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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.The main towns in the conurbation are (from west to east): Strood, Rochester, Chatham, Gillingham, and Rainham. Many smaller towns and villages such as Frindsbury, Brompton, Walderslade, Luton, Wigmore etc., lie within the conurbation.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.

It was here that HMS Victory, Admiral Lord Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar, was built and launched in 1765.

Sir Francis Drake learned his seamanship on the Medway; Sir John Hawkins founded a hospital in Chatham for seamen, and Nelson began his Navy service at Chatham at the age of 12.

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Another warship built at Chatham that still exists is HMS Unicorn (a 46-gun "Leda" class frigate) laid down in February 1822, and launched 30 March 1824.

She never saw active service and has been restored and is (as of 2005) preserved afloat in Dundee, Scotland.

Outside the urban area, the villages retain parish councils.

Cuxton, Halling and Wouldham are in the Medway Gap region to the south of Rochester and Strood.

It stands on the Great Lines between Chatham and Gillingham.

The dockyard was closed in 1984, with the loss of eight thousand jobs at the dockyard itself and many more in local supply industries, contributing to a mid-1980s Medway unemployment rate of twenty percent.

Other notable sea-faring and naval figures, such as William Adams, were raised on the Medway but apprenticed elsewhere.

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