Rochester Boley Hill

Has been described as a Questionable Timber Castle (Motte), and also as a Questionable Siege Work

There are cropmark/slight earthwork remains

NameRochester Boley Hill
Alternative NamesBullie Hill; Bully; Bulley
Historic CountryKent
Modern AuthorityMedway
1974 AuthorityKent
Civil ParishRochester

As argued by Armitage and Wheatley there is strong reason to think that Boley Hill is the site of William I's castle at Rochester (HKW).

Wheatley's case rests mainly on disproving a Danish attribution for the site, and in comparing it with an C11 work at Le Mans, where the juxtaposition of motte, Roman fort and Cathedral is closely paralleled. Henry III included Boley Hill in his new defences of the town (A.D. 1225-6) when the hill was ditched, the motte probably reduced, and the east end raised to provide an additional bailey for the adjacent castle, built c.1089 by Bishop Gundulf. Armitage regards the size and position of Boley Hill as strongly characteristic of the first castles of the Conquest. The earliest form of the name is Bullie Hill (Edw.IV), when it enjoyed a special jurisdiction under a 'Baron of the Bully' - an office Norman in origin. Other forms are 'Bailey Hill' and 'Beaulieu' - indicating a castle or residence.

Dulley put a section across the summit of Boley Hill, at the west end, where Wheatley's highly conjectural plan shows the motte. At this point the hill was some 17ft. high, with extensive stone revetment on the south side, suggestive of 18th c. landscape gardening; the summit had also been pared off. Spoil from the revetment had been dumped on the north side of the hill, where it overlay a 13th-14th c. occupation layer. Dully concluded that there was no evidence of a motte at the west end of Boley Hill. Topographically, the broader, east end was a more likely site, where it would command the south gate of the town and its approach road.

Boley Hill is a natural elevation some 100.0m in length, oriented NW - SE. The NW end overlooks the River Medway, and here must, originally, have terminated in a 40ft. cliff down to the east bank. The eminence, artificially heightened at this end, and at present some 7.0m. above the surrounding ground, broadens and descends to ground level at the SE end.

Tudor and late 18th c

terracing and cutting back on the SW side have reduced the hill to a narrow ridge and its former extent cannot now be judged. The SE half has been overbuilt with houses and gardens. Dulley does not discount the possibility of a motte and bailey here, but his excavations found no evidence of pre - 12th c work. However, he dug only to within five feet of the original ground surface of the hill.

If indeed there was a motte and bailey here, the higher NW end with its natural defences would seem to be the obvious site for the motte, with the bailey occupying the lower, broader, SE end. Dulley's suggestion that the motte occupied the lower end is quite untenable. (PastScape)

Gatehouse Comments

Recent work has suggested that this site was only ever a siege castle, either of 1088 or 1215, and the original castle recorded as built after the conquest was at the site of Rochester Castle.

- Philip Davis

Not scheduled

Not Listed

Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceTQ740684
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink

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  • Jeremy Ashbee, 2015 October 16-17, Rochester Castle and the great siege of 1215 - Castle Studies Group Autumn conference
  • Kent County Council, December 2004, Kent Historic Towns Survey (Kent County Council and English Heritage) view online copy
  • Ward, A., 2002, Archaeological observations undertaken during the repaving project at Boley Hill, Rochester (unpublished archive report)