Creativity Magazine

Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)

Posted on the 21 March 2016 by Miscriant @miscriant
You know how people often say that they are never a tourist in their own county?  Would you believe that in 15 years of living in Kent, I have never once looked around the Historic Dockyard in Chatham?
Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)This becomes even more shameful when you take into consideration the fact that the University of Kent has academic buildings on the site, and that Stephen has been based just opposite for the last 10 years.  I have run through the Dockyard trying not to fall over in heels on my way to a meeting, I have toured around it with colleagues, I have eaten in the cafes, I have even interviewed for a job in the Old Clocktower, but I have never taken the time to actually look around it properly.
I knew that it was the kind of place my father would love though, and so on a cold and breezy but utterly beautiful first day of spring, I left Stephen watching Man Utd vs Man City (Man Utd won, he was happy) and went on a proper tour of the Dockyard with Dad.
Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Full disclosure - because I work for the University of Kent, my staff card gets me free access to the Dockyard and its attractions, but Dad had to pay the full entry price.  He decided to upgrade from the £13 day pass to the £22 annual pass which gets him unlimited access for a full year.  Good job he did as well as the Dockyard is enormous; there is no way you will explore everything it has to offer in one visit.  I've had to split out what little we saw over two posts as well!
Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)If you have seen Call The Midwife, Sherlock Holmes films, Downton Abbey, Foyles War, Mr Selfridge, The Golden Compass, The World Is Not Enough or Les Miserables, you may recognize some of the locations.... although it is still a working dockyard and museum, it is also a popular filming location.
The Dockyard is 400 years old, and some of the most famous British naval vessels, including Nelson's flagship, the HMS Victory, have been built and launched on the premises.  The first warship known to have been built at the Dockyard was the Sunne, a pinnace of five guns, launched in 1586, and the last was built in the 1960's.
Whilst we were there, the 1st Battalion 42nd Highland Regiment of Foot 1815 (also known as The Black Watch) were practicing their drills to the beat of the drum.  The Black Watch are a re-enactment society, dedicated to preserving; as accurately as possible, the uniform, drill, musketry, tactics and daily life of the regiment in 1815, the year of the Battle of Waterloo.  The 42nd Foot was the most senior of the Highland Regiments and the sombre appearance of the tartan and its original role of policing the Highlands led to the nickname 'The Black Watch'. Modern re-enactment organisations are now based all over the UK and abroad, including at Chatham. Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)First stop on our tour was the No 1 Smithery, originally built between 1806 and 1808 and bought back to life in 2010 as a museum and exhibition space by the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust, National Maritime Museum and Imperial War Museum.  The most interesting section, the model boat archive, unfortunately did not allow photo's for copyright reasons, but believe me when I say it was amazing, and an area that Dad is tempted to book a private tour in.  Kids would love it here, there is so much for them to see and do!
The Smithery is a Grade II listed building that, as the name suggests, was originally used for iron-working.  It also enjoys status as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and houses 4,000 ship models in total.  Inside is a totally immersive experience - you could spend hours in this one location alone.
There are the original forges used for making the metal pipes, great hulking masses of blackened iron surrounded by decades of soot and ash embedded into the brickwork.  Beyond is the Courtyard, a huge imposing space where the enormous anchors can be viewed in pits
Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Past the galleries (no photos allowed) filled with giant ship models, cutaways and original paintings, is the Pipe Bending room, where metal pipes were superheated in the furnace then bent around pegs in the floor to make them the right shape for the ships.  The original brickwork mixed with the steel girders are the type of details that modern architects can only dream about working with.
Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)After spending over an hour moseying through the galleries, we headed back outside into the sunshine to go and ogle at the three historic warships in dry dock.
The HMS Cavalier, a retired C-Class destroyer, decommissioned in 1972.
Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)The HMS Gannet, a Royal Navy Doterel-class screw sloop launched in 1878 and preserved in 1987.
Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)The HMS Ocelot, an Oberon-class diesel-electric submarine, and the last Royal Navy vessel built in the Dockyard.  She was launched in 1962 and did her service during the cold war as an intelligence vessel then decommissioned in 1991. A tour aboard her cramped living and working conditions forms much of Part 2 of these blog posts.
Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)All three vessels are open for exploration, although we did not have the time to explore the Gannet and the Cavalier on this occasion.  I did say that the Dockyard was huge!
Near the dry docks are other remnants of the Dockyards military past, including a Royal Navy Chopper and anti-aircraft guns.  The whole place is incredibly atmospheric, made even more so when you realize that this is still a working dockyard and some of the crafts practiced 400 years ago are still in operation on site, as we discovered in our Ropery tour.
Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)As you may have guessed, the Dockyard is situated on the River Medway, and it is clear that this is still a working river for both leisure and business.  Part of this adds to the feel of the Dockyard as you are surrounded by the clangs of steel and industry from over the river and the smell of tarred rope.
Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)We stopped at the Wagon Stop Canteen located inside the Railway Workshop for a bite to eat and drink halfway through our visit.  There is a big new project being undertaken at the moment to improve the catering arrangements as part of the Command of the Oceans project, so the Wagon Stop is very much a temporary holding alternative before the new facilities come on line.  I really enjoyed it though!  They specialise in Kentish pies and doorstop sandwiches surrounded by some of the locomotives and rolling stock that form part of the Dockyard Railway that criss-cross and ribbon their way throughout the entire site, and are still in operation today.  I had a cappuccino (machine, not freshly made) and a lamb cobbler pie, which was stuffed full of chunks of meat, piping hot and lightly flavoured with mint, potato and carrot in a rich gravy with a thick and crumbly pastry. Dad had a Kentish pastie, which was basically a lamb version of a Cornish pasty.  The two pasties and 2 cappuccino's came to £12 in total.
Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Right next to the Wagon Stop is the Nelson Brewery, which first opened in 1995 where it established a five barrel kit brewing up to 100 firkins a week. Now it has a strong reputation as one of the UK's major ale suppliers, all with suitably nautical names, brewing from a seven and a half barrel kit.  The Brewery isn't open on Sunday's but you can book tours by appointment and see them in action during the week.
Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)When we first arrived on site, we asked for some advice from one of the guides about what to see. He told us that the submarine and ropery tours were a must (check back for the next post!) and that also we needed to climb to the top of 3 Slip, otherwise known as The Big Space, to look at the incredible roof space.
He was so right.
Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)It is incredible to think that this space was built in 1838, and at the time it was Europe's largest wide span timber structure.  The scale of it is breathtaking and the weatherbeaten bleached gray timbers and criss-cross lattice steel girders are a photographers dream.
Below though is the real talking point.  The Big Space is not just named for the building's scale, but for the collection of really 'big things' housed underneath that grand roof.  On the ground floor is a Midget submarine, dozens of boats, giant tools, steam machinery, Kitchener's Railway Carriage, the D Day locomotive 'Overlord', bridge-building machine, mine clearance equipment and, just to add to the scale of it all, a Chieftain AVRE tank.
Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Also in The Big Space is a huge collection of RNLI historic lifeboats, in partnership with the RNLI Trust.  The 17 life-crafts shown have all saved lives in peril in truly life-threatening conditions. Like most of the exhibitions, this one is also interactive, allowing you to board the lifeboats, listen to audio recordings of heroic stories and imagine that you are at the helm, fighting driving wind, rain and high seas to save a life.
Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)Chatham Historic Dockyard (Part 1)The entire space is just amazing, there are no other words for it.  It would take you a week to absorb everything there is in The Big Space and we didn't have nearly enough time.  We flew through The Big Space as the site was closing shortly, and still spent close to an hour there, just looking around and grabbing a few quick shots before heading back to the car.
Check back in a couple of days for the tours of The Ropery and the Submarine at the Dockyard....

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