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The History Group

Leader is Jane Harris. Phone 01530 838025 or email history@ashbyu3a.co.uk

Any U3A member is welcome at our meetings.

See below for the 2017 Programme

A talk on the Industrial Heritage Group's visit to Historic Chatham Dockyard

26th October 2017
45 present.
Tony Smith and Mike Stow presented an absorbing account of the Industrial Heritage Group's visit to the Historic Chatham Dockyards. The Group stayed overnight in order to make the most of their visit.
Tony rendered a thorough account of the fascinating history of the site, from the earliest times in the 1500's up to the present.
Originally a stores centre for the Royal Navy, Chatham served the docks at Deptford and Woolwich. By Henry VIII's time these latter had become inadequate and Chatham was selected to take over.
Through the centuries successive rebuilds and extensions took place to deal with the ever-increasing calls on the Navy.
Even so, until the Dutch Wars of the 17th century, ships were compelled to anchor out in the main stream of the Medway to be refurbished and re-victualled by lighter as the docks could not accommodate them.
Despite the fact that this facility was the major centre for the Royal Navy, it seems that it was not properly protected. During the Anglo-Dutch Wars, in 1667 just after the Great Fire, the Dutch managed to bypass all the security measures, including a great Chain across the river at Upnor Castle, and burn several ships at anchor and taking some away. Samuel Pepys' account confirms what Tony reported, that there is a mystery as to how the Chain became broken.
He further reports that one of the ships taken, the Royal Navy's flagship Royal Charles, was taken out down river when the river was too low to sail her properly, by laying her over on her side: a feat that the Navy pilots did not consider possible. This it seems was the last (successful) hostile invasion by a foreign power.
Development continued with extra buildings and, eventually in the 19th century, a whole set of interconnected basins. The original open air dry docks were covered in to protect the ships (not the men!) and by the late 19th Century were at the peak of development.
Decommissioned in 1984 the whole site was sold off to an independent charity and redeveloped into a series of facilities, with housing, shops and the magnificent Centre the Group visited.
Tony showed us pictures of all the key buildings and facilities, explaining how much archaeology remains and has been uncovered, and the history of the key ships (and boats: submarines are boats, not ships Even the Germans concur in this!). He gave a very clear presentation of the various manufacturing processes and services these facilities provided, including rope making and iron working on a genuinely industrial scale.
At its height the docks employed 109, 000 men and covered 4000 acres, requiring a network of railways and a tram system.
There are many well-known phrases that we now use which originated in the Navy: You have me over a barrel; Not enough room to swing a cat; Toe the line; No slacking.

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Future programme

NB: All meetings with speakers will be held at Packington Memorial Hall. Doors open for Packington meetings at 2pm, with a start as soon as possible after that, hopefully by 2.10pm..
Details of visits will be advised closer to the time.The following dates have been arranged, but may be subject to changes which will be announced on a rolling monthly basis.
November 23rdThe Grey Family, a talk by Peter Liddle
December No Meeting

Any U3A member is welcome at our meetings.

Earlier history meeting