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The unitary authority was formed in 1998 when the City of Rochester-upon-Medway amalgamated with Gillingham Borough Council and part of Kent County Council to form Medway Council, a unitary authority independent of Kent County Council.Over half of the unitary authority area is rural in nature.Because of its strategic location by the major crossing of the River Medway, it has made a wide and significant contribution to Kent, and to England, dating back thousands of years, as evident in the siting of Watling Street by the Romans and by the Norman Rochester Castle, Rochester Cathedral (the second oldest in Britain) and the Chatham naval dockyard and its associated defences.

278 died, including 78 workers from nearby towns and villages. A Court of Inquiry was held into the loss and evidence was given that priming of the mines was being carried out hurriedly and by untrained personnel. The Royal Marines also have a long association with Chatham.

Rochester was also an important point for people travelling the Pilgrims' Way, which stretches from Winchester to the shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury. In Rochester, parts of the Roman city wall are still in evidence, and the city has many fine buildings, such as the Guildhall (today a museum), which was built in 1687 and is among the finest 17th-century civic buildings in Kent; the Corn Exchange, built in 1698, originally the Butcher's Market; the small Tudor house of Watts Charity endowed by Sir Richard Watts to house "six poor travelers" for one night each; Satis House and Old Hall, both visited by Queen Elizabeth I, built in 1573.

The Chatham naval memorial commemorates the 18,500 officers, ranks and ratings of the Royal Navy who were lost or buried at sea in the two World Wars.

She was taking on coal from the airship base at Kingsnorth, on the Isle of Grain when an internal explosion (most likely the result of cordite charges stored alongside a boiler room bulkhead and failure to follow guidelines on the storage of shells) ripped the ship apart.

In all, the explosion killed 745 men and 51 officers.

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