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)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
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?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'