This is to be a journey in more ways than one … and I hope you will discover something of interest along the way.
In fact you may find yourself wondering about a similar project of your own.
The gestation period for this project has been extensive just to arrive at the point of getting something down for others to examine. It is open-ended, which gives me the excuse to follow others at the same time as adding information to this one.
Therefore my aim is to get people to enthuse over what I am about to divulge and get a ball of enthusiasm rolling through the local community, gathering more and more desire for more and more information. I also hope to be able to supply that information in words and photographs that will follow.
Before I get too far ahead I must remember to thank the staff of the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust for allowing me access to the sites involved in this collection, and for those colleagues and fellow members of the Medway Towns Flickr Group for taking such great photographs of … BRICKS!
Yes, this project is brick-based. Not just any old bricks, although they are old bricks, but bricks that were used to build the iconic buildings that make up the old Chatham Dockyard. These bricks have become an important part of our local social history and deserve to be recognised as such.
… and so the journey is about to begin and, as a final observation, you may find the odd mistake. Although I am trying to fully research the information as I put it down … any errors are likely to be mine.
So, what am I talking about?
The Writings on the Walls is my ‘dream project’ which began in 1985 when the Chatham Historic Dockyard opened its gates to the general public after John Nott and Mrs Thatcher announced its closure in 1981. There was a short reprieve so that the ships sailing to the Falkland Islands would have some sort of back-up in an emergency.
I was an Electrical Fitter apprentice (1952 entry) and was soon aware that the buildings at the ‘top-end’ of the yard carried a unique social document on their outer walls in the form of architectural graffiti, i.e. names, regimental details, drawings etc., lovingly scratched into the brickwork. I suspected that the information contained there could be very interesting and was anxious at the re-opening to ensure that these treasures were still in situ.
An introductory letter sent to Sir Steuert Pringle led to a meeting with Richard Holdsworth to discuss a plan of action allowing me access to the buildings to photograph the various bricks.
The buildings involved were
- The Ropery
- The Paint and Lead Mill
- The Warehouses and Stores on the Anchor Wharf, and
- The area around the Pay Office.
… and so began my quest for information about those who stood and engraved their names and messages into the brickwork.
People have asked me about my interest in this project … surely bricks can look after themselves?!
Here is an example of a brick located on the south wall of the Ropery, one amongst hundreds.
- Was W O’Connell just whiling away some time by scratching his name on the wall?
- Does “18” mean he was eighteen years old?
- What is the meaning of “R IRE or P IPE or F”?
- Is the date relevant to the inscription?
The Chatham area had, and still has, a strong military connection. I researched some possibilities.
I searched for the 18th Regiment of Foot and found that it referred to “The Royal Irish Regiment”.
I wondered if “R IRE” could refer to “The Royal Irish Regiment”, and although this is a tenuous connection I think it is enough to look further. I have traced some details of convoluted history of regimental amalgamations and disbandings … but this is what research is all about. I shall carry on.
The Royal Irish Regiment was, indeed, present in Chatham at that time.
The aim of this article is to answer the question posed earlier. “WHY”?.
The same brick has been photographed by one of the team in 2008 and it now looks like this:-
Before I go too far with the actual details of the graffiti and what I have found through research, I shall reinforce my argument as to why we need to protect even the smallest piece of information concerning establishments like the dockyard.
These artifacts were lucky to survive.
They must be treasured.