Common by name, common by nature. Corporation Street in Rochester was formed from an ancient area known as The Common — a slum area where animals had been kept on their journey to the market.
It was a pretty grubby place and would have featured all the leisure activities (vices, the Victorians would have said) connected with poverty and river work, not unlike the Brook in Chatham.
Many of the older buildings were swept away in 1903 as part of a road-widening scheme that aligned roads towards the increasingly busy Rochester Bridge. Hundreds of houses were also demolished on the north side of the railway line, now being redeveloped as part of the giant Riverside project
Corporation Street widened again in the early 1970s, which involved more demolition, including two pubs — the Rochester Castle, near the former Chambers’ bike shop — and the Red Lion at Star Hill.
But back to 1903. Among the homes demolished then were a number of wooden cottages on the site of what became the Lower Yard of the Mathematical School. They were not far from that barred gate just along from the round tower in what is now the Free School Lane car park.
These slums) in would have been nicely renovated nowadays. Less likely for a facelift was the decrepit Salutation Inn (and I think we know what sort of salutation you would have got in there), which looks as though it would have tumbled with a simple shove.
I was prompted to about the Rochester Castle after an email from Alan Carson, of Borstal. He wanted to find more details because his parents Peter and Rene ran it in the 1970s and were the last licensees. Mr Carson describes it: “Just by the George Vaults pub in the High Street there is an alley through to Corporation Street. Our pub was at the end of that alley.”
Nor was it a particularly salubrious drinking-place. Mr Carson, who lives in Borstal, adds: “The pub was owned by the brewer Ind Coope [now part of Allied Breweries]. The main trade was from the nearby Honigs Wharf and some visiting cargo ships from Europe.
“Friday was our busiest day because of the market just over the road. The pub realistically was not really a good business for my parents because of where it was —— if I was honest about it, it would not be a place where I would want to have a pint. Because it was near the docks it would attract a certain kind of individual.”
A club for the better type of drinking class
Nearby was a pub called the Old Parr’s Head. In Old Parr’s Lane, actually. You can just see what’s left of the lane near the back of Rochester Guildhall. It originally stretched past to the north side of the railway.
I found this interesting picture of the pub in CityArk’s excellent archive. I wonder what’s going on? It’s all rather cooped up. There appears to be a horse driver in the foreground. Perhaps he’s waiting to take the crowd on an outing.
Note the huge stone figure at the front. That’s Old Parr (I expect you guessed that): Thomas Parr, a Shropshire lad, who died in 1635 at the reputed age of 152. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.
Les Beaney, of Wilson Avenue, Rochester, wrote in: “My research shows that the Old Parr’s Head was known as ‘the club’ for better-class citizens and was demolished in 1890 to make way for the railway extension.”
And what of the stone head? It rests at Rochester Museum, although not on show. The ever-helpful assistant curator, Steve Nye, says: “The stone Old Parr, about 800mm [2ft 6in] high, was given in June, 1908, by Mr William Ball. We also have a carved wooden plaque about 300mm high from the inside of the pub, given in March, 1906, by Edwin Harris.”
Lesley Taylor commented in 2013: “William Ball was my GG Grandfather. Do we know how he came by the stone head? Was he the owner of the pub or one of the better class of clientèle?
“Do you know any more about William Ball or where I may find out more? I should be pleased to know more about William Ball. I know that his family had something to do with chalk mining in the area. What an amazing age Thomas Parr achieved – is this a legend or a fact that he reached such a great age I wonder?”
Let me know on Steve@MedwayMemories.co.uk