No 1 Smithery, Chatham Historic Dockyard, Kent

The derelict smithery that once detracted from Chatham Historic Dockyard is now a treasure house of maritime treats that encourages visitors to unearth incredible stories through objects, paintings and play. 

Where: Medway, Kent

Years on register: 1999 - 2010

Derelict smithery detracted from Chatham Historic Dockyard

When Chatham Dockyard closed in 1984 the historic smithery was already disused. First built in 1805, it had been extended through the 19th century as metalworking became an ever bigger part of shipbuilding. Despite its great historic significance, it stood derelict and its very poor condition detracted from the Chatham Historic Dockyard site.

The trust responsible for the site, with the active encouragement of what is now Historic England, led a regeneration project to put together a funding package to breathe new life into the building. The project set out to secure its future with sustainable uses that would contribute to the experience of visiting and working in the amazing site that is Chatham Historic Dockyard. 

Interior photo of the main lobby area of No.1 Smithery
The Orientation Gallery within No.1 Smithery before restoration © van Heyningen and Haward Architects

Now 'a treasure house of maritime treats'

Completion of the Smithery in 2010 marked a step change in the conservation of the site. It was an important milestone in what had been a 25-year project to conserve and re-use the most complete example of a dockyard of the sail-powered navy.

The Trust’s own description of the project says its all: "A treasure house of maritime treats Number 1 Smithery is a joint project between Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust, Royal Museums Greenwich and the Imperial War Museums that encourages visitors to unearth incredible stories through objects, paintings and play.

"Number 1 Smithery … is also home to a state of the art environmentally controlled storage space for over 3,000 models and artefacts. At the heart of Number 1 Smithery is The Courtyard, a large open space which allows visitors to view much of the original building with its huge anchor pits, chimneys and rugged industrial feel.

"Today No 1 Smithery contributes to the cultural offer in the Medway towns through its availability to touring exhibitions."

No 1 Smithery has been operating successfully for eight years and is a key part of the visitor experience at the dockyard. Other parts of the building are rented to tenants for an income that helps care for the wider site.

Find out how you can support Chatham Historic Dockyard

Interior photo of the Pipe Bending Floor before restoration at No.1 Smithery
The Pipe Bending Floor before restoration – No.1 Smithery © van Heyningen and Haward Architects

How we made a difference

We brought the approach of Constructive Conservation to the project. As a result, the repairs to the historic fabric of the building and new uses created for it still permit its historic role for metalworking to be understood whilst allowing new purposes for the structure as a whole.

Historic England helped bring partners together, steered the project through a complex consents process and contributed a grant of £240,000 towards repairs. The archaeology beneath the building was another challenge to overcome that we gave some very carefully considered advice on. The building is built over wind drains constructed to blow air to power the individual forges.

Repairing Number 1 Smithery to bring it into productive use had been an intractable problem for the Trust for 20 years. How to raise the minimum £3.5 million necessary just to make the 4,000 square metres building wind and weather tight without creating a sustainable use alongside the Trust’s other challenges made the possibility of demolition a reality for safety reasons if nothing else. Working with English Heritage [now Historic England] in a creative partnership provided significant confidence to the Trust, our museum partners and our funders that a solution was possible.

Bill Ferris OBE DL, Chief Executive, Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust

Visit

No. 1 Smithery's Maritime Treasures gallery is devoted to the display of models and artefacts from the national museums and dockyard collections. More artefacts are securely stored and available for inspection and academic study by appointment.

There's an ever-changing programme of temporary exhibitions of all kinds made available in a flexible gallery space. Visitors can experience the industrial purpose of the building, including a play experience using a pipe bending floor that's both fun and educational. A further space is available for educational visits and to book for meetings. 

Plan a visit to No. 1 Smithery

Aerial view of No.1 Smithery taken in 2006 before restoration
Aerial view of No.1 Smithery taken in 2006 before restoration © van Heyningen and Haward Architects

20 years of the Heritage at Risk Register

This year we are celebrating 20 years of the Heritage at Risk Register, Historic England’s tool for shining a light on the listed buildings and places in England that need the most help. Looking back over the last 20 years, huge progress has been made in saving our heritage and giving it new uses.

See more of our top 20 heritage rescues

Was this page helpful?