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Friday, 31 March 2017

Chatham Dockyard's secret garden

A dockyard is not a place where you expect to find a garden that spans three centuries of horticultural history. But slip through the side entrance behind the Resident Commissioner’s House in Chatham Historic Dockyard in Kent, and that’s exactly what you’ll find. Originally created for the private enjoyment of Peter Pett, one of Britain’s leading shipwrights and Chatham’s second Resident Commissioner in 1698, it initially took the form of a romantic Italian-style garden with three terraces cut into the hillside, with the lower one featuring a water garden and banqueting house. The diarist John Evelyn described it as ‘resembling some fine villa about Rome’. But fashions changed, and the old house was demolished and rebuilt in a grander style. The lower terrace lost its fountains and canals, the middle terrace became a parterre, and the upper one an orchard.
In Victorian times, the garden was a family one, with a lawn and fountain in the centre. (A facing brick wall without any windows, above, provided privacy from clerks working in the neighbouring Navy Pay Office, among them the father of author Charles Dickens.) The 20th c, with two World Wars, brought a period of decline. When the Naval Dockyard closed in 1984 the garden passed into the care of the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust and Kent Gardens Trust, who have been restoring original features.
The orchard has been replanted with 18th c species and a formal garden commemorating the 1989 bombing of the Royal Marines School of Music at Deal, which killed 11 musicians, has been extended.
Note: The area is expecting a major influx of visitors in 2017 for events marking the 350th anniversary of the Battle of the Medway (below), when much of the British Navy was destroyed by a daring Dutch naval raid. There will be re-enactments, sporting events and a spectacular finale on the water, Medway in Flames, from June 8 - 17, while the Dockyard is staging a special exhibition with a range of artefacts on loan from national and international institutions (June 8 – September 3).
Battle of the Medway 1667. Credit: Kevin Clarkson

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