Last Sunday we decided to have a day out. To get out of the workshop, away from the computers and London. After much deliberation, and finding out that we were a little too early in the season for most places to be open on a Sunday, we settled on going to Chatham Dockyards.
I’d been previously, about 3 years ago for a friends wedding, which meant I hadn’t actually looked around, and Malc had been years ago.
Around an hour outside of London, with great transport links, it’s an ideal place to visit for the day. Luckily for us, even though it was the end of half term it was nice and quiet with not too many small children to get under our feet.
We started off by booking places on the guided tours of the Victorian Ropery and the submarine. These are included within the cost of visiting the dockyard, but you do need to book in due to limited numbers allowed on each tour.
Our first stop was the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institute) exhibition showcasing the development of life boats and the service since its inception in 1897, with the largest collection of lifeboats in the country.
The RNLI are one of the charities I donate too, and I visit lifeboat stations whenever I can. I hope it’s a service I never need, but the sheer fact it is run purely in volunteers from local fishing/seaside communities has always impressed me.
Next we went into the 3 Slip, The Big Space. And it’s one of those things that does exactly what it says on the tin! It’s a space for big things!
Built in 1838, at the time it was the largest wide span timber structure in Europe. Originally it was a covered slipway and dry dock for when the shipyard was still building, but now it’s a storage space and hold a vast collection of epic objects (a very true description!) and vehicles from the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust and the Royal Engineers Museum, Archive and Library collection.
These large bits of machinery to keep Malc happy, but I have to say, going up to the top floor and seeing not only the open space, but the architecture was just stunning
Then, before we knew it we were off to the Ropewalk for our first guided tour.
Take out the fact this is done ‘in character’ (to which the tour guide apologised before going into character and starting!) this was the highlight of the whole day for me and I would highly recommend it.
It’s a fascinating piece of history, not only for the dockyard, but also the industrial revolution, and is still working to this day, using many of the original Victorian pieces of machinery and equipment.
It is the only one of the original 4 Royal Navy Ropeyards that is still working and producing rope 400 years later. A lot of which is used for adventure playgrounds, on film sets, but some is still used to rig sailing ships, most notably, the Cutty Sark and Victory.
The rope walk is a 1/4 of a mile long (my picture above really doesn’t show you the scale of it) and after the tour and mini demo, you are given the opportunity to walk along it.
It’s a fascinating place and great to see a true skill still being kept alive, even if there are now only 5 rope makers working there, rather than 100s.
After that it was time for us to do the tour of the submarine. HM Submarine Ocelot was that last Royal Navy warship to be built at Chatham, and was launched in 1963. I didn’t get any photos in here, but to say the least, it’s a small space, and impressive how many there were in a crew living and working within such tight confines.
A quick walk around the rest of the exhibitions on the general history of the dockyard and its closure in the early 1980s, left us enough time to meet up with friends who live in the dockyards for tea and cake in the cafe. (Stocked with locally sourced food and drink)
The Dockyard also uses some of its site to rent space to local businesses and the university and also rents and sells residential property, all adding to keeping the site open there as a historical record. It is also used as a film location, the most obvious and known at the moment is the TV series ‘Call the Midwife’ (For which they do tours)
Opening times are still on winters hours (10-4) until the 26th March when it is open 10-5 each day.
Adult tickets are £22.00 but seeing as we spent a whole day there and didn’t quite see everything, it’s worth the money.
A point of interest for those interested in the vintage scene, is the event they run in September called Salute to the 40s.
As the website says it includes –
“Living history, big band performances including The Glenn Miller Orchestra and The Hotsie Totsies, live vintage music, Traditional Seaside Fun, Best Dressed Competitions, all of this NEW alongside everything you know and love on site; dancing, re-enactments, wartime displays – Home Front and Military, Air Raid Experiences, climb on board a Second World War Destroyer, Spitfire and Hurricane static aircraft displays, 1940’s Bombed Out Street, ’40s genuine and replica shopping”
Below are just some of the photos I took
(All views and photos my own, I was not asked to review the collection but wanted to share one of our days out!)