The Historic Dockyard Chatham, Kent, England

In Counties, Days Out, Kent, Our Journeys, Trip-Types, UK Travel by JanisLeave a Comment

Rigging, ropes and a movie set

These are just a drop in the ocean of the things that you’ll discover within the Historic Dockyard Chatham. You’ll be pleased your ticket is an annual pass.

HMS Gannet at Historic Dockyard Chatham, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

HMS Gannet in front of No 3 Slip at the Historic Dockyard Chatham

With 400 years of maritime history, Chatham Dockyard deserves to be the world’s most complete 'Dockyard of the Age of Sail'.

We loved our day here, we just wish it had been longer.

Chatham Dockyard is probably most well-known for building the magnificent “HMS Victory”, which was launched on 7th May 1765.

HMS Victory was Admiral Lord Nelson’s flagship, during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

Quick Links

HMS Victory now resides in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard; however, three other warships await your presence on board in Chatham. So, grab your map, and navigate yourselves around the shipyard.

The boathouse skyline, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

The boathouse skyline

How to get there

How to get there – You can catch a high-speed train from London St Pancras direct to Chatham Station, which takes 40mins. Then it’s either a short taxi ride or around a 30-minute walk.

Alternatively, if you are travelling by car, there is an onsite car-park, which is free of charge. 

First Port of Call

To make the most of your day and certainly to avoid disappointment, after you’ve purchased your ticket, head to the information point in the Mast Houses to book your timed tours. 

Upper Mast House, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

The Upper Mast House

There are two tours, the first is on the submarine HMS Ocelot, where you actually get to experience how snug a sub' can be. The second tour is to the Ropery, not only is this an entertaining tour you also get to visit the ¼ mile long ropemaking warehouse.

HMS Ocelot in her bearth, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

HMS Ocelot in her berth

These two tours are included in the price of your ticket and are really informative and enjoyable. So, these are a must to do.

Now you can plan your day ahead.

Award winner

Historic Dockyard Chatham was awarded a Gold Accolade from Visit England for 2019

Command of the Oceans

Prior to heading outside, take a wander around the “Command of the Oceans” galleries in the Mast Houses and Mould Loft. 

Here the story unravels how Chatham as a Royal Dockyard, played such a pivotal role to the Royal Navy.

Building wooden-hulled sail-powered warships for centuries.

You’ll discover tools and techniques in trade of shipbuilding and even have a go yourselves.

Command of the Oceans, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

Command of the Oceans

Janis admiring the model of HMS Victory, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

Admiring the model of HMS Victory

You’ll pass by an amazing model of HMS Victory and believe me, it isn’t small; the detail is incredible.

Heading further through you’ll come to the centrepiece of the “Command of the Oceans”, and that’s the vast display of timbers once used on the HMS Namur. The Namur was launched from Chatham in 1756.

The timbers of the Namur - laid out, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

The timbers of the Namur - laid out

These timbers were actually found at Chatham Dockyard under the old Wheelwrights’ workshop and identified as HMS Namur in 2003.

Close-up timbers of the Namur, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

Close-up timbers of the Namur

Did you know?

That Chatham Dockyard has hit the Silver Screen on a few occasions, from Les Misérables to Sherlock Holmes.  Find out more here

The Ropery

Now heading over to the Ropery, this was the place I was really looking forward to seeing. We visited Chatham Dockyard back in 2001, and I remember the incredible rope making warehouse with its ¼ mile long ‘rope-walk’.

The original wooden rope house was built in 1618 when the dockyard was first established, the current brick buildings date from 1729 to 1812.

In 1778 King George III visited and was persuaded that the wooden buildings needed replacing, and indeed it was in his best interest to do so, as it was a Royal Dockyard after all.

The Ropery, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

The Ropery

Inside the Ropery, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

Inside the Ropery

The ropery tour

So, here is where the Ropery tour takes place. The lady conducting the tour was fantastic, dressed in a period costume she brought the tour to life. Making us feel part of the experience and interacting with us along the way.  

A period tour of the Ropery, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

A period tour of the Ropery

She explained the whole process of ropemaking, from the days of when it was manual work for the Hatchellers. To the introduction of machinery, and how the Ropery is still used today to make rope.

Demonstration of rope making, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

Demonstration of rope making

The reason the ‘rope-walk’ is a ¼ mile, is so that the fibres can be laid out lengthways and spun to make the ropes. It’s intriguing to watch it being made by the skilled workers. Even today the simple things like bicycles are used to go to and fro along the rope-walk just to save time.

The only form of transport in the Ropery, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

The only form of transport in the Ropery

You just don’t realise how much rope is required to rig out a ship. The HMS Victory had 31 miles of rope on board, and if it were stretched out from Chatham, this would run all the way to Canterbury (But that's another Tale!)

Up close rope making, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

Up close rope making,

Call the Midwife

For those who have seen the BBC production “Call the Midwife", the period drama set in Poplar, East London we've a surprise for you, parts of the show are regularly filmed at Chatham Dockyard. 

Chatham or Poplar, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

Chatham or Poplar?

Historic Lanes, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

Historic Lanes

Unfortunately, when we visited in February, the tours for 2019 hadn’t started (one for next time). However, that didn’t stop us wandering along the lanes around the Ropery buildings to spot the evidence for ourselves on the walls.

1950's kids entertainment, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

1950's kids entertainment

Call the Midwife Location Tours

The “Call the Midwife” 90-minute tour is £25 and includes a day pass at the Dockyard. These guided tours are popular, so you’ll need to book online in advance to avoid disappointment.  

Steam, Steel and Submarines

Just by the Ropery is the Steam, Steel and Submarine exhibition in the Rigging House. As we stepped in, we were greeted by a very friendly volunteer and was so informative about the museum. You could tell the Dockyard was a passion of his and wanted to share his knowledge.

Inside the Steam, Steel and Submarine exhibition, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

Inside the Steam, Steel and Submarine exhibition

This exhibition guides you through the history of Chatham Dockyard after the Age of Sail. From the launch of the paddle steamer HMS Phoenix in 1832, telling the stories of the iron-hulled warships and then onto Cold War years of nuclear-powered submarines. Guiding you through the changes of 150 years, up until the Dockyard closed in 1984.

Later history in the exhibition, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

Later history in the exhibition

Off to the dry docks

Now we’re off to discover the three warships and jumping on board for ourselves.

The dry docks, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

The dry docks

HMS Ocelot 

HMS Ocelot is a diesel-electric submarine, and this is the other pre-booked guided tour. The tour lasts around 30-minutes and once again our guide was extremely informative and friendly. We weren’t rushed at all and care was taken that everyone was involved.

Looking along HMS Ocelot, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

Looking along HMS Ocelot

Launched in 1962 HMS Ocelot was the last Royal Naval warship to be built at Chatham Dockyard.

It is incredible to think that 69 men lived on the boat, for 10 weeks continually, and believe me the washing facilities were quite limited. 

Turn what?, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

Turn what?

It is not entirely known where HMS Ocelot served, however, due to the timing, it was probably used during the Cold War years. 24 torpedoes were stored on board, but who knows if they were ever fired in anger?

The Torpedo tubes, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

The Torpedo tubes

I’d just like to add, and I know it’s probably obvious, but HMS Ocelot is cosy.

It’s fairly compact inside, this is no Red October from the movies. 

You need to climb through circular doors to manoeuvre between each of the subs compartments.

If you suffer from claustrophobe, or you struggle with mobility, you may want to think twice about this tour. 

Climbing through hatches, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

Climbing through hatches

Accessibility

It is important that you wear flat, comfy shoes when visiting Chatham Dockyard if you want to board the 3 warships. They have uneven surfaces, and often there are small holes in the decks. 

However, the rest of the site is very accessible with lifts installed in the Ropery, the Upper Mast House and Number 3 Slip.  The walkway around the Lifeboat exhibition is also wheelchair friendly.  For more details check out the Historic Dockyard Website

HMS Cavalier

This steel-hulled destroyer was launched in 1944 from East Cowes on the Isle of Wight and stands as a memorial at Chatham, to the 142 Royal Naval destroyers sunk during the Second World War.

D73 - HMS Cavalier, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

D73 - HMS Cavalier

You are permitted to wander around above and below decks as you wish.  Free to go and discover the cabins, mess rooms, wheelhouse and galley, these are great for kids to enjoy, young and old, we certainly did.

From the Bridge, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

From the Bridge

HMS Gannet

Launched in 1878, just 10 miles downriver, at Sheerness Dockyard. HMS Gannet was a Victorian Sloop, and her hull is built of teak on an iron frame. She looks impressive now, I can only imagine with all her sails fluttering in the wind what striking image she would have cut across the ocean waves.

The elegant HMS Gannet, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

The elegant HMS Gannet

Once again you are free to wander around HMS Gannet under your own steam, being careful as you climb up and down the decks. Any nautical questions you have, there’s a guide on hand to assist.

On the deck of HMS Gannet, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

On the deck of HMS Gannet

Plan ahead

Why not buy your tickets directly online, you’ll even save yourselves a few pounds each on an adult ticket?

2019 Pricing; Your tickets are valid for a year

Adult £25.00, Concessions £22.50, Children (5 – 15 years) £15.00, Family Ticket £66.00

Go for a stroll

There is so much to see and do at Chatham Dockyard you’ll easily be occupied all day visiting the exhibitions and Galleries. And although I loved climbing aboard the warships, I also really enjoyed just strolling around the cobbled streets and lanes, soaking up all the history.

The Fire Station & Crane, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

The Fire Station & Crane

The Clocktower Building, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

The Clocktower Building

No. 3 Slip

The incredible timber framed Slip built in 1838 is referred to as “The Big Space”, and you can see why. However, we were chatting to a volunteer, and he described it as a “cathedral”, and I agree with him. When you climb up the top to the mezzanine floor, it is just a sea of windows, and on a beautiful day, the sun radiates in.

The roof of 3 slip, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

The roof of 3 slip

What is impressive about this timber Slip, other than its 400 windows, is its cantilever frame and how the roof curves down to have accommodated the ship’s bow.

Outside No 3 slip, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

Outside No 3 slip

RNLI

The covered Slips which are next to “The Big Space”, were built only 10 years later and are made of cast iron. No. 4 Slip houses 16 Lifeboats from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and tells the story of the RNLI from its inception in 1824.

A Lifeboat House, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

A Lifeboat House

There’s a sloping platform that you can wander up and around to get a great view of the lifeboats below.

RNLB Grace Darling, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

RNLB Grace Darling

Pit Stop

There is certainly no lack of facilities at the Dockyard, there are plenty of eateries around, the Mess Deck and the Wagon Stop Canteen were a couple. Also, if your little ones just need to let off steam, there are also a few play areas (indoor and outdoor).

The Mess Deck, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

The Mess Deck

Or if you’re in need of a little retail therapy, pop into the onsite gift shop.

Inside the gift shop, Historic Chatham Dockyard, Kent, England, UK

Inside the gift shop

We had a fantastic day as guests at the Historic Dockyard Chatham, it’s full of excellent museums, exhibitions and galleries.

You’ll be pleased your ticket is valid for a year, as one day isn’t long enough.

Inspired to visit Historic Dockyard Chatham?

Why not stay for a couple of days and visit the castles of Rochester and Upnor?

Booking.com
The Historic Dockyard Chatham

(Why not Pin It for Later?)

Fifi and Hop
About the Author

Janis

Janis, the co-founder of Our World for You, was born in London and raised in Kent and the Isle of Wight. Along with Gary her partner, they have been travelling part time since 1995. In 2016, they decided that enough was enough with the 9 to 5, so armed with the knowledge and experience that they had gained on their adventures, that they wanted to inspire others to travel the world near and far.

If you enjoyed this post

Why not subscribe to our Monthly Newsletter?
Join Us
Give it a try, you can unsubscribe anytime.