The closure of the Royal Dockyard at Chatham in 1984 brought to an end 400 years of fleet support and warship design, building and repair on the River Medway. The 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. The site includes 100 buildings and structures of which 47 are scheduled ancient monuments, 11 at Grade I and 33 at Grade II and a continuous process of investment has resulted in the majority of formerly dilapidated buildings and infrastructure being brought back into appropriate condition and use. The dockyard comprises a mixed community in which 400 people live and work and around 170,000 people now visit the living museum annually, making a substantial contribution to the local economy. The work has been recognised both nationally and internationally.
All elements of the age of sail and ship-building process are depicted throughout the site, from ship design through to the preparation and working of timber and iron, the manufacture of rope, sails, flags, paints, rolled lead and galvanised iron, 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 built at Chatham.
It was during Sir John Hawkins’ period in office as Treasurer of the Navy that he established the link with Chatham which was to result in the foundation of the Chatham Chest and Hawkins’ Hospital, both of which followed in the wake of the Spanish Armada.