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Collections17th December 2020

12 Days of Christmas

We hope you’re enjoying the Christmas break albeit a little different to what we all expected at the beginning of this year. To celebrate the festive season we thought we would bring you the 12 days of Christmas but with a dockyard twist. Enjoy following along on our social media channels each day and discovering something new about our historic site …

On the 1st day of Christmas my true love gave to me… 

… a Partridge in a mulberry tree

In Commissioners Garden, you’ll find a 17th century mulberry tree. Legend suggests that Oliver Cromwell stood beneath this tree to watch Rochester surrendered to his forces in 1648. The tree is also mentioned in Samuel Pepys diaries and he allegedly once ‘entertained’ a lady under the shade of the tree.

The mulberry tree still produces an abundance of fruit to this day.

On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me…

… two turtle doves (or in this case, two sweethearts kissing)

This ‘On Leave at Sheerness’ postcard showing a sailor and sweetheart kissing dates from May 1910.  Annotated on the reverse is: ‘Darling lots of love and kisses BG xxxxxx‘. The postcard was sent to ‘A.G. Penn H.M.S. Ameyn Sheerness Yard.’ Stamp dated 14 May 1910.

On the third day of Christmas by true love sent to me …

… three French hens (or, in Dockyard terms, a ‘cock of the fleet’)

Did you know HMS Cavalier was crowned the ‘cock of the fleet’?

This metal sculpture of a cockerel was presented to HMS Cavalier by Bass Brewery in 1971 in honour of winning a race with similar ship HMS Rapid. The sculpture can be seen on Cavalier’s bridge.


On the forth day of Christmas my true love gave to me …
… four calling birds (four canteen ladies)
Before the 1920s, Dockyard workers had to supply their own food. Workers’ wives and children gathered at the gates at noon to deliver their lunch. However, during the 1860s dining rooms were provided for those who could not easily travel. To help maintain the canteens the Dockyard Workmen’s Canteen Association was formed in 1882. By 1920, canteens started to appear throughout the Dockyard site. By the 1970s, the canteens were largely staffed by women and two mobile canteens were introduced to the yard.
On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me …
… five gold rings
It might not be five gold rings but we do have one rather special compass ring from our HMS Invincible collection. The compass ring would attach to a compass bowl and form part of the navigation suite of tools for the ship. A compass bowl would hold a compass card with attached magnet or magnets mounted on a central pivot. The compass card was divided into 32 parts called points. Each part is subdivided into four additional points with the whole divided into 360 degrees.

It is commonly believed that the mariner’s compass was introduced into Europe in the fifteenth century, but it seems to have been well known in a primitive form in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me …

… six geese a laying

We couldn’t find any geese, so instead we’ve taken this one in its broadest sense and linked it to days of creation. This black and white image shows convicts preparing stone blocks during the construction of the ‘new Chatham basin’ in the 1860s.


On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me …

… seven swans a swimming

Sadly there are no reports of swans ever swimming in the swimming pool at Pembroke Barracks (pictured). Did you know you can still see this under the floor?

Take a listen to Leonard Griffin recalling his memories of swimming instructor, Dan Sproston.


On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me …

… eight maids a milking

Our very own Linda Brown, not quite a maid milking but ceremoniously crowed ‘Maid of the Month’ in the August 1974 edition of the Dockyard newspaper, Periscope.

Linda’s connection with the Dockyard began when she started working here in 1970. Her first role was as a Clerical Officer in the Personnel Department and part of her role was to process the applications of new apprentices to the yard.

With her administrative and organisational skills, Linda was promoted to an Executive Clerical Officer in the new Nuclear Submarine Refitting Facility. Linda and the other women employees were not permitted to work on the Nuclear Submarines ‘due to the radiation levels’. However, with the arrival and successes of female apprentices, times were beginning to change. In 1974 Linda was asked to visit the reactor compartment of a visiting submarine, making her one of the first two women in the world to go inside of a nuclear submarine reactor compartment.

Linda was ‘devastated’ by the closure of the Dockyard in 1984 as she had ‘always hoped to come back’. After 19 years in teaching she finally did return in 2009 and is now one of our Learning Assistants. Her own story enables her to shine a light on women’s roles and lives within the late 20th century Dockyard.


On the ninth day of Christmas my true love sent to me …

… nine ladies dancing

We don’t just have ladies dancing, we have the Meddolarks.

The Meddolarks were an active social society within the Dockyard and included men and women. They put on annual shows including music and sketches. They designed and produced their own programmes which, with their cartoons, are entertaining in their own right.

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love sent to me …

… ten lords a leaping

A lord of a slightly different peerage, here is Overload, our historic locomotive.

Overlord was one of 20 locomotives ordered by the Ministry of Defence in 1941. This small diesel locomotive was designed and built by Andrew Barclay, Sons & Co.Ltd. at their Kilmarnock Works.

She was named ‘Overlord’ as part of 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 owed by the Royal Engineers’ Museum and cared for by Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust.


On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me …

… eleven pipers piping


Instead of pipers piping, we bring you pipes-a-bending! Who has visited the pipe bending floor inside No.1 Smithery?


On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me …

… twelve drummers drumming

With all Royal Navy bands through the years, we’re definitely not short of drummers!

To round off our 12 days of Christmas, here is the Royal Marine’s band marching on the helipad, in front of Commissioner’s House.

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