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30 Apr 2018

Historic Dockyard at Chatham

On a dry April Sunday morning, forty seven brave souls met at Chatham Dockyard, where we lined our cars up each side of a great ship's anchor in front of HMS Gannet.

On a dry April Sunday morning, forty seven brave souls met at Chatham Dockyard, where we lined our cars up each side of a great ship's anchor in front of HMS Gannet.  Martyn had arranged two tours for us, one of the rope works and the other of a 'Call the Midwife' Tour.  Because we had a large number attending and the tours are limited to twenty five in each group, so we had to split into two separate groups for each of the tours. 
The first tour was of the Victorian Ropery, which is a quarter mile long and, apparently, is the longest brick building in Europe.  Our guide, Rosie, was dressed in Victorian garb and was extremely acerbic to anyone who stepped out of line - all part of the fun!  She showed us how hemp, imported from Russia, was cleaned and carded into strands before being wound into rope.  The rope making process was demonstrated and four of our group were volunteers in the process that was quite ingenious as to how the thin strands were formed into different rope diameters up to about seven inches.
At the end of the Ropery tour, we had time to look into other various warehouses before having a light lunch in one of the two restaurants.  Following lunch, each group had a 'Call the Midwife' tour, since the Dockyard, with its Victorian buildings, replicates Poplar in the 1950's and 60's and is where many of the scenes for the TV series are filmed.  We visited many of the locations of the series.
Following the tours, we were free to go on board HMS Cavalier, a destroyer built in 1944 and which served in the Arctic and, in the later part of its service life, in the Pacific Fleet before being de-commissioned in 1972.  There was an extremely interesting tour of HM submarine Ocelot, which was the last Royal Navy warship built at Chatham in 1962.  This submarine had a complement of sixty nine men in extremely cramped conditions.  The submarine had an active service life of twenty nine years, a top speed, when submerged, of seventeen knots and sailed more than ninety thousand miles during her career - hats off to those who served in such cramped and claustrophobic conditions.
Also open to explore was HMS Gannet, built at Sheerness in 1878 and designed to protect the interests of Victorian Britain.  This ship was powered by both steam and sail and had a hull constructed from teak planking on an iron frame.  The ship served for ninety years and had a complement of one hundred and thirty nine men, but had only one pivoting gun and two broadside guns.
In another large warehouse was a collection of lifeboats through the ages.  There was so much to see that it was impossible to cram everything into one day and many members took the opportunity of upgrading their ticket to an annual so that they could go back when the weather is warmer to see more of the Dockyard and exhibits.
Our thanks go to the guides who made the tours so interesting for us.

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