Queen Elizabeth I established Chatham as a
royal dockyard in 1567, and visited seven years later. The first ship, HMS Sunne
was launched in 1586. HMS Victory was also built here in 1765, showing that she
was 40 years old when she was Nelson’s flagship at Trafalgar.
For 414 years Chatham Royal Dockyard
provided over 500 ships for the Royal Navy, and was at the forefront of
shipbuilding, industrial and architectural technology. At its height, it
employed over 10,000 skilled artisans and covered 400 acres (1.6 km²).
At the turn of the century, 12 submarines
were built, the first in 1908. Submarines were also the last ships built here,
with HMS Ocelot being the final one.
Chatham dockyard closed in 1984, and 84
acres (340,000 m2) of the Georgian dockyard is now managed by the Chatham
Historic Dockyard Trust.
The three remaining wet docks house the WW2
destroyer, HMS Cavalier, the last submarine built at Chatham in 1962, HMS
Ocelot, and an 1878 naval sloop, HMS Gannett.
The covered slips date back to 1838, and
were the largest clear span structures at the time.
After months of preparation, the weekend
for the Summer Gathering arrived. 80 cars had pre-entered and we were hoping
that a similar number would turn up on the day to enjoy the various attractions
that the Dockyard and ourselves had laid on.
A handful of stalwart helpers turned up on
the afternoon before to erect the tents, set out the parking zones and route
directions. It was pretty windy, so we attached one end of the marquee to a
convenient lamp post. However when the marshals turned up on Sunday morning they
were faced with a gazebo and marquee that had both blown over in the wind during
the night, breaking some spars on our new gazebo. By the time the first cars
arrived we had the tents back in place, but still needed additional restraint
from the Chairman’s car, as well as some sandbags and a dustbin!
The dockyard’s original parade ground was
the location for our gathering and was split into four parking zones. One was
for the 16 Pride of Ownership entrants and the two Concours entrants, the second
area was for pre-1955 cars, another was for the MGFs, and the post-1955 cars
filled in the rest of the area. We counted 105 cars altogether, with exactly 200
people in total.
We had arranged a one-hour walking tour of
the site with a dedicated tour guide; this was so well supported that we had to
add a second tour – one in the morning and the second one in the afternoon. The
spare places were soon taken up, and we had to turn away quite a few people
after the 50 places had gone.
By the start of the event at the 10am
opening time, the marshals were all ready for the invasion, and the sliding
entrance gate was slid open. We had a total of 25 marshals to help make the
Gathering run smoothly; each marshal was only required to do a 2-hour stint in
exchange for a free entry, as this was felt to be a reasonable length of time to
be on duty. However this meant that we needed more marshals to cover the whole
day, and our marshal organiser, Andrew Mitchell, had a hard job collecting
The dockyard also organised tours of the
submarine Ocelot, and the ¼ mile long Ropery that has been making ropes for 400
years, since its inception. Both of these had to be pre-booked, as the number of
people were limited due to the confined spaces.
The other two preserved ships could be
accessed at any time. These were the World War II destroyer, HMS Cavalier, and
the 1878 naval sloop, HMS Gannett. There was also an extensive display of
lifeboats from the RNLI collection.
A new reception area had only recently been
finalised in the old Upper Mast House, where there was also a café/restaurant.
This could be accessed direct from the parade ground, with the entry ticket bar
code supposedly allowing re-entry via the electronic barriers. Unfortunately we
had a bit of a hiccup here, as the bar codes had been dated for the week before
and didn’t allow re-entry, but with the dockyards help and announcing the change
on our loudhailer, we managed to overcome this problem.
As well as the walking tour, we had
arranged for those who were not too interested in the dockyard to take a tour of
Dickens’ Rochester, suitably guided by our member, Chris Leigh, who has done
this tour for many years. So quite a few people jumped on the local open topped
tour bus to take them to Rochester and back, for the 2-hour round trip.
The results of the Concours and Pride of
Ownership competitions were announced soon after 4pm, and the Car of the Show
was Richard Thorpe’s well-known ZR 160, while Nigel Scutt’s MGF took the
Concours award. The Pride of Ownership competition was a T-Type benefit with
John Harrington’s TF beating Ray Windle’s TD. A rare entrant was the MG Metro of
Lee Staples. John Dutton’s impressive and very rare WA drophead coupe was much
admired and came a creditable 4th.
All in all we were pleased with the event,
and many people have contacted us to say how much they enjoyed the day, which is
always satisfying after all the hard work that has gone into organising these