The Ropery - History and Facts | History Hit

The Ropery

Chatham, England, United Kingdom

Peta Stamper

04 Jun 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About The Ropery

The Ropery at Chatham Historic Dockyard in Kent, England, is one of only four remaining original Royal Navy Ropeyards still in operation. The historic dockyard, once occupying 400 acres of land and employing over 10,000 skilled workers, has been associated with many historical figures such as seamen Sir Francis Drake and Lord Nelson, as well as literary figure Charles Darwin.

Established during the mid-16th century, the dockyard has used the same type of rope-making for 400 years and visitors can see the continuing rope-craft everyday.

The Ropery history

Following the Protestant Reformation, Britain’s relationships with Catholic Europe deteriorated, demanding new defences. The Chatham Dockyard was established in 1567, with housing for the workers and a forge for anchor-making quickly being built.

Under the Tudors, the dockyard was developed and saw numerous royal visits, but it was in the early 17th century that the Government invested in the repair and fitting of warships there.

The Ropery was built in 1728 and later extended in 1812, consisting of Hemp Houses, Yarn Houses and double Rope House. There was also a Hatchelling House – the first step in rope-making where hemp was combined before spinning.

The ropewalk was 346 metres long and at the time of construction, was the longest brick building in Europe, and was room to make a 300 metre rope by hand as steam-power was only introduced to the Ropery in 1836.

The dockyard closed in 1984, yet a remaining 84 acres of Georgian dockyard were maintained by a historic trust and opened to the public.

The Ropery today

Today, Chatham’s dockyard is the most complete dockyard dating back to the age of sail in the world. You can take a Victorian Ropery Tour, learning the ropes with a 1875 foreman. Between Mondays and Friday at 12.15pm you can see a rope-making demonstration in the same way it was done 400 years ago.

Temporary exhibitions and events include ‘Call the Midwife’ filming location tours, the Grain – Estuary Festival and displays of historic steam locomotives. A particular highlight is an exhibition exploring the untold stories of the women that worked in the dockyard.

Getting to The Ropery

From London, the Ropery at Chatham Dockyard is a 2 hour drive away via the A2. There is plenty of parking on-site. Otherwise, you can get the southeastern train to Faversham from St Pancras, stopping at Chatham Station and then getting the 101 bus to Gillingham that stops at the dockyard main gate.