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Chatham Dockyard: From ship-making to movie set

Chatham Dockyard was once a thriving shipyard, building boats to defeat the Spanish Armada, constructing huge battleships at the turn of the century and getting warships ready for the Falklands conflict.

But now a new industry is taking over its authentic cobbled streets.

With industrial buildings, fine Georgian and Victorian architecture, and period streets and buildings frozen in time, Chatham’s Historic Dockyard, on the site of the former naval base, has become a firm favourite with both film and television crews.

A scene from Les Miserable shot at the dockyard
A scene from Les Miserable shot at the dockyard

Visitors to the site can even see evidence of this growing industry – if they look close enough.

The pulleys for the washing lines in Call The Midwife still hang from the walls, as well as the outlines of the terraced doors.

What looks like a door may actually be a stage prop, and are those steps really made of concrete?

Chatham Historic Dockyard is often used in period street scenes
Chatham Historic Dockyard is often used in period street scenes

Nigel Crisp, the film liaison officer at the Historic Dockyard, said: “Over the last five to 10 years, filming has really picked up and we’ve seen a lot of big names, and quite a few keep coming back. It’s proving popular among both directors and cast.”

The long list includes Suffragette (October, 2015), Les Miserables (2012), both Sherlock Holmes films (2011 and 2009) and The Golden Compass (2007).

As well as blockbusters, television series are also recorded here – Call The Midwife is now shooting its fifth season, and the fourth season of Mr Selfridge has just finished.

Robert Downey Jr. playing Sherlock Holmes
Robert Downey Jr. playing Sherlock Holmes

Rapper Kanye West even filmed his video for two singles – All Day and I Feel Like That – in the Tarred Yarn Room. The video was shot back in March.

Mr Crisp added: “The room’s very popular with film and TV series and also photoshoots. Call The Midwife used it when Jenny’s boyfriend falls off the scaffolding.”

The building, which once stored tarred ropes, appears in the Oliver Twist TV series from 2007, was the Punchbowl Inn in the first Sherlock Holmes movie and in Downtown Abbey as a workhouse.

Where Kanye shot his latest video
Where Kanye shot his latest video

It was also used as a hospital for the upcoming movie Victor Frankenstein, starring Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy, set for release at the end of this year.

The ropery, at a quarter of a mile long, is still operational and can be seen in operation in both Call The Midwife and Grantchester.

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