Untold lives blog

03 April 2018

400 years of Chatham Dockyard

In 1618 King James I relocated the Royal Dockyards from further along the River Medway to Chatham. In the 400 years since then, hundreds of ships were built there for the Royal Navy, and the dockyards played a vital role in the military and technological development of Britain.

A new exhibition, now open at The Historic Dockyard Chatham, celebrates this legacy. 'Powerful Tides: 400 years of Chatham and the Sea' features artwork, diaries and manuscripts which illustrate this fascinating history, including four items from the British Library which come from the Manuscript and Topographical Collections of King George III. The exhibition forms part of Historic Dockyard Chatham’s ‘Festival 400’, a yearlong celebration of this anniversary.

Photo showing the three items in the exhibition spaceBritish Library items on display at Chatham. British Library  Cc-by

These items depict Chatham and the Medway through the 17th and 18th centuries, showing how the area changed and developed as the dockyard grew.

Kings MS 43, topographic view of ChathamKings MS 43, f 5v-6r. British Library Cc-by

This view shows Chatham and the Medway as they were in 1698, as well as ‘how Ships of the Royal Navy are secured. Moared unto ye Village of Gillingham’. Also included in the top corners are the names of all the ships depicted.

Framed painting of the dockyard slip from the exhibitionMaps on display. British Library Cc-by

This view of a Slip in the Dockyard was completed in 1789. From here the HMS Royal George was launched, which served as a flagship during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

Open manuscript showing 'a draught of the river medway''A Draught of the River Medway', Kings MS 44, f 18v-19r. British Library Cc-by

The Library and Manuscript collections of King George III were donated to the Nation after his death by his son King George IV, and are available for use here at the British Library.

Entrance to the Powerful Tides exhibitionPhoto credit: Dan Turner of the Historic Dockyard Chatham. Works by Nadav Kandar can be seen on the left of the image.

The exhibition also features works by J M W Turner and Tracey Emin, as well as diaries and manuscripts which give first-hand accounts of life in the Dockyards. All these amazing objects will be on display until the exhibition closes on 17th June 2018.

Stephen Noble

Cataloguer, Modern Archives and Mss