Sidelight on Rochester - The Cathedral Spire, and tribute to Dean Samuel Reynolds Hole (1819-1904)

(Between 1830 and 1904 our cathedral was without a spire.)

The Cathedral Spire, so much a part of Rochester’s skyscape that it can be easily ‘ignored’ by those of us who see it daily. But I believe the spire is probably the largest but least recognised - albeit undedicated - monument in Rochester - a monument to Samuel Reynolds Hole who was Dean of Rochester between 1887 and 1904.

When Samuel Hole - an impressive man standing 6’ 4” and weighing 17 stone - came to Rochester worship in the cathedral was in deep decline and the building was in considerable need of restoration - however within year, using his great oratory skills, Dean Hole was filling the cathedral with over a 1000 attending Sunday Evensong to hear him preach. He was a Muscular Christian committed to piety, physical health and evangelism; but who didn't see the sense of celibacy - saying that if God had wanted us to be celibate he wouldn’t have made sex so pleasurable!

Dean Hole was the defender of the rights of the working men. Despite pressure from the gentry of Rochester he refused to condemn working men playing whist, cribbage or other indoor games in their clubs on Sundays - so long it wasn’t for money. 

He was also against teetotalism and favoured moderate drinking. When a group of 19 pious Rochester Christians asked him “in the interests of the Church and the well-being of the city” to extinguish the licence of a beer house* owned by the Dean & Chapter, he accused them of a righteousness that despises others, stating that he had more confidence in improvement than in the extinction of public-houses, and in the power of religion and common sense than in contempt and coercion; in support of this position he advocated the opening of museums and galleries on Sundays - not because they were better than churches but because they were better than public houses.

Although Dean Hole is remembered on the number 3 bell in the tower that is inscribed ‘In remembrance of S. Reynolds Hole, Dean. Died 27th August - 1904, I suspect he would have chosen a rose garden as his monument. As the Vicar for the parish of Caunton, Nottinghamshire, he was asked to judge the entries in the local rose show; rose growing at this time being a working mans’ pass-time. He undertook took the role but felt somewhat hypocritical to judge something that he knew nothing about. He quickly remedied this and before long he was a prominent rosarian who was to become instrumental in setting up the National Rose Society in 1876. While at Rochester he also established of the beautiful rose garden in the grounds of the Deanery that was tended by his wife Caroline while he was away in America raising funds to restore the cathedral.

Sadly Dean Hole never saw the finished spire - it was completed a few months after his death.

So the next time you get a glimpse of ‘our’ spire remember Dean Hole who tirelessly raised funds for its reinstatement - but who was also a very human man who through his  understanding of the spiritual and cultural needs of his fellow men was able to fill the cathedral - and who also enjoyed the sight of a pretty lady, who knows he might even be perched up there - watching!?

* The Phoenix - that was located where Johnsons the dry cleaners can now be found in the High Street.