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The Reading Room houses the Trust’s collection of over 6,500 books and manuscripts that focus on ships, shipbuilding, naval architecture and history.

The Trust also has an extensive photographic collection of over 10,000 photographs and images, ranging from mid-19th century until closure in 1984, showing dockyard workers, trades, shipbuilding and repair and the wider dockyard site. We hold maps of the Historic Dockyard site and drawings of the buildings, along with a number of plans of ships built at Chatham.

We hold limited records of those who worked in the Dockyard or served in the Chatham Division of the Royal Navy. If you are looking for information on family members who are connected with the Dockyard, the National Archives at Kew may be able to help you:

Accessing the Reading Room

Since November 2017 Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust has undertaken major conservation, repair and adaptation works to the Fitted Rigging House, the home of the Reading Room. The project has enabled a sustainable future for one of the Dockyard’s most important Scheduled Ancient Monuments. Now complete, the project provides a new accessible Reading Room and much improved conditions for our books and archive collections, alongside new volunteer and conservation facilities.

Our Reading Room is open each Thursday from 11am – 2.30pm. Access is facilitated by a Reading Room Steward who will be happy to assist you with your enquiry. Please note our Reading Room Stewards are volunteers and we may need to close our Reading Room at short notice due to volunteer shortages.

Archival material must be booked in advance so that it can be retrieved – we require a minimum of two weeks’ notice for this process. Please contact to discuss your research enquiry before booking an appointment.

The Reading Room is a reference only collection and not a lending library. This means you cannot borrow items from our collection. All materials are to be consulted in our Reading Room.

The Reading Room is located at the rear of the Steam, Steel and Submarines Gallery, in the Fitted Rigging House. Our Visitor Experience Assistants in the gallery can accompany you to the Reading Room desk where you can use the telephone to dial through to the Reading Room steward, who will sign you into the room.

Access to the Reading Room will be with a Reading Room steward only. Readers must agree to abide by the Reading Room rules. The minimum age to use the Reading Room unaccompanied is 14 years. Children aged 8–14 can use the facility but must be accompanied by an adult (one adult per child).

Advance bookings and appointments

Advance bookings and appointments for the Reading Room can be made by emailing or by calling 01634 823800.

Please provide as much information as possible about your enquiry, this will help inform the type of material that you are interested in, a catalogue search can be completed in advance and books located.

Archival material must be booked in advance so that it can be retrieved – we require a minimum of two weeks’ notice for this process. Please contact to discuss your research enquiry before booking an appointment.

Reading Room rules

  • There will be no food or drinks to be taken into the main Reading Room, water may be consumed in the journal area.
  • You must not eat, drink, smoke chew gum or use mobile phones to make or take calls in the Reading Room.
  • The following items may be taken into the Reading Room in clear plastic bags (supplied): pencils, rubbers, note paper, plastic rulers.
  • Sound settings of laptops and cameras should either be turned off or reduced to a level that does not disturb other users.
  • You may not mark, write, lean on, fold or in any other way damage the material they are consulting. If you observe an existing defect in, or damage to an item, you are requested to bring it to the attention of the Reading Room steward.
  • You must abide by the handling guidelines provided.
  • Reading Room stewards will indicate the fire exits, evacuation routes and state where the facilities can be located.
  • After signing in, you will be issued with a locker key.
  • All coats are to be hung in the journal area. All bags and other valuables to be put into lockers. These are used at your own risk. There is no access to the Reading Room with any external clothing, umbrellas or laptop bags.
  • Only 3 books are issued at any one time. These are signed out and signed back in when returned. You may request and see up to 21 items in one day.
  • At the end of the visit, you will be accompanied into the journal area to collect your personal belongings. You must return your locker key, the locker should be left open and empty. You will then be signed out of the room.
  • Free public Wi-Fi is available for Reading Room users and Museum visitors.
  • Users with disabilities who may need additional support should contact us to help facilitate their visit.

Navy Lists

We hold an extensive collection of Navy Lists spanning the 19th-21st centuries.

They are valuable resources for anyone undertaking naval-related family history research but, please note, they contain the names of commissioned Royal Navy officers and the ships they served on.

Information we hold includes:

  • The “political” organisation of the Royal Navy, covering such things as the Navy Board etc, and the then current holders of the various offices;
  • An outline of the structure of the Royal Navy, including its then current senior officers, as well as the position of HM and other Royals, as well as other, including foreign, honorary appointments;
  • A list of ships and shore establishments, with their commanding officer’s details;
  • An alphabetical list of serving commissioned officers, with their specialism, rank, seniority date and current appointment;
  • Lists of commissioned reserve officers (including SCC and CCF), with their ranks and seniority dates;
  • Equivalent lists for regular and reserve Royal Marine Officers and the Queen Alexandra Royal Navy Nursing Service; and
  • Details of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships and officers.

The History of Chatham Dockyard

... by James D. Crawshaw

These two volumes provide a detailed history of the working Dockyard, including Sheerness Dockyard, other nearby Admiralty establishments and the Navy itself. It covers early history, administration, finance, apprentices, trades, clerical staff, medical officers, Dockyard security and spiritual welfare. They also contain information on Chatham’s defences, ordnance supply and prison hulks on the River Medway.

Crawshaw taught at the Dockyard School from 1936 until his retirement as a Head of Department in 1970.

This publication is hosted courtesy of the copyright holder Mrs Isabel Garford. The Trust would like to acknowledge the following people for making this possible: Mrs Isabel Garford, Andy Boorman, Len Boorman, the late Richard Boorman and Chatham Dockyard Historical Society.


  1. While the hard copy book was published in two volumes, for ease of reading it is split into three Sections. Readers will find Volume 1 Contents List on page 3 of 502 and Volume 2 Contents List on Page 427 of 502 in download Section 1. Indices for the whole book commence at Page 114 of 208 in download Section 3.
  2. This is the original published version and has not been updated.

Download Section 1 (Chapters 1 to 8)

Download Section 2 (Chapters 9 to 18)

Download Section 3 (Chapters 19 to 24)

Research & Collection enquiries

We are committed to helping the public who have enquiries about our collections. These may be answered face-to-face in the case of the Reading Room collections or by telephone, letter or email for our archive and object holdings. We receive enquiries from all over the world covering a wide range of different subjects.

Due to the volume of the enquiries we receive, our team can only undertake a maximum of 30 minutes research per enquiry and we are therefore unable to answer enquiries to any great depth. If your enquiry requires more extensive research, you will receive a referral email/letter and our research volunteers will work with you to facilitate the enquiry.

We aim to respond to initial written enquiries within 5 -10 working days. In the case of in-depth research, the timescale will vary depending on the nature of the research.

To enquire about access to our collections, please email: