by Janis on 19th February 2019 / 0 comments

Maritime History spanning 400 years

Rigging, ropes and an Ocelot

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.

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.

The pin image for our post - 'The Historic Dockyard Chatham, Kent, England
Why not Pin it for later?
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.
Looking up at the white rooflines of the boathouses of the Historic Dockyard Chatham contracting against a cloudless deep blue sky.
The boathouse skyline

Our List ...

To make it easier to navigate, we have quick links to the following sections;
You can click on the link to jump to the section, and to return, just click on the title.

Covid19 - Advice

The Dockyard Chatham have put in protocols to keep your visit as safe as possible, and that means certain features in this article are currently unavailable. Please check their website for the latest information.

First Port of Call at Chatham Dockyard

Book your timed tours for HMS Ocelot and the ropery
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 white weatherboarded Upper Mast House against a deep blue sky at the Historic Dockyard Chatham
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.
Looking at the bow end of HMS Ocelot in dry dock at Chatham Dockyard
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
Prior to heading outside, take a wander around the “Command of the Oceans” galleries in the Mast Houses and Mould Loft.
A cast-iron cannon at the entrance to the Command of the Oceans exhibition at the Historic Dockyard Chatham
Command of the Oceans

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 the trade of shipbuilding and even have a go yourselves.

Janis standing in front of the giant model of HMS Victory in the Command of the Oceans exhibition at the Historic Dockyard Chatham
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 display of the timbers of the 18th century HMS Namur discovered at the Historic Dockyard Chatham
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.
A close-up view of the dried out timers of the 18th century HMS Namur at the Historic Dockyard Chatham
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
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 exterior of the brick-built Ropery at Chatham Dockyard
The Ropery

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 view along the quarter-mile rope run inside the ropery at Chatham Dockyard
Inside the Ropery

Chatham Dockyard ropery tour

The rope house with a ¼ mile ‘rope-walk’
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 tour guide, dressed in period clothing, at the start of the Ropery tour at the Historic Dockyard Chatham
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.
A wooden trolley once used in the rope making process inside the ropery at the Historic Dockyard Chatham
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.
Inside the Ropery at the Historic Chatham Dockyard where an old bike, the only transport to cover the distance, rests against the equipment.
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!)
A close-up of the iron hooks with ropes attached to the spinning head of a rope making machine.
Up close rope making,

Stay informed

Why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter for some travel inspiration, some tips and find out what we've been up to?
Or alternatively, why not follow us on your favourite social media channel?
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. 
The warehouses alongside the Ropery at the Historic Dockyard Chatham
Chatham or Poplar?
Quiet lanes between brick-built warehouse buildings of Chatham Dockyard that double as different locations & different periods in plenty of movies.
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.
The brick-built facade to buildings now used on TV & movie in period pieces shot at the Historic Dockyard Chatham
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 Exhibition

Chatham Dockyard after the Age of Sail
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.
Various display items from the Steam, Steel and Submarine exhibition at the Historic Dockyard Chatham
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.
A model of a submarine inside a slip inside the Steam, Steel and Submarine exhibition at the Historic Dockyard Chatham
Later history in the exhibition

How to get to the Historic Dockyard Chatham

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.

Now we’re off to discover the three warships and jumping on board for ourselves.
A view from the Historic Dockyard Chatham with HMS Gannet moored in a dry dock in front of #3 slip.
The dry docks

HMS Ocelot

Clamber through a submarine
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.
The view from the stern along the length of HMS Ocelot at Chatham Dockyard
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.

A mass of dials and controls at one station onboard HMS Ocelot at the Historic Dockyard Chatham
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 onboard, but who knows if they were ever fired in anger?
The torpedo tubes of HMS Ocelot, an exhibit at Chatham Dockyard
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.

Janis clambering through one of the hatches on board HMS Ocelot at the Historic Dockyard Chatham
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

All hands-on deck for this Naval destroyer
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.
A front, side-on, view of HMS Cavalier, at the Historic Dockyard Chatham, Kent
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.
The view from the bridge of HMS Cavalier overlooking the Commissioner's House at the Historic Dockyard Chatham
From the Bridge

HMS Gannet

Explore the decks of a Victorian Sloop
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.
HMS Gannet, at home in its dock at the Historic Chatham Dockyard with its rigging contrasted against the blue sky.
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.
The steering gear on the open deck of HMS Gannet at the Historic Dockyard Chatham
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?

2021 (OnLine) Pricing; Your tickets are valid for a year
Adult £22.00
Concessions £19.50
Children (5 – 15 years) £13.00
Family Ticket £58.50

The Historic Dockyard is a family treat

Go for a stroll on a voyage of discovery
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.
A grey dock crane in the foreground, and the brick-built fire station in the background, at the Historic Dockyard Chatham, Kent
The Fire Station & Crane
The view from the outside the Wagon Stop Canteen towards the Commissioner's House with its bell & clocktower
The Clocktower Building
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 impressive internal space and roof of number 3 slip in Chatham Dockyard, a museum and part-time film set.
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.
The outside view of Number 3 slip from onboard HMS Gannet at the Historic Dockyard Chatham
Outside No 3 slip

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution - The RNLI

The history of lifeboats from 1824
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 historic lifeboat station mocked in the slip that houses the RNLI display at the Historic Dockyard Chatham
A Lifeboat House
There’s a sloping platform that you can wander up and around to get a great view of the lifeboats below.
Standing above the RNLB Grace Darling in the RNLI display at the Historic Dockyard Chatham
RNLB Grace Darling

Pit Stop; it’s time to refuel

Take a break at Chatham Dockyard’s ‘Mess Deck’
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).
Three white flowers in a glass jar set on a table in the Mess Deck restaurant area of Historic Dockyard Chatham
The Mess Deck
Or if you’re in need of a little retail therapy, pop into the onsite gift shop.
Call the Midwife gifts on display in the gift shop at the Historic Dockyard Chatham
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.

Where to stay in Chatham

- The Ship & Trades - Located in the bustling heart of Chatham Marina, offering comfortable rooms with harbourside views. It also has free parking, ideal for a road trip.

Our video of Historic Dockyard Chatham

We have created a little YouTube video of our visit to the Historic Dockyard Chatham - why not check it out?

You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel and get the latest clips as we post them?

Disclaimer

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.
There are currently no comments. Why don't you kick things off?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.