Naval Dockyards Society

Exploring the civil branches of navies & their material culture

Grants for 5 Dockyard Projects

Announcing the Award of five £1000 Grants by NDS to Small Dockyard Museum or Dockyard Heritage Site Projects

The 2020 Naval Dockyards Society AGM agreed that part of its small surplus of funds could be used to award five grants of £1,000 each to small dockyard museum or dockyard heritage site projects. It was felt that grants could make a real difference to the future enhancement of worthy museums or sites.

Successful applications were received from the following sites:

Bluetown Remembered (Sheerness)

The project will further raise the profile of Sheerness Dockyard and Blue Town heritage, run from Bluetown Remembered, a music hall built in 1841, later a cinema. One floor is dedicated to Sheerness Dockyard. It welcomes over 20,000 visitors each year. The NDS grant will fund a booklet on Sheerness Dockyard for all Sheppey schools, part of two Kent-wide schemes, Wheels of Time and the Children’s University, bringing in families from all over Kent. It will also finance six monthly lectures about the dockyard and Blue Town to encourage history groups to visit as well as locals. Preshow tours of the island and the dockyard will be used to help promote the dockyard to this wider audience. Special events for care homes will also be hosted.

 The Dockyard Museum at Antigua Naval Dockyard

Unveiling the 8 March Exhibition, 2020, at the Antigua Dockyard Museum

A multidisciplinary research, interpretation, and public outreach programme has been developed entitled ‘8 March Project’ under the theme ‘Dockyard History is African History’, to recover and interpret archival and archaeological evidence of the enslaved and free Africans and their descendants who made possible the naval dockyard at Antigua, established in 1725. The ‘8 March Project’ identified eight enslaved Africans who lost their lives in an explosion on 8 March 1744. These names launched a project to recover more names of enslaved Africans who worked in the yard, which has recovered more than 650 names. In 2021 the dockyard museum will initiate an expanded programme including creative works by students from Antigua State College and the local Cobbs Cross Primary School, telling the stories of enslaved workers. The students will bring parents and grandparents.

 Museum of Slavery and Freedom, Deptford

This embryonic organisation aspires to acquire permanent premises, working alongside Action for Community Development in Deptford. The project, ‘Chip on Your Shoulder’, will combine Deptford Dockyard history and the Museum of Slavery and Freedom (MōSaF). It will use the Deptford Pepys Resource Centre as an anchor hub for museum tours about Deptford Dockyard, its support of maritime communities, and its links to the African, Irish and Asian diaspora. Deptford is significant as it was home to John Hawkins who became a prominent early English slave trader. MōSaF will demonstrate how Deptford, London and the United Kingdom grew rich from the slave trade but also explore the extent to which freedom from slavery was won and celebrate the many cultures and peoples who live consequently in the UK. The Lenox Project has kindly offered £500 to help fund this project.

Sheerness Dockyard Preservation Trust (SDPT)

Sheerness Dockyard Church

1820s Sheerness Dockyard Model

SDPT was founded in 2014 to conserve the historic buildings of the former Royal Dockyard at Sheerness. The Trust’s focus has been to rescue and reuse the Grade II* listed former Dockyard Church, built in 1828 to the designs of George Ledwell Taylor, Navy Board surveyor. In 2001 it was gutted by fire. The Trust has developed a project to conserve the building and convert it into a mixed-use community facility with an events space, a business start-up centre for young people, and a permanent display gallery housing part of the 1820s dockyard model. This model will play a significant part in informing the public of the history of the dockyard and the church’s place in that community. The NDS grant will contribute towards the interpretation and conservation of the model.

The Unicorn Preservation Society, Dundee

The stern of HMS Unicorn

Robert Seppings, the Industrial Revolution & HMS Unicorn’. 2022 is the 200th anniversary of the keel laying of Robert Seppings’s frigate HMS Unicorn on No 4 slip at Chatham. From 1800, many factors affected ship construction methods and yard operations, such as the increased availability of consistent wrought iron and steam propulsion. Seppings developed wrought iron diagonal straps to increase the torsional stiffness of the hull and wrought iron knees, offering greater strength at less weight. HMS Unicorn is now the only remaining ship which fully illustrates Seppings’s approach. The grant will be used, with other funding, for an exhibition linking the Industrial Revolution, Seppings’s ship design and shipbuilding in Dundee and naval dockyards. It will utilise oral histories of those who worked in the Dundee shipyards and link outreach to relevant school curricula.

This was an exceptional event for the Society and it was very exciting to see the range of projects thus funded, reflecting the scope of dockyard cultural significance. The NDS is optimistic that these inputs will enable wider interpretation of dockyard heritage, ‘as an oak cometh of a litel spyr’ (Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde, Book 2).

All of the photos are courtesy of the respective organisations, we have permission to use them, no names of photographers have been supplied.

Ann Coats

23 September 2020

Naval Dockyards Society announces 5 Dockyard Project Grants

Who knows where an initial discovery can lead? Historic England investigated the dismantling site of Charles Darwin’s exploration ship Beagle, which sailed to South America and twice circumnavigated the world (Hunt for Darwin’s HMS Beagle Reveals Dock Outline)
This has led to the listing of a mud dock berth at Paglesham, Essex as a Scheduled Monument ( The list entry also recognises Beagle’s later career as a Coastguard Watch Vessel and the rarity of surviving mud docks. Such legacies have many meanings to local maritime communities and can become critical in enhancing local engagement in dockyard heritage.

Such small beginnings can stimulate local volunteers to carry out research into the dockyard site, write histories about its ships and people and hold open days. Thus the community learns about its evolving landscape, crafts and society, which ties it to larger stories. This can lead to more permanent sites, volunteer opportunities, and engagement with schools and visitors.

Through the hard work of committee members and the generosity of members, the Naval Dockyards Society has accumulated a small surplus of funds beyond those needed for forthcoming publications. The 2020 AGM agreed that this could be used to support a dockyard museum/dockyard heritage site project. The Society will award five grants of £1,000 each, to help fulfil the NDS Constitution Aim and specific Objectives:


To stimulate the production and exchange of information and research into naval dockyards and associated organisations. The Naval Dockyards Society is an international organisation which is concerned with and publishes material on naval dockyards and associated activities, including victualling, medicine, ordnance, shipbuilding, shipbreaking, coastguard stations, naval air stations, provisions and supplies; all aspects of their construction, history, archaeology, conservation, workforce, surrounding communities and family history; and all aspects of their buildings, structures and monuments relating to naval history. The Society is therefore involved closely in the terrestrial, aviation and underwater heritage of all these sites.

Specific Constitution Objectives to:

5 Increase public awareness of historic dockyards and related sites.

6 Create links with related organisations in Britain and abroad.

7 Coordinate and promote new research into the topics relevant to the Aim.

8 Coordinate the historical, architectural and technical expertise available within the society to enhance dockyard sites and campaign against threats of damage or the destruction of dockyards or related sites.

10 Endeavour to increase access to historic dockyards and related sites.

12 Offer assistance to those establishing dockyard heritage sites.

13 Encourage the storage and collection of relevant archives and oral history interviews related to dockyard history.

The NDS wishes to support a small dockyard museum or heritage site organisation anywhere in the world, such as a not-for-profit organisation with 0-5 employed staff or an elected committee, with a constitution and annual member meetings. This sum could make a real difference to the future enhancement of a worthy museum or site.

What is a dockyard and a dockyard museum or dockyard heritage site?

A dockyard builds, fits out, supplies and repairs naval ships. Dockyards are defined by dry docks, from which water can be drained or pumped out for repairing or dismantling, whereas shipbuilding can be carried out on a slip, but the term was sometimes used where the yard did not have a dock. A dockyard was literally the yard that grew around the dock. The term implies naval ownership, but in this instance also encompasses commercial yards which built for the navy.

A dockyard museum or dockyard heritage site comprises groups of buildings or structures which, because of their distinctive architecture, fabric or their place in the landscape, display historical, aesthetic, communal and social value. This could be tangibly or intangibly associated with events or living traditions, ideas, beliefs, artistic and literary works of significance.

See Dockyard Project Grant Application Guidance 2020

Ann Coats

10 June 2020 (modified 16/06/2020)