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The Historic Dockyard Chatham

Location

Kent Map

OS Ref: TQ 759 693

Last Visited: 2012


The Historic Dockyard, Chatham is a vast site that, at my usual leisurely pace, takes more that a day to do justice to.

Fortunately the tickets are valid for a year, so there is a good chance that I might get back there sometime soon.

Amongst the things I did not get to see were:

  • The Wooden Walls of England exhibition on the early days of the Dockyard in the Upper Mast House,
  • No1 Smithery with its exhibition of National Treasures,
  • The Railway Workshops, which were closed for a special event, and
  • The Kent Police Museum, which wasnʼt open that day (and has subsequently closed permanently).
RNLI Lifeboats

RNLI Lifeboats

As the museum was on the point of closing, I only had time for a brief glance inside 3 Slip and at the RNLI Historic Lifeboat Collection.

That said, what I did see was fascinating and justified the relatively high entrance fees.

For opening times, admission prices and loads of other information, please see the official site detailed below.

The Royal Arms on the Front of the Gatehouse

The Royal Arms on the Front of the Gatehouse

There are many historic buildings in the dockyard. Pictured above are:

  • The Main Gatehouse. Built in 1722 in the style of Vanbrugh.
  • The Dockyard Church. Built in 1806; designed by Edward Holl, and last used in 1981.
  • The Commissionerʼs House. Built in 1704; The oldest surviving naval building in England.
  • The Admiralʼs Offices. Built in 1808 and also designed by Edward Holl. It was originally the offices of the master shipwright.
  • The Upper Mast House. Built in 1753-8 and used to make and store masts.

HMS Cavalier

HMS Cavalier

HMS Cavalier

HMS Cavalier along with a bronze monument by Kenneth Potts, form a memorial to 142 Royal Navy destroyers sunk during the Second World War, and the over 11,000 men who lost their lives as a result.

She was launched on 7th April 1944 and entered service the following November. She earned a "Battle Honour", as one of three destroyers sent from Scapa Flow to escort an arctic convoy that was attacked by U-boats and enemy aircraft and scattered in a hurricane combining force 12 winds with icing.

HMS Cavalier went to round-up the convoy with the other escorts, and on 1st March thirty-one of the thirty-four merchant ships arrived safely in the Clyde.

After the war she saw service in many parts of the world earning the title The Fastest of the Greyhounds in a 64 mile race against HMS Rapid which she won by 30 yards.

When she was finally ended her service in December 1971, a campaign was immediately started to preserve her as she was the last surviving WWII Destroyer. After many ups and downs, she eventually found her way to Chatham, and now occupies the dry dock were HMS Victory was built.

The Bridge

The Bridge

A maze of a place with no clear signposted route, it was difficult to make much sense of the layout, particularly as the audio guide system was out of order.

The open bridge, now protected by a tarpaulin, was perhaps the most evocative and, for me, surprising. Recalling WWII films such as The Cruel Sea, I suppose I shouldnʼt have come as a shock that it was open to the elements but that, along with the binnacle and speaking tubes, made me realise quite how long ago it was that she first came into service, and how far technology has developed.

External Links and References

  • External Links

    • HMS Cavalier Association
      Site dedicated to HMS Cavalier and the other WW2 destroyers. Includes a WW2 Destroyermen Casualty Database.
      http://hmscavalier.org.uk/
    • HMS Cavalier
      The relevant section of the official Historic Dockyards, Chatham site.
      http://thedockyard.co.uk/explore/three-historic-warships/hms-cavalier/

HMS Gannet

HMS Gannet

HMS Gannet

HMS Gannet stands on the cusp between the sailing ships of old and the modern steam ships.

The iron frame supports a wooden hull that is in turn covered with copper plates. On deck she still retains the traditional forcastle and poop deck arrangement, but in the middle of the main deck is a collapsible chimney.

When she was launched in 1878 from Sheerness, steam was still regarded by the navy as a newfangled invention, and supplies of coal in far flung locations could not be relied upon.

She was therefore built as a conventional sailing ship but, if the need arose, her chimney could be raised, and a propeller dropped down through a hole in the floor of the Captainʼs Cabin.

By the time she was retired in 1903, the navy had all but abandoned sail and all new vessels were being built of iron and steel.

In 1903 she was renamed HMS President and spent many years as an accommodation vessel at TS Mercury on the Hamble. There is an interesting photograph on the TS Mercury web site showing the extensive modifications that had been made to her during this time.

HMS Gannet

HMS Gannet

When TS Mercury closed in July 1968, Gannet reverted back to the Royal Navy, from whom she had been on loan for nearly sixty years. They transferred to The Maritime Trust, and in 1987 The Historic Dockyard at Chatham chartered Gannet from the trust and started a restoration program.

Much work has been done since then, including manufacturing a new set of masts and rigging, but even so it requires a lot of imagination to make up for the general lack of furniture and fittings, and the complete absence of the boiler, engine and propeller

External Links and References

  • External Links

    • HMS_Gannet
      The relevant section of the official Historic Dockyards, Chatham site.
      http://thedockyard.co.uk/explore/three-historic-warships/hms-gannet/
    • HMS Gannet Under Restoration
      A fascinating set of flickr hosted photos of the restoration of Gannet from the TS Mercury site. There are other sets of historical photos elsewhere on the site.
      https://www.flickr.com/photos/142197059@N04/sets/72157670609986524

HMS Ocelot

HMS Ocelot

HMS Ocelot

HMS Ocelot is accessible by guided tour only, and is none the worse for that as our guide really brought the ship alive.

Iʼve always known that it takes someone very special to be a submariner, but when you when you see the cramped conditions they had to live in on board Ocelot, it really drives it home to you.

The tiny galley where three meals a day were prepared for the crew of 68 men, the captainʼs cupboard of a cabin barely larger a narrow single bed, and the menʼs (4' 6" long by 18" wide) bunks crammed into any available space, all emphasise how on cramped the conditions were.

Ocelot was launched from Chatham Dockyardʼs No. 7 Slip in May 1962, and was the last submarine to be built in in the yard. She was paid off in August 1991 and returned to Chatham in 1992.

External Links and References

  • External Links

    • HMS_Ocelot
      The relevant section of the official Historic Dockyards, Chatham site.
      http://thedockyard.co.uk/explore/three-historic-warships/hm-submarine-ocelot/

The Dockyard Railway

Ajax and the Train

Ajax and the Train

At its height the naval dockyard complex could boast around 17 miles of standard gauge railway. Now all that is left is a short length of just under a mile within the Historic Dockyard, and a spur leading off the mainline to the modern No 3 Dock to the north.

The track within the dockyard is used for demonstration purposes, and although unable to carry passengers, it does add to the atmosphere of the place.

Seen here is a short seven truck train, double ended by two small saddle tanks:

Sydenham Steam Engine

Sydenham Steam Engine

  • Ajax, an 0-4-0ST, built by Robert Stephenson & Hawthorns Ltd in 1941 that spent its entire working life in the yards, and
  • Another unnamed 0-4-0ST numbered P1903 built by Peckett & Sons Ltd in 1936 for the South Wales Public Wharf and Transit Company, Penarth.

Also running that day was the extraordinary 2-2-0TG Steam Tramway Geared Locomotive Sydenham, which was built by Aveling & Porter in 1895. A strange cross between a road traction engine and a railway engine.

The museum has two other steam engines and three diesels however, as mentioned above, at the time of my visit the Railway Workshops were closed for a special event.

External Links and References

  • External Links

    • Chatham Historic Dockyard Railway
      A site dedicated to the dockyard railway.
      http://www.dockyardrailway.co.uk/
    • UK Heritage Railways
      Comprehensive listing of all preserved railways, tramways and rolling stock in the UK with links to the individual railway sites
      http://www.heritagerailways.com/
    • Kent Rail - Chatham Dockyard
      A history of the system and lots of photos of the remaining track and rolling stock.
      http://www.kentrail.org.uk/Chatham%20Dockyard.htm

The Ropery

Hatchelling House The Ropery

Hatchelling House
The Ropery

The Victorian Ropery is one of only a handful of traditional ropewalks still working in this country and the only British naval ropery to survive.

Whilst rope has been made on the site since 1618, the oldest of the current complex of buildings are the Hemp Houses, which in part date back to 1729. These were used to store and process hemp, the raw material used at the time.

Most of the buildings date from 1786-91. These consist of the Hatchelling House, the three Yarn Houses and the Double Ropehouse.

Demonstration Ropery Machinery

Demonstration Ropery Machinery

At 1,100 feet long and over 47 feet wide, the Double Ropehouse was the longest brick built building in Europe when it was built. Being open for its entire length it is still an impressive sight to this day.

One of the rope forming machines was originally installed in 1811, and is still in daily use today.

Entry is by guided tour only and includes an interesting demonstration of rope making.

External Links and References

  • External Links

    • Master Ropemakers
      On-line retail site for the Ropery's products. However, check out the 'Our History' section under the 'About Us' menu and the 'How We Make Rope' section for more information on the Ropery itself.
      http://www.master-ropemakers.co.uk/index.php
    • Victorian Ropery
      The relevant section of the official Historic Dockyards, Chatham site.
      http://thedockyard.co.uk/explore/the-victorian-ropery/