Chatham Historic Dockyard

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HMS Gannet.
HMS Ocelot on display, with an anti-aircraft gun to the right as part of a display on the Dockyard and the V1 rocket.
Model of HMS Victory, on display in the Museum of the Royal Dockyard.
No.1 Smithery, Chatham Historic Dockyard

Chatham Historic Dockyard is a maritime museum on part of the site of the former royal/naval dockyard at Chatham in Kent, South East England.

Chatham Dockyard covered 400 acres (1.6 km²) and was one of the Royal Navy's main facilities for several hundred years until it was closed in 1984. After closure the dockyard was divided into three sections. The easternmost basin was handed over to Medway Ports and is now a commercial port. Another slice was converted into a mixed commercial, residential and leisure development. 80 acres (324,000 m²), comprising the 18th century core of the site, was transferred to a charity called the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust and is now open as a visitor attraction. It claims to be the world’s most complete dockyard of the Age of Sail.[1]

Exhibits and displays[edit]

The attraction has seven main elements:

  • Three historic warships:
  • The Ropery: a Grade I listed building,[2] Georgian and Victorian rope factory.
  • Wooden Walls: a recreation of the working life of the dockyard in 1758, centred on the construction of HMS Valiant.
  • Steam, Steel and Submarines: tells the story of Chatham Dockyard and the Royal Navy’s use of the River Medway in the 19th and 20th centuries.
  • Lifeboat: a museum about the work of the RNLI which has 17 historic vessels.
  • 3 Slip – The BIG Store: Originally a covered slipway, now a display of large objects from the dockyard and the nearby Royal Engineers Museum.
  • No 1 Smithery: The structure is a Grade II listed building[3] (formerly for iron-working) and a Scheduled Ancient Monument. It was restored by van Heyningen and Haward Architects and re-opened as a visitor and exhibition centre in July 2010. The new building provides dedicated storage and curatorial facilities for the National Maritime Museum and Imperial War Museums' 4,000 ship models as well as a regional Touring Exhibition Gallery, and museum quality permanent Exhibition Galleries. The first touring exhibition to be shown was Stanley Spencer's Shipbuilding on the Clyde series.[4]
  • A new project for 2014 is 'Command of the Oceans'. This is possible due to £4.53m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Also the project got a £3m contribution from the Homes and Communities Agency. A new entrance on the north side of the visitor attraction will be built and a discovery centre linking the former naval base with other significant heritage sites including Fort Amherst, the Great Lines Heritage Park (between Gillingham and Chatham) and Upnor Castle. This all became possible after the remains of the Namur warship was discovered under the floor of the Wheelwrights’ Shop in 1995.[5]

Workers at the dockyard performed eight years of restoration work on the MV Havengore, the ceremonial vessel that carried the body of Winston Churchill during his state funeral. In addition the dockyard is acting as custodian of artefacts, masts and rigging from the Cutty Sark and the Medway Queen, while their hulls are being restored elsewhere.

The interior of the ropery
  • Records of the ships built at Chatham go back to 1646.[6]
  • Chatham Dockyard had one of the best technical schools in England, it housed the first Dockyard School followed by Devonport and Portsmouth. It accepted students from Overseas Dockyards as Gibraltar and H.M. Dockyard, Malta
  • Some of the hundreds of warships built at the Chatham Royal Dockyard may still be seen. These preserved ships include:
    • HMS Victory (100-gun first rate, i.e. ship of the line" launched 1765, preserved in dry dock at Portsmouth, England, UK; Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar)
    • HMS Unicorn (54-gun fifth rate – launched 1824, preserved afloat at Dundee, Scotland, UK)
    • HMS Ocelot (S17) ("O" class submarine – launched 5 May 1962, preserved in dry dock at Chatham.

Dockyard Railway[edit]

The site is also home to a Dockyard Railway that has a diverse collection of locomotives and rolling stock, some of which can be seen in operation throughout the year.

Steam Locomotives[edit]

Builder Wheel
Number and name Build date Notes Photograph
Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns 0-4-0ST 7042 Ajax 1941 Operational, boiler ticket expires in 2022. Has spent all of its life at Chatham Dockyard 7042 Ajax at Chatham Historic Dockyard.jpg
Andrew Barclay 0-4-0ST 2220 Invicta 1946 Undergoing restoration. Spent all of its working life at Chatham Dockyard. 2220 Invicta at Chatham Historic Dockyard.jpg
Peckett and Sons 0-4-0ST 1903 1936 Operational, boiler ticket expires in 2020. Peckett 1903 at Chatham Historic Dockyard.jpg

Diesel Locomotives[edit]

Builder Wheel
Number and name Build date Notes Photograph
Andrew Barclay 0-4-0DM 357/WD42 Overlord 1941 Operational. Often on display in the military exhibition. W42 Overlord at Chatham Historic Dockyard.jpg
F.C. Hibberd 4wDM 3738 Rochester Castle 1955 Operational, has spent all of its life at Chatham Dockyard. Rochester Castle Chatham Historic Dockyard 2.JPG
Drewry 0-4-0DM 2503 Thalia 1954 Operational 2503 Thalia at Chatham Historic Dockyard.jpg


  1. ^ Chatham World Heritage
  2. ^ Good Stuff IT Services. "The Ropery and Spinning Room – Medway – Medway – England". British Listed Buildings. Retrieved 26 December 2012. 
  3. ^ Good Stuff IT Services. "Number 1 Smithery – Medway – Medway – England". British Listed Buildings. Retrieved 26 December 2012. 
  4. ^ The Dockyard: News
  5. ^ Hughes, Rebecca (29 November 2013). "Major cash boost for Chatham's Historic Dockyard Command of the Oceans project". Retrieved 30 November 2013. 
  6. ^ The Historic Dockyard Chatham Guide Book

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°23′48″N 0°31′46″E / 51.39680°N 0.52940°E / 51.39680; 0.52940