Gundulfs Tower, Rochester Cathedral

Has been described as a Questionable Tower House

There are major building remains

NameGundulfs Tower, Rochester Cathedral
Alternative NamesGundulph's Tower
Historic CountryKent
Modern AuthorityMedway
1974 AuthorityKent
Civil ParishRochester

The tower standing close to the north choir aisle has been attributed to Bishop Gundulf, builder of the first Romanesque cathedral church begun c.1080 but is probably nearer to 1100 in date. It has been suggested that the tower dates to the mid-twelfth century and was erected as a bell tower. On the basis of a re-examination of the evidence it is suggested that an early post-Conquest and pre-Gundulf date is more likely, and that it was probably erected as a strong tower for defensive purposes. (Kent HER)

The tower is square in plan with broad shallow buttresses clasping each angle. It is built of coursed ragstone rubble with tufa used for the quoins of the buttresses. There are two set-backs in the external faces. Two windows remain on the north face at different levels. The lower window, now blocked, is possibly of 15th century date. The upper window with a semi-circular arch is likely to be in its original form. Two massive projecting buttresses have been added possibly in the 13th century. A barrel-vaulted passage in the west wall at original first floor level may have been the original entrance. There are now two ground floor entrances neither of which is original. Only the north face of the tower and parts of the west and east sides are fully and easily visible. The interior is used as the choir robing room and not readily accessible. (Kent HER)

Between the two cross isles, on the north side without the church, stands an old ruined tower, no higher than the roof of the church. This is generally allowed to have been erected by bishop Gundulph, and there is a tradition of its having been called the bell tower, and of its having had five bells hanging in it; yet the better conjecture is, that it was first intended as a place of strength and security, either as a treasury or a repository for records. The walls of it are six feet thick, and the area on the inside twenty-four feet square. (Hasted)

Gatehouse Comments

Small tower next to Rochester Cathedral. This was formally detached from the nave. Gundulf's Tower, alongside the early cathedral at Rochester, has been recently argued to be a strong, defensible tower. Recent excavation suggests a building date close to 1100. It has similarities with St Leonard's Tower, West Malling, also on an episcopal estate. Both these three-storey towers are strongly built. They have windows at a high level, but there is little to indicate high-status accommodation internally; only St Leonard's Tower has external arcading on two faces, which points to an element of public display. This form of defensive structure has similarities with two strong towers at Oxford: the late-Saxon St Michael's Tower, beside a gate through the town defences, and St George's Tower, within the confines of the Norman castle. Renn suggests this was just a bell tower and it should be realised that swinging and vibrating bells have need of a strong structure well beyond that purely required because of their mass. Tim Tatton-Brown (2015) reports this was recorded as a bell tower in the later middle ages and there is no real reason to think this was ever anything other than a bell tower.

- Philip Davis

Not scheduled

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law

Historic England Scheduled Monument Number
Historic England Listed Building number(s)
Images Of England
Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceTQ742685
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  • Worssam, B.C. with an appendix by Ashbee, J., 2006, 'The building stones of Rochester Castle and Cathedral' in Ayers, T. and Tatton-Brown, T. (eds), Medieval art, architecture and archaeology at Rochester (Leeds: British Archaeological Association and Maney Publishing) p. 238-49
  • Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 126
  • Guy, John, 1980, Kent Castles (Meresborough Books)
  • Newman, John, 1976, Buildings of England: West Kent and the Weald (Harmondsworth) p. 473
  • Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 303
  • Knowles, David and Hadcock, R Neville, 1971, Medieval religious houses in England and Wales (Longman) p. 74, 435, 480
  • Page, Wm (ed), 1926, VCH Kent Vol. 2 p. 121-6
  • Palmer, G.H., 1897, The Cathedral Church of Rochester (Bell's Cathedral Series)
  • Hasted, Edward, 1798 (2edn), The history and topographical survey of the county of Kent Vol. 7 p. 86- online transcription


  • McAleer, J.Philip, 1998, 'The So-Called Gundulf's Tower at Rochester Cathedral. A Reconsideration of its History, Date and Function' Antiquaries Journal Vol. 78 p. 111-176 Abstract
  • McAleer, J.Philip, 1993, ' Rochester Cathedral: The north choir aisle and the space between it and 'Gundulf's' Tower' Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. 112 p. 127-166 online copy
  • 1989, 'Researches and discoveries in Kent' Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. 107 p. 390-94 online copy
  • Fairweather, F.H., 1929, 'Gundulf's Cathedral and Priory Church, Rochester: some critical remarks upon the hitherto accepted plan' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 86 p. 187-212 esp. 192-99 online copy
  • Hope, W., 1898, 'The Architectural history of the cathedral church and monastery of St. Andrew at Rochester' Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. 23 p. 201-210 online copy


  • Tim Tatton-Brown, 2015 October 16-17, Rochester Castle and the great siege of 1215 - Castle Studies Group Autumn conference.
  • Shapland, Michael, 2012, Buildings of Secular and Religious Lordship: Anglo-Saxon Tower-nave Churches (PhD Thesis University College London) esp. chapter 7 online via UCL Discovery
  • Kent County Council, December 2004, Kent Historic Towns Survey (Kent County Council and English Heritage) view online copy
  • Saunders, A. and Smith, V., 2001, Kent's Defence Heritage Gazetteer (Kent County Council)