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Hidden Heroines: the untold stories of the women of the Chatham dockyard exhibition to open

A young woman who became the first apprentice at Chatham Dockyard in the 1970s is one of the women featured in a new exhibition due to go on show this week.

Hidden Heroines - The Untold Stories of Women at the Dockyard, which opens at the Historic Dockyard Chatham on Saturday, May 29, looks at the female workers at the dockyard over 200 years, from the first women of the Spinning Rooms and Sail and Colour Loft to tales of stowaways and women masquerading as men.

Zandra Bradley, first female apprentice at the dockyard in Chatham
Zandra Bradley, first female apprentice at the dockyard in Chatham

The temporary exhibition will challenge the misconceptions and superstitions of women at sea, explore women’s place in war and share inspiring stories of pioneering women who campaigned for change and fought against the odds, including Jane Austen’s sister-in-law, Fanny, and Zandra Bradley, the first female apprentice.

Alexandra Curson, Hidden Heroines curator at Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust, said: “We are incredibly excited to be opening a new exhibition dedicated to the Dockyard’s female workforce. Chatham has such a rich history, but it can often be told from a male perspective. Women have played vital roles in all aspects of the Dockyard’s history and this exhibition brings together a fascinating collection of stories, objects and photographs for the first time.”

“From the traditional roles of women in the home through to the first women who climbed aboard ships destined for battle and the invaluable female workforce that kept the home fires burning during two World Wars, these stories will be brought to life in our No.1 Smithery gallery and through a supporting digital exhibition.”

She added: “As part of a team of women working at the dockyard today, we have the responsibility to champion the heroines that went before us and tell their tales of triumph to future generations – this exhibition does just that.”

Seventeen-year-old Zandra Bradley was the first female apprentice at Chatham Dockyard in 1971 and was initially rejected from the scheme and recommended to join the clerical department but she persisted.

Zandra Bradley, first female apprentice at the dockyard in Chatham
Zandra Bradley, first female apprentice at the dockyard in Chatham

She even went to night school to pass the entrance exams, which included engineering maths that was not included in the female maths syllabus.

She eventually joined as an electrical fitter and later transferred to a technician apprenticeship.

Hidden Heroines will be open at the dockyard until Sunday, October 31.

For more information see thedockyard.co.uk

For more events coming up in Kent click here

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