Historic Dockyard Chatham

Published: Thursday 3rd Jul 2014

Written by: Carol Attwell

Yesterday I was lucky enough to visit the Historic Dockyard in Chatham. It was a working naval dockyard until just after the Falklands War being closed down in 1984. Thousands of jobs were lost and there was much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.  So it is wonderful, 30 years on, to see the marvellous regeneration that has taken place.  St Mary's Island is now an upmarket residential development with posh marina and chic bars and cafes along the waterfront.  

The Dockyard covers a massive area and the car park is located on what used to be the Mast Pool where seasoned wood was stored before being made into masts. The Naval Dockyard was established at the beginning of the 17th Century and built all styles and sizes of boats and ships used by the Navy in ensuing centuries. The Victory was launched here and there is a magnificent full scale model on show that was used in the film "That Hamilton Woman". Walter Burke, the Purser from the Victory, who held Lord Nelson's head as he lay dying, is buried in nearby Wouldham. There are splendid fully preserved ships and boats that can be boarded and explored, including a submarine that is not for the fainthearted (or fat!).

HMS Ocelot is painted black which indicates that it served in the Atlantic. Submarines that plied the Pacific are painted blue and ones serving in Asian waters are green. One of the most interesting places to visit is The Ropery.  The building is 1000 feet long and the process of spinning yarn and twisting multiple strands into rope is laborious.  The machines are still used for the commercial manufacture of all types of rope and it is a truly awe inspiring experience to watch.  Because there are so many old buildings in such a huge controlled space it is a favourite location for film makers.  "Call The Midwife" is filmed here regularly and other blockbusters including James Bond and Sherlock Holmes have used the setting as a backdrop.  There is so much to see at this museum that you need to set aside many hours, preferably a full day, to do it justice.

Carol Attwell
Carol Attwell


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