History of Rocester

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Rocester has a long, rich and varied past with periods of significant prominence that far outweighed its small size and rural location. This is a brief outline of some of the events that have shaped the village's past and made it the thriving community that it is today.

Barrow HillBarrow Hill

Before the Romans

Although it was the Romans who first established Rocester as a permanent settlement, there is evidence of an earlier occupation. A decorated Bronze Age pot was found in Northfield Avenue and aerial photographs have shown barrows just to the south of the village, while to the north a small Iron Age hill fort is believed to have stood on Barrow Hill.

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The Roman Fort

New CemeteryNew Cemetery

The Romans chose Rocester to build a protective fort midway on the road between Derby and Newcastle in the later part of the 1st century. Part of the earth works surrounding the fort can still be seen on the boundary of the New Cemetery in Church Lane.

Evidence suggests that Rocester was probably the most important township in the area at this time. With its wooden barracks, military personnel and supporting civilians the population would probably have exceeded 1,000. The most recent excavations carried out on this site were by Birmingham University and finds can be viewed at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Hanley and on their website Romans in Staffordshire.

After the Romans Army left in the middle of the 2nd Century the fort was dismantled but the civilians remained and Rocester continued as a busy trading centre throughout the Anglo Saxon period till the middle-ages.

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The Domesday book and St Mary's Abbey

In 1087 The Domesday Book records 'that in the time of Edward the Confessor Rocester was worth 4 but now it was worth 8'. This was a surprisingly high value for a manor considering the poor economy of the rest of Staffordshire.

Abbey Field - present dayAbbey Field - present day
St Michael's ChurchSt Michael's Church

In 1141 Rocester again gained status as the choice for a high ranking religious order to found St Mary's Augustinian Abbey on the site now known as Abbey Fields.

The resident monks however over the next four hundred years did not always seem to live up to their status. Records show the Abbey received a reasonable income from its tithes yet the canons pleaded poverty when it came to distributing money to the village churches, and their lives more often reflected quarrels and negligence than peace and endeavour.

When the order was disbanded in 1538 the Abbey and its chapel were demolished and a manor house was built on the site. All that remains visible today are the grassy mounds in the field behind the present church.

Although the Abbey had its own chapel, our present church, St Michael's, was founded in the 13th Century for the villagers. This was almost totally rebuilt in 1873 though the tower is 13th Century.

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Arkwright's MillArkwright's Mill

Arkwright and the industrial Revolution

Mill and mill workersMill and mill workers

In 1781 the purchase and development of an old corn mill on the River Dove by Richard Arkwright into a water powered cotton mill transformed Rocester's economy from mainly agricultural to semi industrial.

With the coming of the canals and the railway, Rocester was again a busy trading point in the transport network, and other industries including the brickworks, the cheese works and the stone works flourished.

Rocester railway stationRocester railway station
Old Infant School, Dove LaneOld Infant School, Dove Lane

It was the mill owners in the 19th Century who built houses for the workers and promoted the education of the community by building first the Ashbourne Road School and then the Infants in 1852 on Dove Lane.

The mill remained the major employer in the village until the 1950's and was finally closed in 1985.

The 1950's saw the next expansion of housing in the village and the rise of a new industrial employer, JCB, with the building of its factory on the site near to the railway station.

Red Hill Bank and Brickworks Red Hill Bank and Brickworks
Factory and LakeFactory and Lake

The present factory on the same site was opened in 1970 and sits magnificently in award winning landscaped grounds and Rocester is known internationally as the World Headquarters of JCB.

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Rocester today

With the national decline in agriculture and in manufacturing, employment is now mainly sought outside the village. So Rocester, with the redevelopment of its village centre in 2000, is now making the most of its beautiful location and its convenient access to a major road network, to become a desirable residential village. However plans for building a new Academy in Rocester, sponsored by JCB, will put our small yet significant village once more at the forefront of modern educational thinking and industrial development, thus continuing our unique heritage.

Acknowledgements to local historian Roy Burnett and to archaeologist Ian Ferris

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Further Reading

  • The History of Rocester by Alan Gibson published by Churnet Valley Books
  • The excavation of a Romano-British Shrine at Orton's Pasture, Rocester, Staffordshire. British Archaeological Society (BAR) I.M. Ferris L. Bevan R.Cuttler
  • Excavations at the new cemetery, Rocester, Staffordshire, 1985-1987 (Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society Transactions) A.S. Esmonde Cleary
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Bottom of High St and Churnet RowBottom of High St and Churnet Row
Lower High St and Primitive Methodist ChapelLower High St and Primitive Methodist Chapel
Upper High StreetUpper High Street
Church LaneChurch Lane
Dove LaneDove Lane

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