Hi guys it’s John here, took me a look time to find this content on my dads old laptop but I have it! Been having a little bit of a hectic week – If you didn’t know I have taken a year in placement from university, as you know I am studying masters in building surveying I thought it appropriate to work somewhere in the industry. I am working at JP Concrete where most of my days is spent organising the prestressed concrete panels from the clients order etc. Anyway without further ado here she is, the full history of our World Naval Base!
Without The Royal Dockyard at Chatham, the history of Kent and indeed Britain could have been very different. It was Chatham that prepared the ships of the Elizabethan Navy for battle against the Spanish and Chatham that built one of most famous ships in the world, HMS Victory, which became Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar.
In the 19th century, Chatham Dockyard was at the forefront of the change from wooden to metal warship construction and in the 20th century Chatham embraced the new technology required to build submarines. For over 400 years, Chatham played a vital role in the defence of the nation and in the life of the local community.
The history of the Royal Dockyard at Chatham can be traced back to the reign of Henry VIII, although many experts think its origins could be even earlier. Records show that in 1547 the Navy was using the River Medway to supply ships from a storehouse rented on “Jyllingham Water”. Before long a small dockyard had been established and in 1586, the first Chatham built warship, the Sunne, was launched.
Within 40 years, Chatham was among the most important of the Royal Dockyards. The modern day gardens of Commissioners House date from this original dockyard and it is said that Oliver Cromwell sat beneath the garden’s Mulberry Tree to watch the Parliamentarians attack Royalist Rochester during the Civil War.
Rarely has an enemy attacked the Royal Navy in port but the Dutch Admiral de Ruyter led a daring raid on Chatham’s dockyard in June 1667 and England suffered one of its worst ever maritime defeats. The Dutch came up the Thames, ransacking Canvey Island and Sheerness before heading for the great dockyard at Chatham.
Chatham was ill prepared, the only line of defence being a chain stretched across the river. Weighing over 14 tons this chain was a mighty affair. However, the chain was easily broken and 15 English ships were either burned or sunk. The Dutch captured the 100-gun Royal Charles without a single shot being fired, much to the consternation of the English authorities in London.
Over the years, The Royal Dockyard at Chatham provided sterling service to the Navy, constructing such famous vessels as Nelson’s Victory in 1765 and the impressive battleship HMS Africa in 1905. The launch of HMS Africa proved to be a turning point in the history of Chatham, at a length of 425 feet she was the largest vessel that could safely be built in the ‘yard. As ships increased in size more work was given to other dockyards.
Submarines were built at Chatham until 1966, with the dockyard still re-fitting submarines until the early 1980s. As the Cold War came to an end Chatham was no longer needed and in 1984, the navy left, closing one of Britain’s most famous naval institutions.
Today The Historic Dockyard Chatham contains 47 scheduled ancient moments and is the most complete dockyard from the age of sail in the world. The international importance of the dockyard has been recognised by the UK government who included it on a list of locations to be nominated to the United Nations for World Heritage Site Status.