the parish registers for this period. All other references to Joseph and Hannah before and after 1776-1777 simply record their domicile as Rochester and it is clear that that placename was now being used indifferently to cover both the upper and lower settlements. Indeed Rochester remains by far a more common designation than either High or Low Rochester.
These changes in toponymy are not simply of antiquarian interest for they probably signify that there was no longer a single focus to the site - Rochester proper - there being instead two settlements - High and Low - of broadly similar size. This shift was probably caused by a drift of population southward towards the road bringing the two settlements roughly into balance. The new pattern was witnessed by Bishop Pococke in 1760 (1914, 228), who describes Rochester as two or three hamlets and implys that some of the buildings within the fort were in a state of decay: "there are modern ruins in (the fort)". The southward movement gathered even greater force in 19th century after the completion of the turnpike in 1841 (Lawson 1971, 204-207) to the extent that Rochester now denotes the roadside village and it is High Rochester which is the outlying settlement.