After the Sheerness adventure I went on to Chatham dockyard – not without difficulty, as it was possibly the moat confusing place I’ve been in my life – no signs along the road, a great gate that you can’t get in, and then finally a pedestrian entrance which is only labelled from the other direction, and which leaves you in one corner of a great waste of other people’s carparks, still with nothing to point you towards the entrance in the faraway opposite corner.
And so I was late getting there, and later once I’d eaten lunch – I was starving – and everything is done by slow guided tour, so they’d organised me into a 3pm ropery tour before telling me that I wouldn’t have time to see the main actual Age of Sail exhibit beforehand, and without telling me that the ropeworks would take so long I wouldn’t have time after.
Right, I’ve had my moan. And after all it’s not like Portsmouth, where I might never be in my life again – it’s quite conceivable that I’ll find a reason to go back to London in the next twelve months, which is how long the ticket lasts. And what I did see was interesting.
This is the old main gate, the one that you can’t get in, with George III’s arms over it.
The entrance, once found, is through this line of old workshops – although this is the inside.
Chatham by the Napoleonic period was mainly a building yard, with ships refitting in the Thames or at Sheerness rather than trying to make their way up the Medway, and several of the ‘working’ buildings seem to have been built about that time.
The mast house building is older, from the 1750s, but the upper floor is the mould loft where the plans for Victory were made (this is what I wanted to get to and didn’t).
No. 1 smithery was built in 1808, originally as a courtyard which was later roofed over. At first it was used for making chains and anchors, but of course more and more work was done in iron as time went on. It holds an exhibition of ship paintings and models – from a range of periods, but with plenty of wooden sailing ships!
A line of stores and office buildings lead down towards the ropery. The Clocktower building, built in 1723 and rebuilt in 1802, is the oldest surviving naval storehouse.
The (Port) Admiral’s offices also date from 1808, and were originally the offices of the master shipwright.
The Commisioner’s House, here shown slightly squint because I was in a hurry, was built in 1704 and is apparently the oldest surviving naval building in England. You can’t go into the house, but you can go into the gardens behind.