In 1984 the Royal Dockyard at Chatham was closed, bringing to an end 400 years of fleet support and warship design, building and repair on the River Medway. After closure, Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust (charity no. 292101) was established and tasked with the stewardship of the 80 acre site and its preservation for future generations, promoting its significance in British history to the public.
The Historic Dockyard is the most complete dockyard of the age of sail in the world. A continuous process of investment since 1984 has resulted in the majority of the site’s formally dilapidated buildings and infrastructure being brought back into appropriate condition and use. Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust (CHDT) has successfully created a mixed community in which 400 people live, over 100 small businesses and organisations thrive, and around 170,000 people now visit the living museum annually (including over 22,000 dedicated educational visits). The Historic Dockyard Chatham clearly makes a substantial contribution to the local economy in many ways, estimated at a minimum of £16m per annum in 2012. The scale of the challenge that faced the Trust in 1984 was huge and much progress has clearly been made since then for our unique heritage community striving for sustainability.
The 80 acre site includes 100 buildings and structures (47 scheduled ancient monuments, 11 at Grade I and 33 at Grade II*). The Trust’s strategy has been one of restoration through re-use which has seen a range of uses found for its historic buildings ranging from museum and education activities, to business rental, University facilities and residential accommodation. The site clearly depicts all elements of the age of sail, ship-building process from ship design through the preparation and working of timber and iron, the manufacture of rope, sails, flags, paints, rolled lead and galvanised iron, to ship construction, repair and refit on the slips and in the dry docks. Chatham is a unique survival of a key period of British and world history, in which the Royal Navy achieved and maintained an unrivalled mastery of the seas – a factor that proved critical to the development of Britain’s global influence. The site has many associations with key figures in history including Samuel Pepys, Charles Dickens and Admiral Lord Nelson who learned to sail on the River Medway and whose flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar, HMS VICTORY, was actually built at Chatham. The work of CHDT has been recognized nationally and internationally as a Medallist in the European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage 2004 and more recently as a winner of Best Large Tourist Attraction in the South East in the Beautiful South Awards 2011. Our education projects have also won numerous awards including the National Lottery Award for Best Education Project in 2010 and most recently a Sandford Award for Heritage Education.