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Behind the Scenes11th January 2021

Heritage Treasures day: preserving the most complete dockyard from the Age of Sail

Carving of the data 2020 in new wood as part of 3 Slip repair at The Historic Dockyard Chatham

Heritage Treasures Day 2021

As a charity with preservation embedded as a core objective, the maintenance of our 80 acre site is of upmost importance. 2020 presented a number of challenges but the impact of COVID-19 has not stopped our efforts to ensure the most complete dockyard of the Age of Sail remains complete for generations to come.

Over the past few months our teams have been working on a number of preservation and maintenance projects and National Lottery Heritage Fund’s Heritage Treasures day gives us the perfect opportunity to share some of these …

(built in 1808 – Grade II* Listed)

Our teams undertake regular routine inspections of The Historic Dockyard Chatham’s buildings and structures and an inspection of the Royal Dockyard Church uncovered some significant timber decay in the corners of the building.

At the point of discovering the decay, scaffolding was erected and a deeper inspection took place which discovered much more widespread decay. The extent of the decay was totally unexpected but led to a 6 week programme of work to remove the damaged timber, with this being replaced by new Douglas Fir timber – moulded to create an exact and sympathetic repair. The timber was treated with Windowcare Resin which helps to seal the timber and allow us to preserve as much of the original fabric as possible.

Today – the Royal Dockyard Church is utilised by the University of Kent as a state-of-the-art lecture theatre and the works undertaken have had no negative impact on the facility.

(built in 1847 – Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade I Listed)

The condition of timber within No.3 Covered Slip is monitored on a regular basis and as part of regular inspections, a section of rot was noticed within the supports to the roof structure.

The location of the timbers in question were at the front of the building and exceptionally difficult to access which made a full inspection of the issue extremely problematic.

classical music concert

A self-supported access tower was created at the front of the building (approximately 50ft in height) to allow a full inspection. A series of tests were operated on the timber to assess the decay and we appointed the Morton Partnership to act as a Structural Engineer to support the project.

Working with the Morton Partnership, we developed a repair scheme to remove the decaying timber and replace it with a new Douglas Fir timber, creating a scarf joint to insert the repair.

Temporary measures were put in place to maintain the integrity of the structure and to leave space for the insertion which is held in place through compression (the force of the structure on either side pressing to create a solid structure). The timbers were then bolted in place and carved with the date of repair (2020) to allow future generation to see when the repair had taken place. We adopt this approach with all repairs to make it clear to all users where a repair has taken place and when it happened.

The replacement of the timber took approximately 1 week but the creation and dismantlement of the access tower took twice as long. As with all our historic structures, we will continue to monitor the condition of the rest of the building.

(launched in 1878)

HMS Gannet

Routine inspections in 2019 identified significant rot within HMS Gannet’s Bowsprit. The bowsprit is a spar running out from a ship’s bow (front), to which rigging is fastened. The level of decay in the timber had reached the point where the bowsprit meets the rest of the vessel so urgent repairs were required.

We purchased a large single piece of Douglas Fir to complete the repair, which was delivered just before the first National Lockdown in March 2020. When it was safe to undertake the works, we appointed TS Rigging to di-rig the ship and create a new bow sprit, using traditional wood carving methods.

Once manufactured, the bowsprit was added to the bow and the rigging was reattached. HMS Gannet is now back to its pristine condition but as with all of our historic buildings, regular maintenance and inspections continue to take place to ensure the long-term preservation of our ships.

The combined cost of these works totalled approximately £100,000 and we are grateful for the generous support of Arts Council England through their Emergency Support Fund to enable these urgent works to take place.

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