Hundreds of thousands of visitors to The Historic Dockyard Chatham have marvelled at the story of rope and been amazed by the iconic Rope Walk which stretches the length of 33 London buses.
The Ropery’s popularity at the Historic Dockyard has meant that over the last couple of years it was unable to fully meet demand from visitors; so it was decided a new and exciting gallery space was required to accommodate everyone who wanted to learn the unique history of this important British story.
Now, with the help of funding from the DCMS Wolfson Museums and Galleries Improvements Fund and the Garfield Weston Culture Fund, Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust, the charity behind the award-winning Historic Dockyard Chatham, will unveil an all-new Ropery gallery in March 2022. This will double visitor capacity to the space and showcase the history of rope-making at Chatham, a world-beating collection of rope tools and also stories of the importance of rope from around the world.
Rope has been made at Chatham for over 400 years and today it is the last of the original four Royal Navy Ropeyard’s to remain in operation.
Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust has selected innovative creative studio Lima – based in Nottingham for this important redesign. Founded in 2020 by interpretation consultant Lindsay McGuirk and designer Martyn Johnson, the team has recently been responsible for interpretive design services at the National Museum of Royal Navy and Armagh Observatory and Planetarium.
Lindsay McGuirk said “We are excited for visitors to rediscover the Ropery and engage with its story in new ways. Our design carefully responds to the historic space, layering immersive film, soundscape, mass artefact displays, interpretive graphics and hands-on interactives to create an atmospheric and sensory journey that puts the Ropery workers, past and present, at its heart.”
Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust recently acquired a vast collection of rope-making and rope related objects from Des Pawson MBE and his (now closed) Museum of Knots & Sailor’s Ropework in Ipswich, so narrowing them down for the display has been a challenge for the new design team.
Lindsay McGuirk added: “It’s the first time the artefacts will be displayed at Chatham and they really enhance storytelling around rope, its uses and the process of rope making.”
The newly re-designed space will dramatically increase capacity in the gallery for 2022 and help to engage even more visitors with learning about this integral part of the former Royal Naval dockyard.
Nick Ball, Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust Collections, Galleries and Interpretation Manager said “In doubling capacity of the Ropery tours alone we will be able to increase the regularity of tours for visitors to The Historic Dockyard Chatham as well as allowing for growth over the next 10 years. The team at Lima is confident that this approach will create a modern free flow gallery space that will enable many more visitors to visit the Ropery and learn about these important buildings, the skills required with rope making and their place in British history, with over 400 years rooted in Chatham.”
The Trust has also been working with staff from the universities of Kent and Greenwich, as part of the AHRC funded Sonic Palimpsest project. The team have created an immersive soundscape for the new gallery, using recordings of working Ropemakers and machinery.
The production artwork is underway and the team at Lima are working closely with Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust and build partners as they begin the manufacturing process, ready for installation in the New Year, in preparation for the big public reveal in March 2022.
Initial design concept: