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The Historic Dockyard Chatham

Chatham Dockyard Review



I have a love, hate relationship with the sea, especially when my children are involved. I find the sea pretty terrifying, if I think about it too deeply I would never sail again, but at the same time everything nautical is just so fascinating, we love travelling by ship and adventuring into the past.

Over February half term I decided to face some of my fears of the deep and to explore The Historic Dockyard in Chatham in Kent. There is loads to do here, perfect for filling a day or more over the holidays or weekend. I took my two tinkers while we were on holiday in a lovely barn. I love getting my family to pose under funny street names, I have another cracker from Norfolk coming soon!


Our Day Out At Chatham Dockyard, Kent-19


The buildings preserve the dockyards history, which goes back to Tudor times. The dockyard is also often used as a film and TV set, The Golden Compass, Les Miserables, Call the Midwife and Downtown Abbey have all been filmed here. It brings to life so many eras at once, it really is fascinating. You can even do Call the Midwife location tours.


Our Day Out At Chatham Dockyard, Kent-20



We didn’t have time to do all the dockyard, but once you buy a ticket you can then revisit as many times as you like for a year – there is plenty to entertain children of all ages and adults over repeat visits – you would be hard pressed to do it all in a day. At the same time it was a fun packed one off day out. When built in 1838 this immense covered slip (technical term for a boat shed) was Europe’s largest wide span timber structure, now it houses an amazing collection of boats, tanks, trains and boat building equipment. I really appreciated that there was so much space here, it was perfect for Mr G who doesn’t like queues, crowds or well, anything that might involve standing still.


Chatham Dockyard Review


We really enjoyed exploring the lifeboat collection, complete with lots of controls children can tinker with, and beds below deck for those rescued at sea.


Chatham Dockyard Lifeboats in the Slip

Chatham Dockyard Lifeboats in the Slip



One thing mine really enjoyed and learnt a lot from, was an attraction put on to coincide with school holidays, the ‘Sailors Academy’ on board HMS Gannet, A Victorian Sloop – it fills up, so I definitely recommend signing them up for this as soon as you arrive. My Mr G loved the ship’s cat hunt, especially when he found his namesake!


Our Day Out At Chatham Dockyard, Kent-16



There was plenty of time to explore the ship, on deck and below as they hunted for clues.


Our Day Out At Chatham Dockyard, Kent-15



We really loved learning how to use flags to send signals and both L and G were brave enough to have a go at signalling to the other team.



Then it was time to have a go and tying knots. It was lovely to see these two work as a team, it always takes a few days in school holidays, and then they become inseparable again.



They both graduated and Captain Tony gave them a handshake and a certificate, a proud moment indeed!


Our Day Out At Chatham Dockyard, Kent-17



Next we took a tour of the HM Submarine OCELOT, which the kids found fascinating, and I found quite frankly terrifying.


Our Day Out At Chatham Dockyard, Kent-3


Look how small those bunks are, imagine spending 3 months of your life under the sea? A far cry from the Yellow Submarine the Beatles sang of.



They were off, like rabbits in a warren, whereas I gulped every time we crawled deeper into the thing.



The periscope worked and so we managed to take a photo of HMS Gannet through its lens.



The controls were another endless source of fascination. Here Mr G prepares to ‘Set Surface Target’, eeek!



We spent the afternoon admiring the lifeboats and taking in an interactive exhibition Hearts of Oak, using digital projections of characters as you move around the gallery, to tell the story of timber ship building and Nelson’s times. It was really evocative and we learnt lots about sea battles. it was also a great opportunity to try to reinforce a pacifist message in my children, as the young boy debated whether to join the Navy.

A fun-packed and fascinating day out that got us thinking about war, history and life at sea.




Our day started and finished in the the The Railway Workshop cafe, which had snacks and a soft play. My kids need to let off some steam, rather appropriately surrounded by steam engines.

We missed out the Ropery, where ropes were made, and the National Treasures Gallery…so much to come back for!


Chatham Dockyard Review


Need to Know

The Historic Dockyard, Chatham, Kent ME4 4TE, England

Info Line: +44 (0)1634 823807

Adults £19. Concessions £16.50. Child £11.50. Family (2 adults, 2 children or 1 adult 3 children £49.50. Additional Family Child £8.

Check the website for special events and holiday activities. There are very exciting changes afoot, The Command of the Oceans Project will tell the story of Chatham during the age of sail, will cost 8.5m and take approximately three years to deliver, so do check what is happening on the day of your visit as it may differ from our experience.

If you enjoyed this post, please vote for PS in the BIB awards @pennyalexander_

Thank you



  1. 09/04/2015 / 6:10 pm

    Looks great fun – and I hadn’t realised it’d been used to film stuff either – love the Tinkers Alley pic and am looking to your North Norfolk one – Tinkers is a lovely word for kids, not used often enough 🙂 #timetraveller

  2. 09/04/2015 / 7:49 pm

    My kids would’ve loved it there when they were younger, esp child number 4, he loves the sea

    • parentshaped
      10/04/2015 / 8:31 pm

      The Sea is great whatever your age I think 😉

  3. 09/04/2015 / 8:03 pm

    I love the periscope shot. Isn’t it wonderful how a fun day out, learning and doing, can really bring the family together. Great that the team of tinkers were able to regroup!

    • parentshaped
      10/04/2015 / 8:30 pm

      Really is, so much fun had doing stuff together!

    • parentshaped
      10/04/2015 / 8:31 pm

      Love Tinkers too!

  4. 09/04/2015 / 8:05 pm

    This sounds like a great day out – especially like the idea of the Sailors’ Academy – and I’m sure Robert would really enjoy it. Fab pics too

    • parentshaped
      10/04/2015 / 8:30 pm

      Thanks Sarah!

  5. 09/04/2015 / 8:26 pm

    That soûnds like a fascinating day out. Like you, I am wary of boats and I don’t think I would cope with a submarine. It looks like you had an educational day too

    • parentshaped
      10/04/2015 / 8:29 pm

      Def learnt a lot!

  6. 10/04/2015 / 7:35 am

    Only 20 minutes away from me and still haven’t visited, however the school did take the girls last summer on a day trip. As you say there is so much to see and as it was the stomping ground of my granddad when he was in the Merchant navy I really must go and see, maybe I’ll take nan with me, she’d have so many tales to tell.
    Thanks so much for linking up to Time Traveller it’s been a wonderful read and such gorgeous photos.

    • parentshaped
      10/04/2015 / 8:28 pm

      Wow would love to hear your Nan’s stories!

  7. 10/04/2015 / 9:01 am

    Looks a great place to visit. Kent is a bit far for us unless we go for a week, but last time we did that, we found there was loads to pack in. I fancy going to Chatham if we are down that way again.

    • parentshaped
      10/04/2015 / 8:29 pm

      Husband currently works there 3 days in the week so we have had some fun short visits!

  8. 10/04/2015 / 3:47 pm

    Penny, what a fantastic place to visit! You can see how engrossed your two are! Love your photos!

    • parentshaped
      10/04/2015 / 8:28 pm

      Thanks Emma

  9. 11/04/2015 / 1:17 pm

    This looks great, and I bet my 16 year old would love it too! It’s only the next county over for us, so will have to add this to the list of places to visit! x

  10. 12/04/2015 / 7:57 pm

    What a fantastic adventure Penny, I must say i am a call the midwife obsessive so would love to do that tour! … its now just convincing Ollie to come with me! .. i would also love this trip my Dad had boats so we grew up with them and even sailed to Holland! 😉

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