( plaque 1 ) Historic photographs and plans courtesy of English Heritage, Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust and © National Maritime Museum, London.
The story of the Bell Mast begins in the 1850's at Chatham. The plan shows Chatham Dockyard in 1864. Many of the buildings shown on the plan still exist today. the Lower Boat House, North Mast Pond and Covered Slips can be seen from here.
HMS Undaunted was laid down in May 1859 and launched on the 1st of January 1861. She was built at Chatham Dockyard in no. 3 Covered Slip. She was one of 5 ships of the Immortalite class, a wooden screw frigate. She measured 250ft x 52ft 1in x 22ft 9in, ( 76.20 x 16.09 x 6.93m ) and had 51 guns. Her gun deck was 70ft longer than the gun deck in Nelson's Victory.
( plaque 2 ) The 19th century saw the introduction of new materials: Wrought Iron and Steel. These began to be used in shipbuilding.
In 1872 the 3 timber masts were removed from HMS Undaunted and replaced by new Wrought Iron masts. The original drawings for one of these, the foremast is shown here. The mast was about 109ft 6in ( 33.38m ) high and had a timber top. In 1875 the Undaunted was fitted for screw propulsion at Sheerness Yard. Drawings were made of the ship at that time. A plan of the upper deck is shown here. In 1882 after 21 years as a Naval ship, the technology of ship building had moved on and the HMS Undaunted was de commissioned and sold to Castles Ship Breakers.
( plaque 3 ) 12 years later in 1898 the wrought iron foremast of HMS Undaunted appears again. A cupola and bell were added to the top and a shelter at the base of the mast. The drawing showing the design for this is shown here. The Bell Tower or 'Bell Mast' was erected close to Pembroke Gate at Chatham naval dockyard in 1898.
( plaque 4 ) From 1898 - 1984 the Bell Mast stood in in the Dockyard at Pembroke Gate. Up to 1940 it was used as a muster bell to summon the workmen to the yard. There were two shifts a day and anyone arriving up to 15 minutes late had from 1/16 - ½ days pay docked.
There were 3 bell towers at the dockyard, located at the Main Gate, Gillingham Gate and Pembroke Gate. The plan dated 1961 shows this.
The Bell Tower near Main Gate is still standing. It dates from about 1820. The bell was originally at Deptford Dockyard and was put up at Chatham in 1869.
In 1969 the Bell Mast was designated a 'Scheduled Ancient Monument'. In 1984 the Naval Dockyard closed and it was divided into three areas: the Historic Dockyard, Chatham Maritime and the commercial port.
The Bell Mast was taken down in 1992 to allow the building of the Medway Tunnel and the beginning of the regeneration of Chatham Maritime. The Bell Mast was stored temporarily in the Boiler Shop.
( plaque 5 ) 1n 2000 -
2001 the Bell Mast was refurbished and re-erected on this site by the South East England Development Agency. The work was carried out in 3 stages.
Stage 1 In situ refurbishment of Mast, Cupola and bell in the Boiler Shop.
Stage 2 Moving the Bell Mast from the Boiler Shop to the site: a temporary road was constructed and a special 72 wheeler tractor and trailer unit 47m long was brought from Holland to transport the mast.
Stage 3 Erecting the Bell Mast and creating an area of public open space around it including this exhibition.
The location of the Bell Mast has been carefully chosen. The area around it has been specially designed to give the mast a fitting setting and to help explain the history of this extraordinary landmark.
( plaque 6 ) The Bell Mast has been refurbished and re-erected by South East England Development Agency as part of the regeneration of Chatham Maritime.
The design team were Bell Fischer Landscape Architects and Harris & Sutherland, Civil Engineers.
The Bell Mast was refurbished by Dorothea Restorations Ltd and re-erected by Brett Construction Ltd.