‘…under this bridge the Medway foams and rolls with great violence and rapidity, and presently abating both, forms a dock finished for the finest fleet the sun ever beheld, and ready on a minutes warning, built lately by our most gracious sovereign Elizabeth for the security of her subjects and the terror of her enemies…’, Camden, Britannia, 1606
The first documentary evidence of the Royal Navy’s use of the River Medway is in the Pipe Roll Accounts of 1547 which record the rental of two storehouses on ‘Jyllingham Water’.
By 1570 dockyard facilities had been constructed below Chatham Church (close to the present day Chatham Waterfront Bus Station) with a wharf, storehouses and slipway. The first warship known to have been built at the new yard was the Merlin, a pinnace of ten guns, launched in 1579.
In 1588 the shipwrights of Chatham prepared the Queen’s ships for their ultimate test – to face the might of the Spanish Armada and in March of that year the majority of the fleet set sail under the Lord High Admiral, Lord Howard of Effingham, to make the journey west to Plymouth to fight the Spanish fleet. Two Chatham built ships, the Merlin and the Sunne, fought in the action against the Armada.
No buildings of the Tudor dockyard survive today for in 1618 the dockyard moved to the site of the present Historic Dockyard and the Tudor yard was redeveloped as Gun Wharf for the Ordnance Board’s facilities at Chatham.