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Admiralty of the Medway, Kent

Rochester in Kent was once a major city, though currently it is disputed if it has city status at all because of administrative changes. The Mayor of Rochester also holds the office of Admiral of the Medway, and as such is ex-officio head of the Medway Admiralty Court, thanks to a charter granted by Henry VI in 1446, though an earlier charter of 1189 is also cited for authority, and an act of Parliament of 1728 cemented the court’s rights.
Unlike so many of our other folk customs this still has practical value and genuine powers, controlling who can fish in a particular stretch of the Medway , and when oysters can be dredged and when they cannot.
The Medway Court can sit when required, but it has an annual gathering on the first Saturday of July, an event of pomp and ceremony: the Mayor and Aldermen of Rochester, in full robes and carrying where relevant symbols of office, process from the city’s (or town’s) Guildhall to a barge – or in recent times a paddle-steamer – decorated with bunting and sometimes carrying a rather contentious flag: in the 1930s there was a serious disagreement between the Admiralty and the Medway Council over the right to fly an admiral’s flag. When the court with its jury of freemen has concluded the business of the day the procession returns to the Guildhall, perhaps to a well deserved glass of Kentish ale .

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