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Behind the Scenes28th April 2021

Hidden Heroines: Behind the scenes

Amaze. Discover. Empower.

“Hidden Heroines: the untold stories of the women of the Dockyard” is a new temporary exhibition set to open in No.1 Smithery this Spring. The exhibition explores the valuable roles women played throughout the Dockyard’s 400-year history, right up to present day.

As we prepare to reopen The Historic Dockyard and unveil Hidden Heroines for the first time, we would like to take you behind the scenes for a small insight into what is involved in putting together a new exhibition …

Discovering new stories to tell

The Collections Team has been busy uncovering stories that have never been told at Chatham. Periscope, Chatham Dockyard’s newspaper, has provided an amazing insight into the lives of the women that worked at the Dockyard between 1965 to 1983.

Female leaning over drawed cabinet looking at newspapers

New donations ensuring legacy of exhibition

Over the last few months, the team has been recording oral history interviews of women that worked at the Dockyard. These recordings will appear in the accompanying Hidden Heroines digital exhibition and be stored in our archive, protected for future generations to access.

Digitising photographs

We have over 10,000 photographs in our Collection. The Collections Team has been digitising some amazing images of women that worked in the Dockyard.

Hand laying a newspaper on an image scanner

The photographs of Women working during the First and Second World Wars as Dockyard workers or in the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) have provided a completely new insight into the roles they took on. Work that enabled more men to go to war but had never been done by women before.

Uncovering Records

Information on women that lived and worked at the Dockyard during the 18th and 19th Century is particularly hard to research as often all that we know of their lives is what appears in a census. The staff at the Medway Archives Centre have been helping us to track down some of these women through parish, census and workhouse records.

Parish Marriage record for Louisa Good, 1861. Image credit: Courtesy of Medway Archives Office, P85/1/63/

Louisa’s was the first name on a petition from the women in the Ropery to the Admiralty in 1875.


Selecting and preparing the objects for display

To kill any potential pests that could cause harm to other collection items we have frozen any textiles or fibre-based material (including a WRNS uniform, flags, sacks and rope fibres), before installation in the gallery.

The WRNS uniform had to be padded out with acid free tissue before being wrapped and frozen at -40 for 3 days.

Helen placing a padded and wrapped WRNS uniform into a freezer

The large ensigns, to be used for set dressing, had to be rolled with layers of tissue in between, to fit them in the freezer.

Helen padding a large union flag which is laid out on the floor

The rope fibres were removed from the spinning rooms and frozen in a black sack, the fibres got everywhere and our coats had to go straight in the wash!

We have been cleaning other set dressing and collections objects included in the exhibition with a smoke sponge or a brush and vacuum, depending on the nature and condition of the object.


The Gallery Layout – where it all comes to life

At the time of writing, the gallery walls have been painted, temporary walls installed and the 3D sets are being built.
There will be 3D sets dotted throughout the exhibition, bringing to life where the women worked over the last 200 years.


Subject to Government guidelines, Hidden Heroines will be open towards the end of May. Please keep an eye on our website and social media channels for further updates. We look forward to welcoming you later in the year.

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