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Dockyard reflects on its ‘hidden heroines’

Hope is to open the exhibition in mid-May

In celebration of International Women’s Day 2021 (today March 8), Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust has revealed details about its upcoming exhibition, Hidden Heroines: The Untold Stories of the Women of the Dockyard.

Opening at The Historic Dockyard Chatham this spring (Government-permitting), Hidden Heroines will chart more than 200 years of female workers at Chatham. Featuring stories of the first women of the Spinning Rooms and Sail and Colour Loft; tales of stowaways and women masquerading as men; and the extraordinary women whose impact left a lasting legacy.

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, Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust, says: “We are incredibly excited to be opening a new exhibition dedicated to the Dockyard’s female workforce. Chatham has a 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.”

The Historic Dockyard Chatham is currently closed to visitors due to current Government Covid restrictions. The temporary exhibition, along with the wider Historic Dockyard site will open to the public once restrictions allow and it is safe for all users of the estate, this will be no earlier than May 17. Hidden Heroines will run until October 2021.

Hidden Heroines: the Untold Stories of the Women of the Dockyard has been made possible through generous support from the Garfield Weston Foundation.

Hidden heroine: Zandra Bradley, the first female apprentice

Zandra Bradley entered Chatham Dockyard in 1971 hoping to join the apprenticeship scheme. Zandra was initially rejected from the scheme and it was recommended she join the clerical department. She persisted.

Zandra even attended night school to ensure she would pass the entrance exams, which included engineering maths that was not included in female maths syllabus. Zandra joined as electrical fitter and later transferred to a technician apprenticeship.


David Buckley

Dave Buckley is a career journalist. “I once went painting girders for a week and discovered I didn’t like heights,” he says. “Apart from that it has always been journalism for me in one form or another.” Past local weekly publications he has worked for include: the South-East London Mercury* covering the Borough of Greenwich as a junior reporter; Orpington-based News Shopper as a sub-editor; and the Kent Messenger when based in Larkfield, Maidstone, as deputy chief sub-editor. He has also worked for the following dailies/nationals: Daily Express, Today*, News of the World* and Hong Kong Star*. All those marked with an asterisk no longer exist (trend emerging?). He owned and edited a Thailand-based property magazine before returning to England and currently works as a production editor on a car fleet magazine. His first foray into property ownership saw him move from London to Rainham (the Gillingham, Kent, variety). He has subsequently lived in Chislehurst, Petts Wood and Orpington in the Borough of Bromley (which he still regards as being in Kent). In more recent years he owned three different properties on the Kings Hill (West Malling) development.

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