THE BYGONE AGE
At its peak, it is estimated that there were approximately 17 miles of standard gauge railway within the Dockyard. Today we have just under 1 mile of track remaining. The section (laid tramway style) starts just outside the Historic Dockyard (adjacent to No.7 Slip) and runs through the middle of our site to the southern end of Anchor Wharf.
Our historic railway is operated by a team of dedicated volunteers, who work tirelessly to restore the locomotives, wagons and cranes, and help keep a valuable piece of the Dockyard’s history alive.
Whether you’re a railway enthusiast, you just have a casual interest or you want to re-live childhood memories, our railway provides the perfect photo opportunity to get up close to our historic locomotives and chat to our knowledgeable volunteers.
The railway within The Historic Dockyard Chatham is unlike any other heritage railway operation elsewhere in the UK in terms of its operating characteristics and its organisational structure. There is no Club or Association to join, there are no membership fees to pay, and there are no commercial issues to manage.
The role of the railway volunteer is to operate and help maintain the railway and its equipment as directed by the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust.
History of the Railway
A railway system began to be developed in the 19th century, initially horse-drawn and at 1067mm / 3ft 6in gauge. The first steam locomotive at this gauge was delivered in 1865. A narrow-gauge (457mm / 18 inch) network was also developed, with its first steam locomotive being acquired in 1871. A standard gauge (1435 mm / 4ft 8½ in) branch line connecting the dockyard system to the London, Chatham and Dover Railway Company main line at Gillingham was opened in 1877. The standard gauge network within the Dockyard began to be developed from this time, and the first standard gauge steam locomotive was delivered in 1888.
The narrow gauge network became obsolete around the end of the First World War, and from then on railway operations began to be concentrated on the standard gauge network. Narrow gauge operations ceased in the 1930s. At its peak, it was estimated that there were 17 miles of standard gauge railway. The Royal Naval Dockyard closed in 1984, and today there is less than 1 mile of track remaining within the Historic Dockyard.
Further information about the history of the railway system in the Dockyard, its equipment and past engines can be found on our volunteer run website or in the Chatham Dockyard Historical Society’s Research Paper No.43 ‘A Brief History of Chatham Dockyard’s Railway System’ which is available in the Reading Room or can be purchased from the Steam, Steel & Submarines gallery
The remaining section of track, which is mainly laid tramway-style, starts from a point just outside The Historic Dockyard, adjacent to No.7 Slip, and then runs through the middle of the Dockyard to the southern end of Anchor Wharf. It is now used for running demonstration freight trains, steam crane operations and other ancillary railway operations.
The railway network within the Historic Dockyard is operated entirely by the volunteers of the Railway Volunteer Group and supported by staff of Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust.
We run a fleet of heritage locomotives, both diesel and steam, plus a steam crane. Train operations take place during the Salute to the ’40s event and over a number of weekends during the year.
This was one of twenty locomotives ordered by the Ministry of Defence in 1941. This small diesel locomotive was designed and built by Andrew Barclay, Sons & Co at their Kilmarnock Works. Originally, she was sent to Longmore to prepare for the invasion of Europe following D-Day. She was shipped to Cherbourg, France from Southampton for use in the war effort. Arriving in September 1944, she and her two sister locomotives were put into service with the 102nd Transportation Stores Depot at Bayeux. After a year she was moved to Ghent and renumbered to WD 70042.
The loco returned home in 1946 and her number was changed to WD 823. In February 1951 she was sent out to the Middle East with five other locomotives but returned just a year later to Bicester Central Ordinance Depot, becoming WD 859. Soon she had travelled all around the UK serving the MOD at the following sites: Bicester Workshops Arncott, Royal Ordinance Factory Featherstone, Royal Ordinance Factory Ruddington, Technical Store Sinfin Lane, Ordinance Storage and Disposal Depot Branston, Command Engineer Park Hessay and lastly Central Ammunitions Depot Cumbria.
In October 1992, ARMY 202 (as she had by then been renumbered), was restored to her original identity of WD 70042 and named ‘Overlord’ as she was to be involved in events to mark the 50th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings in France. In commemoration she also received a bell which is ‘dedicated to allied Railway men who gave their lives for the liberation of Europe’.
Today she is owned by the Royal Engineers’ Museum and has been brought back into use and cared for by Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust.
‘Ajax’ was built by Robert Stephenson & Hawthorn Ltd in 1941 and delivered new to Chatham Dockyard. In 1972 the Admiralty disposed of all its remaining steam locomotives at Chatham except ‘Ajax’. During Admiralty ownership, the loco carried the Yard No of 361.
‘Ajax’ was kept in working order and used until the closure of the Dockyard in 1984. After the Dockyard closed, ‘Ajax’ was placed in secure storage until the opening of The Historic Dockyard in 1985.
In December 1986 the locomotive was withdrawn from service for its first 10 year boiler overhaul in preservation. At the end of its 10 year boiler certificate in December 1996, the locomotive was again withdrawn from service and placed in store until 1999, when its second major overhaul began, with the locomotive returning to service in 2001.
The locomotive is currently in storage awaiting a full overhaul. Options for financing this work are currently being explored.
‘Rochester Castle’ is a diesel locomotive that was built by F.C.Hibberd & Co.Ltd in 1955 and delivered new to Chatham Dockyard. She was the first of six diesel locomotives ordered by the Admiralty to replace their ageing steam locomotives. During Admiralty ownership, the loco carried the Yard No. 562.
She worked at Chatham until the closure of the dockyard in 1984. After the closure, the locomotive was placed in secure storage until the opening of The Historic Dockyard in 1985.
The locomotive has recently been restored to working order and can be seen running within The Historic Dockyard.
‘Thalia’ was built by Drewry/Robert Stephenson & Hawthorn in 1954. The locomotive was supplied new to William Cory & Sons Ltd where it was named after one of the Three Graces in Greek mythology. The locomotive was painted black with Cory’s standard logo on each side. The locomotive spent all its working life in Cory’s sidings, which were located adjacent to Blue Boar Wharf, Rochester, Kent.
By 1983 the locomotive stood disused in one of the sidings next to Cory’s offices. In 1985 the locomotive was purchased by a member of the North Downs Railway Society and the locomotive was moved to The Historic Dockyard Chatham, where the North Downs Railway Society operated the internal railway on behalf of Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust. Upon its arrival at the Historic Dockyard, the locomotive was used to operate demonstration freight trains.
After a period of operation, it was decided to undertake an extensive refit of the locomotive and it was moved into No.3 covered slip and stripped down. The locomotive was still in this condition when the North Downs Railway Society left the Historic Dockyard in 1987. At this time, the locomotive was sold and the new owner restored the locomotive to working order, repainting it green.
The locomotive is kept in working order and can been seen running within the Historic Dockyard.
The steam cranes supplied to Chatham Dockyard were ‘Locomotive Yard Cranes’. These were cranes designed to haul wagons around the Dockyard railway system as well as lifting goods as required.
The cranes were built by Grafton Cranes Ltd at their Vulcan Works in Bedford and were delivered to the Dockyard in the 1930s and 1940s.
The cranes run on a six wheeled carriage, with a coal fired boiler and were designed to work on a pressure of 100psi.
The 30ft worm-driven jib is driven from the 2-cylinder main engine and is fitted with a single hoist rope, which has a lifting capacity of 5 tons at 24 feet or 3 tons at 30 feet.
There are four ex-dockyard steam cranes on the Historic Dockyard Railway, these are:
- Works No.2528 1938 Yard No. 482 – privately preserved
- Works No.2547 1940 Yard No. 517 – privately preserved
- Works No.2641 1941 Yard No. 558 – Owned by the Dockyard and awaiting overhaul
- Works No.2675 1943 Yard No. 582 – privately preserved and fully operational
The current wagon fleet consists of the following individual vehicles:
- London North Eastern Railway 10-ton box van, which is still running on its original axleboxes.
- London North Western Railway 10-ton box van, which is running on London Midland & Scottish Railway axleboxes.
- London Brighton & South Coast Railway 10-ton box van, running on Southern Railway axleboxes.
- Fife Coal Company 5-plank open wagon.
- Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway 3-plank open wagon, running on Great Central Railway axleboxes.
- Great Northern Railway 4-plank open wagon still running on its original axleboxes.
- Midland Railway, 4-plank open wagon still running on its original axleboxes.
- A pair of London Midland & Scottish Railway match-trucks still running on original axleboxes.
- A Great Western Railway bogie well wagon, still running on its original axleboxes.
- These wagons were built to special specifications for the Admiralty for use as mobile gun batteries.
- During the First World War, this wagon was fitted with a 6-inch naval gun, but unfortunately after they had fired the gun a few times it had a tendency to bend the track!
- During the Second World War this wagon was fitted with an anti-aircraft gun.
- After the war the gun was removed and the wagon was used to move heavy loads around the dockyard.
- 2 four-wheeled Admiralty tank wagons.
- Built by Metropolitan Cammel Carriage & Wagon Co. Ltd. at their Midland Works in Birmingham in 1939.
- These were used to convey lubricating oil between oil refineries and the different Admiralty installations.
- Small 8-ton box van, for which no details of origin are available. It has been an internal-use only wagon at the Dockyard for some considerable time.
- It is running on axleboxes marked Stapleford & Co. Coalville, near Leicester, dated 1896.
With thanks to Neil Short, Sharon Lockyer and Andy Veitch for researching and writing this page and for supplying photographs.
Dive a little deeper into the Historic Railway with our blogs, many of which are written by our Railway Volunteers.
Don’t miss out on experiencing the other attractions and galleries as part of your visit to the Historic Dockyard.