Plunge into Chatham's naval history

“Best reinvention of a de-commissioned dockyard" – I’m not sure if there is such a prize, but if there is, then I have no doubt of the winner. One good reason that Britain ruled the waves (mostly) from Elizabethan times to the Second World War was Chatham Dockyard, a place of tremendous energy and innovation. HMS
Victory was just one of the ships that was launched here.

This vast site closed in 1984: a traumatic time for the Medway towns, yet from which one of the leading attractions in South-east England has emerged.

You appreciate the weight of history as soon as you arrive, because the old gates are still standing. You can plumb the depths of life aboard a Royal Navy submarine, and – some weekends – watch steam trains fizz, splutter and rumble along the dockyard’s ancient tracks.

Perhaps the Dockyard’s greatest strength is the way the essential fabric of the naval base has been so assiduously preserved. The exhibits are curated into the marvellous muddle of historic buildings that range through Tudor, Stuart and Georgian eras, and which supported the Royal Navy right through from the Spanish Armada to the Falklands War. A favourite of mine is No 3 Slip, whose prosaic name only hints at the magnificent space beneath a canopy so broad that, when it opened in 1838, was Europe’s widest timber structure.

Starting this year, a brand-new attraction claims to be an “all-round treasure house”. No 1 Smithery brings together many great naval treasures that, until now, have been split between Chatham Historic Dockyard, the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich and the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth, south London. In a sense, this added dimension to |the dockyard is a cultural rationalisation – but with plenty of inspiration in the way that previously unseen maritime artefacts are displayed alongside great naval art and intricate model ships.

There is also a programme of touring exhibitions, starting with Stanley Spencer’s vivid pictures of “Shipbuilding on the Clyde” (until 12 December). These paintings – breathtaking in scale and detail – depict the decades when the banks of the river west of Glasgow comprised the centre of the maritime world. They are on display alongside tools from the Chatham Smithery of the kind that the Clydeside workers would have used.

Chatham Historic Dockyard (01634 823807; thedockyard.co.uk ). Open 10am-6pm until 30 October; 10am-4pm from 31 October until 12 December 2010. Admission £15.

A GLIMPSE INTO THE PAST: HAMPSHIRE'S MUSEUMS

Dotted throughout Hampshire are a host of museums providing a fascinating insight into the county’s past.

At Basingstoke Leisure Park, about a mile west of the town centre, a team of designers has recreated a network of streets that bring to life the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Milestones Museum is a wonderful place of nostalgia and old-fashioned charm celebrating the life and times of the area from the late 1800s to the 1930s. You can pop into a post office, stop at an Edwardian pub, and relax on a village green. There’s even a railway station complete with a 1910 Woolmer steam locomotive. You’ll also find a large collection of vehicles – bicycles, carriages and vintage cars – parked on the streets. The museum is peopled by costumed interpreters. (Milestones Museum, Leisure Park, Churchill Way West, Basingstoke; adults £7.90).

Old Basing, three miles east of Basingstoke, contains the site of Basing House, an atmospheric ruin with beautiful grounds, it was once one of the finest palaces in the land. Today, the site contains the remains of the residence of Elizabeth I’s Treasurer, William Paulet. It became a Royalist stronghold during the Civil War before being destroyed by Cromwell’s troops. The museum presents the history of the house, while the grounds continue to be excavated and are often open to volunteer groups. There is also a lively programme of events, from Civil War re-enactments to a ghost walk on Saturday 30 October. (Basing House, The Street, Old Basing, Basingstoke; adults £4.50).

More wonders can be found at Rockbourne near Fordingbridge. Rockbourne Roman Villa was discovered in 1942 by a farmer looking for his ferret. Excavations revealed more than 40 rooms. Highlights include bath houses and mosaics. (Rockbourne Roman Villa, Rockbourne, Fordingbridge; adults £2.50).

For a gem of a restored building, head to Bursledon village, east of Southampton city centre. The Bursledon Windmill is a working structure, built in 1813. You can explore the mill and farm buildings. (Bursledon Windmill, Bursledon, Southampton; adults £3).

Other treasures of Hampshire include the Museum of the Iron Age in Andover, the Allen Gallery with its impressive collection of ceramics in Alton, and The Red House at Christchurch, Dorset, which is funded by Hampshire although the county boundaries have changed. The Georgian workhouse now contains a museum of the area’s social and natural history.

For more information, visit hants.gov.uk/museums (0845 603 5635)

Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Product Development

    £26000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Product Development departm...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

    £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

    Recruitment Genius: Developer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Estates Contracts & Leases Manager

    £30000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Estates Team of this group ...

    Day In a Page

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future