a small window into our past
We care for over 70,000 objects in our collection – ranging from archaeology, rigging, hand tools, machinery to fine art and photography.
We collect and preserve objects related to the Dockyard’s past and also carry out specific research into the Dockyard’s rich and varied history. From projects focused on Dockyard workers to the tragedies suffered during the First World War, we are building up a picture of the role and impact the Dockyard has had over four hundred years.
We are committed to helping the public who have enquiries about our collections. These may be answered face-to-face in the case of the Reading Room collections or by telephone, letter, or email for our archive and object holdings.
Explore our Collections Online
Our Collections Team has recently begun the process of digitising our collection and we are gradually adding new objects to our digital resources.
Accessing our Collections
For over 400 years Chatham Dockyard and its people supported the Royal Navy by building, repairing and maintaining its warships. One of Britain’s most important Royal Dockyards, it was associated with many great historical figures of their time – great seamen like Sir Francis Drake and Lord Nelson as well as literary legends such as Samuel Pepys and Charles Dickens.
There are many ways you can access our historic collections and learn more about the role of Chatham Dockyard.
The Royal Dockyard at Chatham has existed on this site for over 400 years and today, it is the most complete dockyard of the age of sail in the world.
The dockyard’s role in supporting the fleet linked it to many of the most significant events in history –from the Spanish Armada to the Cold War.
Our four historic warships mark key points in the development of warship building over two centuries.
The surviving timbers of NAMUR (1756), GANNET (1878), CAVALIER (1944) and OCELOT (1962).
Four centuries of shipbuilding, shipfitting and naval warfare have generated a vast array of artefacts, many of which can be seen in open display across our galleries.
Naval & Dockyard Personnel Records
We hold very few records for either Naval or Dockyard Personnel. When Royal Dockyard Chatham closed in 1984 the Ministry of Defence removed all records still held on site. Those that we have in our collections are ones that have been donated to us, usually by families of former dockyard workers or Chatham Ratings.
More recent records are available from the Ministry of Defence via their website.
Some older yard pay books and muster books are archived at The National Archives at Kew. Their website gives further information about the type of records they hold and how to search them.
As a fully accredited museum we collect, preserve, study and exhibit objects and material directly connected with the history of:
- The role of the dockyard and its people;
- The development of Royal Navy warship design and construction; and
- The use of the River Medway by the Royal Navy and its support services, and their role in the development of Medway.
Our collections cover a wide range of objects and archival material; including three historic warships, 18th century manuscripts and over 10,000 photographs – to find out more download a copy of our Collections Development Policy (below).
We are actively collecting – if you have an item that you would like to donate that tells a part of the Dockyard story, please contact us using the form below. The more detail you tell us about the item the better as it will help us understand its connection to Chatham Dockyard. Where possible include images of the item.
Please note that we cannot guarantee that items in our collection will go on public display. Items in storage are available for viewing via prior appointment.
Blogs & Articles
Dive a little deeper into our Collections with our blogs and articles.
For Collections enquiries, please contact the team via email@example.com or fill in the enquiry form below.
Due to the volume of enquiries we can only undertake a maximum of 30 minutes research per enquiry and we are therefore unable to answer enquiries to any great depth. If your enquiry requires more extensive research, you will receive a referral email/letter and our research volunteers will work with you to facilitate the enquiry.
Initial written enquires are responded to within 28 working days. In the case of in-depth research, the timescale will vary dependant on the nature of the research.