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 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.
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
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.
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 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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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,
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?
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
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
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
Off to the dry docks
Now we’re off to discover the three warships and jumping on board for ourselves.
The dry docks
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
There’s a sloping platform that you can wander up and around to get a great view of the lifeboats below.
RNLB Grace Darling
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
Or if you’re in need of a little retail therapy, pop into the onsite gift shop.
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.
We were given two complimentary day tickets to the Historic Dockyard Chatham in exchange for an honest review and an account of our personal experiences.