The original house was built in 1640 for the First Resident Commissioner Phineas Pett, his family and servants. In 1703 it was knocked down and rebuilt in its present style for the new Resident Commissioner George St Lo. Lo felt that the original house did not compare to his previous, and newly built, residence in Plymouth and petitioned for a new one to be built of equal grandeur.
The house has changed little since its construction and it is the oldest intact naval building in Britain to survive. Internally the centrepiece is a magnificent ceiling painting above the main staircase. Painted on wood panel and depicting a scene the Greek gods assembling, it is believed to have come from the Great Cabin of the Royal Sovereign an important first rate ship of the line, broken up at Chatham in 1768.
Provision for the spiritual welfare of those who worked in the Dockyard was not made until 1755, when a hulk was provided in the river for use as a chapel. In 1804 approval was gained for the construction of a dockyard church. It was designed by Edward Holl and was built largely by the Dockyard’s own workforce. It has an internal gallery supported on slender cast-iron columns. It is one of the first uses of cast-iron in the Dockyard. The last service in the Dockyard Church was in December 1981.
Today the church is used as a lecture theatre for the University of Kent. This new lease of life has allowed the building to be restored, providing a stable future for the building and is appreciated by all those who use it.
One of two ranges of stables in the Dockyard that provided accommodation for the horses of the Dockyard’s principal officers. The southern block contains a coach-house which was used for the Resident Commissioner’s carriage.
During much of the age of sail the Resident Commissioner at Chatham was also responsible for operations at Sheerness Dockyard. Although only 12 miles away the journey to Sheerness by river could take a long time if winds and tides were unfavourable. The Commissioner was therefore provided with an official carriage and horses.
Today the range of buildings is largely residential.
This comprises twelve large houses built for the senior offices of the Dockyard. The rooms on the lower floor would have originally been used as offices until the construction of the Dockyard’s first office block in 1750. Each house has its own walled garden, now some of Britain’s few remaining eighteenth-century ‘town’ gardens.
Six of the houses are larger than the others and were for the principal officers. They were the Master Shipwright, the Clerk of the Cheque, the Storekeeper, the Clerk of the Survey and two Master Attendants. The other houses were occupied less senior men: the Clerk to the Ropeyard and Master Ropemaker, the first and second Assistant Master Shipwrights, the Mast Caulker and the Surgeon.
Today these houses are private residences.
This substantial building was constructed for the pay clerks and other staff of the Clerk of the Cheque. It was originally a single-storey structure with the upper floors being added later on. John Dickens, father of Charles Dickens, worked as a pay clerk in this building between 1817 and 1822. Paid £200 per year, he attended the regular muster of all the artisans and labourers employed in the Dockyard and met arriving ships to pay the crews. Charles Dickens made many visits to the Dockyard, both then and later, writing some of his experience in his book The Uncommercial Traveller.
The building remains in use as an office today.
Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust welcomes the news that museums and visitor attractions are able to reopen to visitors from 4 July.
We are actively planning to welcome visitors back to the Dockyard as soon as we are safely able to do so but this will be some time after 4 July.
We will make a further announcement to confirm the exact date as soon as we can.
In the meantime, much of Dockyard life has never stopped. Master Ropemakers has started operating again and we are taking forward bookings for filming, group travel and hospitality, including weddings. Call the Midwife Official Location Tours will resume shortly.
We would like to thank all our visitors for their understanding during this challenging period.
Last updated: 25 June 2020