diamond geezer

 Friday, November 08, 2019

A Grand Day Out: The Historic Dockyard, Chatham
Location: Chatham, Kent, ME4 4TZ [map]
Open: from 10am (closed December, January)
Admission: £25.00 (free with an Art Pass)
5-word summary: four centuries of maritime history
Website: thedockyard.co.uk
Time to set aside: a day

In Tudor times Chatham was home to the largest dockyard in the country, and the Medway estuary became the hub of Britain's naval strength. Chatham's influence declined steadily as ships grew larger, although ship building and maintenance continued here for centuries until a final post-Falklands hurrah in 1984. Today the Chatham Historic Dockyard houses a most impressive collection of sea-going craft, historic buildings and industrial archaeology across an extensive site. There's tons to see, not just a bunch of old sailing ships, and November's a particularly quiet time to visit.

A lot of extra stuff has opened since I was last here in 2007, thanks to a generous Lottery grant, including a much spruced-up entrance building. Now your welcome includes barcode-operated entry gates, a ramp down to a tour-booking desk and a series of spacious interactive galleries. One gallery looks at general maritime dominance stuff, another lets you try your hand at dockside skills and a third celebrates the evocative ship's timbers they found under some floorboards. Fiona Bruce narrates throughout. A costumed lady tried to nudge me inside Hearts of Oak, an extensive audio-visual adventure, but I didn't have the requisite half an hour to spare.

At the heart of the site, within the dry docks, are three historic warships. One's a sailing ship, HMS Gannet, not especially overdressed but worth an explore. I was much more intrigued by HMS Cavalier, a naval destroyer launched just in time for the end of World War 2. It ended up here after being decommissioned in 1972, so below decks still has the feel of life afloat in a lightly-technological era. Wandering the corridors I eventually found the radio room, the galley, the captain's quarters and some fairly basic urinals. Most exciting was the Naafi, stocked with Imperial Leather, Golden Virginia and tins of creamed chicken soup. Checking the pricelist outside I can confirm that in 1972 a finger of Fudge cost 1½p, a packet of Spangles 2p and a Cadbury's Bar Six 4p.

But the most amazing of the trio is HMS Ocelot, a Cold War era submarine, and the last ship to be built here at Chatham. You don't often get to see a giant black tube out of the water, let alone the chance to climb through its hatch down into the bowels. An informative tour leads you from the torpedo deck to the silent engines, and along the way you get to swing yourself through the hatches like a pro. There are switches and dials everywhere, and bunks tucked in wherever possible, and I can confirm that the attack periscope works because I looked through and spotted Chatham. I cannot imagine how a crew of 69 men spent months aboard without resurfacing, or shower facilities, but I loved my half an hour below.

Alongside are the covered slips, giant sheds within which ships could be built or repaired in the dry. The finest is No 3 Slip, in 1838 the largest wide-span timber structure in Europe, which resembles an upturned hull with chequerboard skylights. Ground level is covered by oversized military machinery, but the real treat is to climb up (and up) to a suspended timber platform where boats were once stored, and admire the intricate roof close up. In the slip nextdoor is the RNLI's historic lifeboat collection, which contains a greater variety of lifesaving craft than you ever dreamed possible, one of which is an actual Blue Peter lifeboat your unwanted paperbacks might have paid for. My favourite RNLI anecdote is that the organisation was originally called the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck, an acronym that definitely needed changing.

The Dockyard's other great treasure is the quarter-mile-long Ropery, at time of construction Europe's longest brick-built building. It was here that men spun and wound the ropes for great ships like the Victory, which needed 31 miles of the stuff, making this a crucial Empire-building trade. A fascinating tour of the building runs every day just after noon, and if you come on a weekday you get to watch a modern ropemaking company using the old machinery. They ride the full length of the gallery aboard a machine which braids the three threads together, tar each end to seal it then coil the resulting 220m rope ready for sale. If your tall ship, theatre or gymnasium needs ropes, Chatham can still provide.

Other things to visit within the Dockyard include a museum (Steam, Steel and Submarines), a fine collection of Georgian residential buildings (Call The Midwife often films here) and a store of hundreds of model ships loaned by the Imperial War Museum. The latter looked like it was going to be much more interesting than it turned out to be. Food is taken care of in the Wagon Stop canteen, which doubles up as a diner for the students and office workers stationed across the site, or in the more substantial Mess Deck back at the entrance. And it really does take all day to look around properly, hence the fairly steep entrance fee. You have another two weeks to get here before the dockyard closes for the winter.

» Getting here: I took a High Speed train from Stratford in just half an hour, then spent another half hour traipsing across Chatham to the Dockyard entrance. Alternatively the M2 coach runs direct from North Greenwich in 40 minutes (£13.50 return). In reality everyone drives.
» What's close by: Across the car park is Dockside, a large retail outlet mall with the Kentish consumer in mind. I've seen outlettier.
» What's nearby: The Royal Engineers Museum (£9.20) and Napoleonic Fort Amherst (free), but you probably won't have time to see either of those.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan21  Feb21  Mar21  Apr21
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20  Jun20  Jul20  Aug20  Sep20  Oct20  Nov20  Dec20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

» my flickr photostream

twenty blogs
ian visits
blue witch
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
christopher fowler
ruth's coastal walk
the ladies who bus
round the rails we go
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel
from the murky depths
exploring urban wastelands

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
Things to do outside London
Inner London toilet map
The DG Tour of Britain

read the archive
Apr21  Mar21  Feb21  Jan21
Dec20  Nov20  Oct20  Sep20
Aug20  Jul20  Jun20  May20
Apr20  Mar20  Feb20  Jan20
Dec19  Nov19  Oct19  Sep19
Aug19  Jul19  Jun19  May19
Apr19  Mar19  Feb19  Jan19
Dec18  Nov18  Oct18  Sep18
Aug18  Jul18  Jun18  May18
Apr18  Mar18  Feb18  Jan18
Dec17  Nov17  Oct17  Sep17
Aug17  Jul17  Jun17  May17
Apr17  Mar17  Feb17  Jan17
Dec16  Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2020 2019 2018 2017 2016
2015 2014 2013 2012 2011
2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards