Chatham Dockyard was a Royal Navy Dockyard located on the River Medway in Kent. Established in Chatham in the mid-16th century, the dockyard subsequently expanded into neighbouring Gillingham (at its most extensive, in the early 20th century, two-thirds of the dockyard lay in Gillingham, one-third in Chatham).
It came into existence at the time when, following the Reformation, relations with the Catholic countries of Europe had worsened, leading to a requirement for additional defences. For 414 years Chatham Royal Dockyard provided over 500 ships for the Royal Navy, and was at the forefront of shipbuilding, industrial and architectural technology. At its height, it employed over 10,000 skilled artisans and covered 400 acres (1.6 km²). Chatham dockyard closed in 1984, and 84 acres (340,000 m2) of the Georgian dockyard is now managed as a visitor attraction by the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust.
The Treasurer of the Navy's accounts of the King's Exchequer for the year 1544 identifies Deptford as the Dockyard that carried out all the major repairs to the King's Ships that year. That was soon to change (although Deptford remained a dockyard for over three centuries).
Chatham's establishment as a naval dockyard was precipitated by the use of the Medway as a safe anchorage by the ships of what was to become (under King Henry VIII) England's permanent Royal Navy. In 1550, a decree was issued to the Lord High Admiral that:
Even prior to this, there is evidence of certain shore facilities being established in the vicinity for the benefit of the King's ships at anchor: there are isolated references from as early as 1509 to the hiring of a storehouse nearby and from 1547 this becomes a fixed item in the Treasurer's annual accounts. (At around the same time a victualling store was also established, in nearby Rochester, to provide the ships and their crews with food.) The storehouse would have furnished ships with such necessary consumables as rope, pulleys, sailcloth and timber; for more specialised repairs and maintenance, however, they would have had to travel to one of the purpose-built royal dockyards (the nearest being those on the Thames: Deptford and Woolwich).