Case Study: Chatham Historic Dockyard

Date Posted: 29/08/2013

Pupils from Bradfields School in Kent at Chatham Historic Dockyard.

School: Bradfields School, Kent

Teachers at Bradfields School in Chatham took a Key Stage 2 class to local attraction, Chatham Historic Dockyard. We heard all about their day.

After our coach arrived at the dockyard, we were greeted by a member of its learning team; the excitement levels of the pupils were high.

We had a very quick health and safety briefing before going through the big double doors and out into the Museum Square, where there was an immediate ‘wow’ from the children at the size of the space and the sight of the ships waiting in the dockyard. It was time for the first highlight of the day – a walkthrough of HMS Ocelot – a cold war submarine built in the dockyard in 1962.

There is no disabled access to the submarine as it retains its original hatchways and ladders giving a strong feeling of what the original crew must have experienced. However, interpretation is available above decks for anyone unable to descend below.

The children loved checking out the bunks, swinging themselves through the hatches, trying the periscope for themselves and the sound of the ‘dive’ klaxon.

Learning how to camouflage a warship

The first learning activity of the day linked directly into the visit to Ocelot – which was designed for silent running - and is called ‘Sneaky Ships – How to Hide a Warship’. This activity took place in Smithery No. 1 in two of the learning spaces.

The students were guided through the model collection in the Exhibition Gallery featuring models from the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich and given a look at ‘dazzle’ camouflage used to disguise warships. They then tried their own colour camouflage on pictures of HMS Cavalier.

The school group had a fun and challenging time trying to disguise a ‘black box’ with a buzzer and heat source, firstly from a sophisticated heat sensor (which also tells you which is the hottest part of your face and takes ‘cool’ pictures of your hand) and then from an underwater microphone situated in the purpose built testing tank in the Smithery Courtyard.

Pupils taking part in a workshop at Chatham Dockyard.

A guided tour helped take in some hidden gems

Bradfields School had booked a guided day and so learning officer Chris, from the dockyard, assisted us during the day and showed the group some of the things that members of the public usually miss as they move around the 80 acre site.

A ‘must see’ is the World War Two destroyer HMS Cavalier. The aft seaman’s mess and main deck are accessible to wheelchair users and the braver students and staff made their way right up to the bridge.

Ringing the genuine ship’s bell was a great favourite, and tales of life aboard generated all sorts of questions from the children. We discovered that HMS Cavalier is available for sleepovers for a school trip of up to 35 students, and this can be booked at weekends or during weekdays to link in with a day visit. The accommodation has been modified to allow disabled access.

Lunch was in the Railway Workshop, which is a big interior space and home to three genuine steam locomotives run by volunteers and ‘in steam’ at weekends and special events.

For warmer, sunnier days, we were told that there are picnic areas next to the adventure playground or on the old tennis courts behind the Bridge Warden’s clock tower plus grassed areas and the Commissioners House Garden when available.

Workshops and activities made for a busy day

It was a distracting walk up to the Victorian Ropery for the second learning activity. We passed a Doctor Who TARDIS, a helicopter and an adventure playground on the way to the long brick building that houses the rope walk on which the ropes for HMS Victory were made and which still make ropes for Thames tugs, heritage vessels and film companies today.

Students entered the atmospheric gloom of the Hemp House and breathed in the unmistakable smell of the building and rope fibres. They worked with Chris to make samples of rope on the scale model machine and feel the different materials that rope can be made of – hemp, coconut, banana, sisal and plastics.

Pupils from Chatham Historic Dockyard.

There was also the opportunity, on the way from the Hemp House, to look at some of the film and television series locations that have been used in recent years.

The day was too short to take everything in, despite the best efforts of Chris and the staff. With two activities and two ship tours, with time for lunch and strategically placed comfort breaks, it was soon time to head back to the school.

About Chatham Historic Dockyard’s education team

Shirley, Chris, Sam and the team work with schools in advance to tailor a day to their needs. Whether it’s a Victorian, pirate or World War Two theme or whatever subject is the focus of the school visit, they can pull together the different elements of the site to make it work.

There is a full menu of activity sessions for school trip organisers to choose from, and the site incorporates eight attractions and numerous smaller elements which will keep any class busy and stimulated all day.

The facilities on offer are annually updated; with the learning activities having been rewritten this season to incorporate proposed changes to the National Curriculum.

Useful contact:

Chatham Historic Dockyard:
01622-823800 (Shirley Major)

School Travel Organiser's Guide