The settlement at Rochester gave its name to the ward of the parish of Elsdon and was of considerable antiquity. The earliest settlement was in and around the Roman fort of Bremenium, the remains of which are located to the east of the Turnpike road on high ground overlooking the Sills Burn. This settlement was, and is, referred to as High Rochester and has already been the subject of a detailed survey (Rushworth 1996). This survey also gives considerable evidence about the rest of the village.
The remainder of the village grew up in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries along the Turnpike road. The first buildings have been detected in the seventeenth century and may have been centred around the bridge over the Sills Burn at the northern end of the present village. There is evidence of a Presbyterian chapel and associated cottages at this time. The present chapel was built in 1826 to replace the earlier building and a manse for a resident Minister was erected in 1876. It is likely that the school at the other end of the village was built under the orders of Lord Redesdale early in the nineteenth century.
Correspondence between Edward Lawson and his employer in the 1830s about the appointment of a new schoolmaster suggests that it had been in place for some time. A map attached to an Award for settlement of disputed property in 1791 shows that the school had yet to be constructed and that the remainder of the land alongside the Turnpike had yet to be developed. This area is marked as belonging to the Stobbs estate and was shortly afterwards purchased by Sir John Mitford.
A contemporary survey in the Rededsale papers of this property suggested that it would be ideal for the construction of cottages for estate workers etc. It would appear that this was carried out as the Tithe map for 1840 shows a number of buildings on this section of land corresponding to the location of the school and several of the present cottages. Dates found on some of these buildings during refurbishment in the late twentieth century would confirm this to be the case.
By 1886, Bulmer’s Directory (Bulmer 1887) indicated that the village was an important local centre containing the dwellings of a number of local trades people as well as the school and the Presbyterian chapel. This was confirmed in the 1891 and 1901 census returns. The village hall was opened in 1928 and by this time the village had also acquired a garage selling petrol and repairing motor vehicles.
Although later construction in the 20th century included the building of a number of houses along the road connecting the lower part of the village to High Rochester, decline had begun after the Second World War. The village school closed in 1953, the garage and the last shop in the 1990s and there was no longer a resident Presbyterian Minister or a Vicar at Horsley. Village life must now depend on tourism and commuting for its sources of income.
Picture : Rochester Old School House