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Reading Room

Browse the Trust’s collection of over 6,500 books and manuscripts.

The Reading Room houses the Trust’s collection of over 6,500 books and manuscripts that focus on ships, shipbuilding, naval architecture and history.

The Trust also has an extensive photographic collection of over 10,000 photographs and images, ranging from mid-19th century until closure in 1984, showing dockyard workers, trades, shipbuilding and repair and the wider dockyard site. We hold maps of the Historic Dockyard site and drawings of the buildings, along with a number of plans of ships built at Chatham.

We hold limited records of those who worked in the Dockyard or served in the Chatham Division of the Royal Navy. If you are looking for information on family members who are connected with the Dockyard, the National Archives at Kew may be able to help you:

Accessing the Reading Room

Since November 2017 Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust has been undertaking major conservation, repair and adaptation works to the Fitted Rigging House, the home of the Reading Room. The project is enabling a sustainable future for one of the Dockyard’s most important Scheduled Ancient Monuments. Once complete, the project will provide a new accessible reading room and much improved conditions for our books and archive collections alongside new volunteer and conservation facilities.

Our new Reading Room can be accessed on a drop-in basis.

The opening hours are 11am – 3pm, Sunday to Friday (closed Saturday).

The Reading Room is a reference only collection and not a lending library. This means you cannot borrow items from our collection as all materials are consulted in our Reading Room.

Please note: due to the ongoing development of the Fitted Rigging House, there is currently no access to our archive. At present, we do not have access to items such as maps, plans and photographs.

The Reading Room is located at the rear of  the Steam, Steel and Submarines Gallery, in the Fitted Rigging House. Our Visitor Experience Assistants in the gallery can accompany you to the Reading Room desk where you can use the telephone to dial through to the Reading Room steward, who will sign you into the room.

Access to the Reading Room will be with a Reading Room steward only. Readers must to agree to abide by the Reading Room rules.

The minimum age to use the Reading Room unaccompanied is 14 years. Children aged 8–14 can use the facility but must be accompanied by an adult (one adult per child).

Advance bookings and appointments

Advance bookings and appointments for the Reading Room can be made via completing the enquiry form below, emailing or by calling 01634 823800.

Please provide as much information as possible about your enquiry, this will help inform the type of material that you are interested in, a catalogue search can be completed in advance and books located.

Reading Room rules

  • No food or drinks may be taken into the main Reading Room, water may be consumed in the journal area.
  • You must not eat, drink, smoke, chew gum or use mobile phones (to make or take calls) in the Reading Room.
  • The following items may be taken into the Reading Room in clear plastic bags (supplied): pencils; rubbers; note paper; plastic rulers.
  • Sound settings of laptops and cameras should either be turned off or reduced to a level that does not disturb other users.
  • Users may not mark, write, lean on, fold or in any other way damage the material they are consulting. If readers observe an existing defect in, or damage to an item, they are requested to bring it to the attention of the Reading Room steward.
  • Users must abide by the handling guidelines provided.

Research & Collection enquiries

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. We receive enquiries from all over the world covering a wide range of different subjects.

Due to the volume of the enquiries we receive, our team 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.

We aim to respond to initial written enquiries within 5 -10 working days. In the case of in-depth research, the timescale will vary depending on the nature of the research.

To enquire about access to our collections, please complete the form below or email:

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