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Dockyard Characters8th March 2023

International Women’s Day 2023 – Celia Boorman | The Woman who made Dockyard history

For International Women’s Day we are putting the spotlight on one of the women who made Dockyard history. This blog post is dedicated to Celia Boorman, who became the first female Sailmaker Apprentice in 1976.

Ceila has kindly shared her dockyard story with us. Keep scrolling to discover what inspired her to work here and her time here at the yard:

I entered the Dockyard having passed the Dockyard exam, as the first female Sailmaker Apprentice in 1976. A decision almost made for me by my Dad, a Dockyard man through and through. Having seen my brother precede me by 2 years into the Yard as a technician Apprentice, I was encouraged, not by school but by Dad to sit the exam and follow both himself (Electrical) and Brother Nigel (Mechanical) into the Yard. My first year was spent with a “ Skipper” on the finishing floor, 3rd floor and by far the biggest of the Sail loft. Not just a huge space but steeped in History going back years! What a privilege!

During this year I learnt all the basic hand crafts of Sailmaking, working with ropes canvases, PVC products and all manner of weather protections, from ceremonial awnings to armoury protection. I spent a lot of my time working afloat, mainly carrying my Skippers toolbag!

During this first year I was approached to do an interview with Radio Medway, followed a year later by a follow up! I also presented flowers to the High Sheriff of Kent at the prize giving of Apprentices, that took place at the Central Hall in Chatham. My fellow male apprentice and I also manned the Apprentices stall at the Kent County Show Ground in the summer of 1976. I remember this well as on the lotus stand, close by, they had the Lotus Esprit that had just appeared in the latest James Bond movie. I was treated to a ride in it.

I was also approached to be the Maid of the Month in 1976. Only a few months after my entry. The photographer came to the family home and took a few shots of myself in the family garden at the weekend. In due course one photo of that day appeared in Periscope. I am in possession of several of the photos taken on that day and they remain in my personal album.

See Celia Boorman as Maid of the Month in Periscope, the official Dockyard newspaper, 1977.

Following on from the “Finishing floor” I went to the machine floor (second Floor) followed by the cutting floor (Ground floor) lifeboat section, Naval Tailor, who was located in the loft of the Sail loft and the lagging Hut!

Having achieved 4 years served as a Sailmaker Apprentice, I gained my “Indentures”. Following this is a six month Journeyman period, which at the end of this time I was assigned my own Apprentice! Just one year later, the announcement was made that the Royal Dockyard at Chatham would close.

I remained for as long as possible, having been given a 6 month reprieve on my redundancy notice due to the Falklands War. Finally finishing in May 1983.

My memories of this time with both the Training and Education in a predominantly male environment brought me some of the happiest days of my life. My fellow Apprentice of that time remains one of my closet friends, to this day. I also met my life partner in the last 2 months at the Yard, while both working on HMS HERMIONE, the last Frigate to be refitted at Chatham Dockyard.

Image: Celia at the Kent County Show 1976 with her life rings.

With thanks to Celia Boorman for writing this blog especially for International Women’s Day.

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