Crimean relic that guards the river

Rochester Castle Gardens retained its military air well after its battle days were over.

The castle was subjected to three sieges in the Middle Ages, including one by King John, English history’s pantomime baddie, in 1215.

It stood, in a mostly ruinous state, guarding the Medway until acquired by Rochester Corporation in the 1870s. Under council ownership it soon acquired three military monuments. Only one is there still — a cannon that overlooks the bridge.

Generations of small boys, me included, clambered over it and still have the gravel rash scars on knees to attest to our fall from its slippery barrel.

This gun was captured in the Crimean war and presented to the city in 1859. It was originally put by the Guildhall, then placed outside the victualling office, near the Guildhall. It was then lent to the 1st Kent Artillery volunteers (Gillingham battery), in whose care it remained for the next 30 years.

Rochester Corporation requested its return and in 1897 the cannon went on show in the Castle Gardens, in the middle of the main path before being moved to the top of the steps, overlooking the Medway.

The inscription, now gone, read: This cannon, captured from the Russians, during the Crimean War, was given to the city in 1856 [by] Jesse Thomas Esq, then mayor; it was actually received in 1859 [by] William Manclark, then mayor. For many years it remained in the custody of the 1st Kent Artillery Volunteers and was handed back to the corporation in 1897, Sir William Webb Hayward, then mayor.

A First World War gun and tank also stood in the gardens as memorials to that terrible conflict. They vanished, presumably for scrap, before the Second World War. The gun — I have no idea what type it is, but I’m sure an expert reading this can provide an answer — stood near the main path by the bandstand.

My thanks for this photograph go to Mr Reg Button, from Rainham. Mr Button, a keen deltiologist, can just about remember the gun from just before the war. This picture was taken in the late 1920s or early 1930s, judging from the cloche hats worn by the girls.

Also scrapped was the tank that stood near the gates that lead to Epaul Lane. This charming photograph was supplied by Mrs Betty Boroughs, from Rochester. That’s her on the right, with her brother, and was taken, I guess, in the late 1930s.

By all accounts, both of these retired machines of death made an ideal, if somewhat dangerous, plaything for young citizens.

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