Creature Clothes X The Master Ropemakers – The Historic Dockyard Chatham

Creature Clothes X Master Ropemakers at The Historic Dockyard Chatham

Rope – An Obsession.

I have wanted to make rope leads for years.  It has been a bit of an obsession.  I have books of knots, lengths of rope, sailing clips, climbing clips, nylon rope, natural rope, colourful rope… a collection of nautical treasures waiting for the right moment to pull them all together in one project.  And now that project is finally here with the collaboration between The Master Ropemakers at The Historic Dockyard Chatham and me, Creature Clothes.

Sample pieces of rope hanging up on the rope walk
Sample pieces of rope hanging up on the Rope Walk at The Master Ropemakers of Chatham Historic Dockyard

Perhaps it was growing up in a tiny fishing village on the East Coast of England that did it.  I would take my dog for a walk along the river and be surrounded by little fishing boats on their moorings, a scattering of discarded nautical treasures lying in a halo around the vessel or on it’s jetty.  Lobster pots, worn out rope, rusted rollocks, empty and broken crab shells, their residents long since gone or eaten by a passing dog.  Or maybe it was the long and lazy summer days of my childhood, spent sitting in the back of the ferry between Walberswick and Southwold.  My job was to take the money from the passengers boarding the little rowing boat that acted as our ferry, while my step-dad’s childhood best friend David rowed everyone across the river (a job his daughter Dani continues to this day).  My reward for this very exciting job for a 10 year old?  Getting to spend all day sitting in the life rings going back and forwards across the river with my dog swimming behind us.  Bliss.

Massive rope
A giant spool of very heavy duty rope on the ropewalk

Our Collaboration

So it is with great excitement that I announce our collaboration with The Master Ropemakers at The Historic Dockyard Chatham.  Bringing together their vast knowledge and experience of working with rope and our 21 years of working with leather, we have created a range including both our specialities.  The first in this range are our rope and leather leads.  Classic, stylish and with just a hint of panaz.  I love them and have used mine every day since I made my part of it.

Between lockdowns I packed my family up in our car and we hit the road to visit The Historic Dockyard Chatham.  I really wasn’t prepared for the awesomeness that awaited us – what a day we had.

The Rope Walk at Chatham Historic Dockyard
The 1/4 mile long Rope Walk at The Historic Dockyard Chatham

Master Ropemakers

The first stop of our day was to the Ropery to see ACTUAL ROPE BEING MADE.  Wow.  The Ropery is housed in magnificent red brick buildings that are often used as locations for Call The Midwife.  Just walking from building to building is an experience.  On the day we visited, Chatham Hemp rope was in production on the 1/4 mile long ropewalk.  The original Victorian machinery is still used to make rope every day.  Pully’s pull, bells ring, bikes are jumped on & machinery is surfed as the fibres are twisted and spun.  We were watching the very same rope that we are using in our dog lead collaboration being made.  I loved it, and literally had to be dragged out back into the sunshine to explore the Historic Docks.

Victorian Rope Making machinery
The original Victorian Rope Making machinery is still in use on the ropewalk today
The Chatham Rope Walk
It looks like an optical illusion, but it is actually a 1/4 mile long room, housing the ropewalk
Call The Midwife Buildings at Chatham
The beautiful cobbled streets and Red Brick buildings of The Ropery at The Historic Dockyard Chatham are often used as sets for Call The Midwife

Chatham Historic Docks

I had never seen a submarine up close before and HMS Submarine Ocelot did not disappoint.  The last Royal Navy warship to be built at Chatham in 1962, she was actually built (laid down) in the dry dock that we were exploring.  Sadly Covid meant that we could not explore inside this magnificent vessel, but her imposing mystery from the outside and the beautiful photos of her construction – the men in suits putting her together, were more than enough for me.

HMS Ocelot at Chatham Historic Dockyard
HMS Ocelot at The Historic Dockyard Chatham – the building to the right is the magnificent roof of The Big Space
HMS Ocelot in the dry dock where whe was laid down
HMS Ocelot in the dry dock where she was laid down

After HMS Ocelot we ventured aboard HMS Cavalier.  Launched in 1944 she was known as the fastest ship in the fleet.  We wandered around her decks and peered into portholes – witnessing a little slice of life aboard a warship.  We rang her bell and the baby made a nest under one of her guns.  Naturally.

HMS Cavalier
HMS Cavalier at The Historic Dockyard Chatham


Wandering the decks and glimpsing what life was like aboard HMS Cavalier
Wandering the decks and glimpsing what life was like aboard HMS Cavalier
HMS Cavalier and a teeny tiny sailor
My littlest daughter makes camp under one of the guns while we explore HMS Cavalier

After HMS Cavalier, we went on to explore the beautiful HMS Gannet.  A stunning teak and iron warship, powered by sail and steam & built in 1878.  The sheer contrast between this beautiful wooden sailing ship and the HMS Cavalier left my kids speechless.  We imagined getting married in the captain’s quarters and marvelled and the endless lengths of rope (Chatham Hemp of course) neatly tied off with almost engineered precision.

HMS Gannet
The magnificent HMS Gannet (1887)
Deeds Not Words HMS Gannet
Deeds Not Words onboard HMS Gannet
Chatham Hemp Rope on board HMS Gannet
Chatham Hemp making it’s mark on HMS Gannet
HMS Gannet at Chatham Historic Dockyard
Rope rope and more rope

We spied in through the windows of a Dragonfly helicopter, saluting to camera of course… climbed giant anchors, devoured ice cream and explored every inch of the dockwards.  Put simply, it was awesome.

Dragonfly helicopter
A Dragonfly Helicopter is a fascinating find…


RNLI historic lifeboats at Chatham Historic Dockyard
One of the many historic RNLI lifeboats in the exhibition at The Historic Dockyard Chatham

But for me it was the exhibition of RNLA Historic Lifeboats that truly pulled at my heartstrings.  Seeing the RNLI lifeboats through the years, from a tiny sailing boat to the magnificent lifeboats of today was spectacular.  They again took me back to growing up in Walberswick, where my friend’s Dad’s (and now my friend Ray) would get the call to go and do their duties as part of the lifeboat crew over the river at Southwold Lifeboat Station.  Not only were the lifeboats fascinating, but the building that they were in… wow.  Number 3 Slip, or The Big Space, has the most unbelievable roof.  I was captivated.  My neck hurt from looking up so much.  Built by the boat makers of Chatham Docks & designed by Sir Robert Seppings, it was the largest widespan timber structure in Europe at the time of its construction.  It is utterly beautiful.

The stunning roof at The Big Space - Dock 3 at Chatham
The stunning roof of The Big Space / Number 3 Slip at Chatham Dockyard

Our time at The Historic Dockyard Chatham and at The Master Ropemakers was truly amazing.  I highly recommend a trip there when Covid lockdowns allow.  My daughters, aged 1, 11 & 12 loved it, as did my husband.  I can’t wait to go back there to work on the next part of our collaboration.

Chatham Hemp at The Creature CLothes workshop
Chatham Hemp at the Creature Clothes workshop, all ready for sampling.
Master Ropemakers / Creature Clothes / Chatham Hemp Rope Lead
The first in our collaboration – a Creature Clothes X Master Ropemakers Chatham Hemp Rope Lead

To shop the Master Ropemakers X Creature Clothes collaboration, click here.

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