Last week a friend pointed out to me that I have never posted some of the more unusual historic buildings with which I have been involved – so to start here are details of one of them.
The Bell Mast at Chatham Dockyard started out as a foremast for HMS Undaunted, a wooden screw warship. Launched in 1861, her 3 wooden masts were replaced in 1872 at Chatham Dockyard by new, wrought iron masts, made up of riveted metal plates. This, the foremast, was 109ft tall.
Ship building techniques soon outdated ships such as HMS Undaunted, and in 1882 she was decommissioned and sold to a ship breakers yard. The wrought iron foremast re-appeared at Chatham Dockyard in 1898 when it was erected close to the former Pembroke Gate at the Dockyard with a metal cupola and bell fixed to the top of the mast and an octagonal canopy at the base. It was used until 1940 as a ‘muster’ bell, summoning the Dockyard workforce for their shifts. Two shifts were run at the Dockyard, and any worker more than 15 minutes late was docked anything from 1/16th to a 1/2 days pay.
The bell mast is a scheduled monument. In 1984 Chatham Dockyard closed and was sold off for redevelopment. The Bell Mast was taken down from its original site in 1992 due to the construction of the Medway Tunnel and the mast was left in the old Boiler Shop, itself a listed building, where I found it. I was at the time master planner for the area and architect for the restoration of the building in which the Bell Mast had been left and the restoration and re-erection of the Bell Mast itself became a key project funded by the South East England Development Agency. The mast was erected after complete restoration in a purpose built public open space designed by landscape architects Bell Fischer along Leviathan Way opposite the Dockside Shopping Centre and Dickens World leisure complex