When our city brimmed with civic pride

Do you have civic pride? I’m sure you do. Here’s a book that positively sparkles with pride. It’s mine. My parents bought it in 1961 when Rochester was celebrating 500 years of the mayoralty.

I remember it well. Our headmaster, Mr Geater, spoke to we infants at St Matthew’s, Borstal, about the city’s history, why it was important and why we should grow up to be good citizens. How many head teachers would do that now?

Of course, a cynic would say that it was all pretty pompous and just an excuse for a bunfight among the mayor and corporation – a pretty fine bunch of fat cats, to judge by their photographs in the front.

The mayor then was Jack Phillips, later governor of my old school, the Math. He looks the very model of the modern politician, 1961 style. Other names include F Corry, CHR Skipper, LED Darley (a man about whom I have heard nothing nice said), GA Tickner and, of course, the town clerk PH Bartlett.

Bartlett speaks passionately about why Rochester is important in history and the present and why it has the honour of being a city. It makes my blood boil that one of his successors, a chief executive of Medway Council, managed to lose Rochester’s city status.

Companies shout their city connections in 1961

Aren’t the advertisements superb? The best of the handful featured here must be for the Esplanade engineering factory CAV. It was in the shadow (just about) of the castle and was honoured to say so. Linking fuel injection equipment with a Norman fortification took quite a leap of faith, but it works.

Leonards was also proud, with its brick crown perched above a fine piece of typography. I can barely recall going into this Rochester High Street department store and remember it better as in interminable hole in the ground opposite the old Math School after its demolition in the late 1960s. But it looks wonderful. Why don’t we have stores like that now? Harwoods in Strood and on the Rochester-Chatham borders was similarly luxurious but trendier.

An undistinguished visit

Shortly after writing the above piece, I went over to Rochester and immediately found a distinct lack of pride. I was meeting Nick Wells, a former Chatham News reporter now living in Australia and back to see the old country.

We decided to meet in the old News pub (name removed to protect the guilty but it wasn’t the Rose & Crown, Von Alten or Ship). As I walked into the door, scenting filthy carpets, Nick bundled me out of the door. “They don’t have any beer!” he exclaimed.

We repaired to a nearby inn and started chatting. We were the only two customers, so the barmaids turned the jukebox well above conversation level. Beer unfinished, we then left Rochester.

Or perhaps you think I am being unfair? Comment below.

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One Response to When our city brimmed with civic pride

  1. Your article is close to home in more ways than one. I too went to St Matthew’s in Borstal and later to Rochester Math, my father and aunt worked at the CAV factory highlighted in your book review.

    This weekend I shall be revisiting parts of the Medway towns, laying some flowers on a family grave, probably taking a stroll in the castle grounds and then going to the Priestfield stadium hoping to see GFC revive its flagging promotion campaign. All of this will be done with something of a heavy heart, looking around at the state of the towns they have lost all sense of identity, consumed by the generic Medway descriptor and lacking any vibrancy or colour.

    Happy memories are there but little else I’m afraid.

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