Chatham Dockyard

(Updated, March 2013) Due to its geographical situation, Chatham was the most important Royal Naval dockyard during the 17th-century Dutch wars. However from the mid-18th century, it was only important as a building and repair yard rather than a naval base.

In 1785, the Navy Board commissioned Nicholas Pocock (1740-1821) and Farington to paint panoramic views of the six naval dockyards for reference use by the Board in their offices, a project which took nearly ten years. They worked from perspective plans drawn by William White, Master Mast-Maker at Deptford, and the results were to be called 'Views of His Majesty's Dockyards'. For this painstakingly detailed picture, Farington, a topographical artist who produced many views of London and the waterfront, was paid £94.10s. Only four paintings were completed - of Deptford, Chatham, Woolwich and Plymouth Yards - since White, the draughtsman who made preparatory perspective drawings, became ill while doing that of Portsmouth. Pocock was responsible for producing Plymouth and Woolwich, while Farington painted Chatham and Deptford.

The four paintings have considerable documentary value, providing a graphic account of the royal yards at their most important phase during the age of the sailing navy and based on White's accurate and official information. They are meticulously executed aerial views that are bereft of people, since the intention was to show every building, dock and slip-way. Of the foreground ships moored in the Medway, one to right flying the blue ensign and Union flag is fully rigged, while the other two to the centre fly the Union flag but are 'in ordinary' (reserve) lacking all but their lower masts. Nearly every dockyard building and installation in this view of the approximately 70-acre site can be identified and many of them survive, with later additions, in what is now the Chatham Historic Dockyard. The massive brick waterfront buildings on the right are the Anchor Wharf storehouses, with the 1140-foot long ropery behind, begun in 1786. Behind that on the left, the main twin-towered dockyard gate (1719) sits in a dog-leg in the outer wall and to its left the sail and flag lofts and a long terrace of officers houses, completed in 1731, with gardens running back to the wall. In front of the sail and flag lofts (between the two ships under construction on the right) is the Commissioner's House of 1703 with its large private garden behind. This is the oldest surviving of all Royal Naval buildings. To its left beyond stacked timber is the 1723 ready-use store with its white clock turret. Further left, on the edge of the south mast pond, the white wooden building with a large central pitched roof is the 1753 mast-house and mould loft. All these can still be seen on the site. To the far left, the River Medway winds down towards its junction with the Thames estuary at Sheerness. The groups of buildings are clearly delineated and beyond them the countryside, interspersed with roads, extends to the horizon.

Dockyards had symbolic as well as practical importance as the origin of Britain's mighty navy and in the late 18th-century they grew both in size and significance as Britain once again prepared to go to war with France. The set of pictures to which this belongs highlighted the differences and unique qualities of each dockyard as well as identifying the elements common to them all.

Object Details

ID: BHC1782
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Farington, Joseph
Date made: 1785-1794; 1785-94
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection
Measurements: Painting: 1371.6 x 2795 mm

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