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Bell Mast

A Grade II Listed Building in River, Medway

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Latitude: 51.3992 / 51°23'57"N

Longitude: 0.5313 / 0°31'52"E

OS Eastings: 576183

OS Northings: 169726

OS Grid: TQ761697

Mapcode National: GBR PPP.94J

Mapcode Global: VHJLV.5386

Entry Name: Bell Mast

Listing Date: 27 June 2011

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1400147

Location: Medway, ME4

County: Medway

Electoral Ward/Division: River

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Gillingham

Traditional County: Kent

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Kent

Church of England Parish: Gillingham St Mark

Church of England Diocese: Rochester

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Bell mast, erected as a muster bell at Chatham Dockyard in 1903. Originated as the foremast to HMS Undaunted, fitted in 1872 (launched 1861, decommissioned 1882). Moved from its original location, east of the Coppersmiths' workshop in 1992, erected on its present site in 2001.


The bell mast comprises a tall cylindrical metal shaft made of rivetted iron plates which supports an open-sided octagonal bell cupola with an ogee roof with pronounced ribs. This is surmounted by a small golden orb beneath an ornate iron weather vane. The mast is estimated to be c 100 feet (c 30m) in height and is held in place by metal stays. Approximately 8 feet (c 2.4 m) from the base of the mast is a cantilevered metal awning extending round it.


Bell masts were common to all dockyards, docks and similar operations as the means of summoning the workforce. For example, at Lower Upnor Ordnance Depot the muster bell additionally alerted the workforce to the danger of storms or lightening strikes. Very few muster bells and bell masts appear to survive and while there may have also have been a bell mast at Gillingham Gate only two now remain at Chatham Dockyard. The other, earlier and more complete mast which stands by the main gate, is said to date from the late C18 to early C19 and is listed Grade II*.

According to the former scheduled monument description (ME 228) this bell mast, at the northern entrance to the dockyard, was thought to date from the mid-C19 expansion of Chatham Dockyard. More recent research has confirmed that the bell mast originated as a wrought iron ship's mast, fitted as foremast to HMS Undaunted in 1872. HMS Undaunted, the largest and latest of the Immortalite Class wooden screw frigates (laid down at Chatham 1859, launched 1861) was the last wooden ship to hold the position of Flagship on active service and has been considered to be the finest wooden hulled screw frigate in service. It is thought that the installation of a wrought iron mast in HMS Undaunted may have been experimental. However the rapid progress in the development of steam propulsion rendered the design redundant and the ship was de-commissioned and sold in 1882. In 1903 the mast was installed as a muster bell at the dockyard to signal changing shifts and remained in use until the dockyard closed in 1984. These metal masts are direct descendants of the C18 and early C19 muster bells on wooden posts and frames of which dockyard plans and models include examples.

The mast was removed from its original location south east of the Coppersmiths' Shop at Chatham Dockyard in 1992 when a road was constructed across the site. It was restored and re-erected on the junction of Leviathan Way and Western Avenue, Chatham in 2001, close to the new visitor entrance to the dockyard.

Reasons for Listing

The bell mast, Leviathan Way, Chatham is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Structural interest: the cupola and bell mounted on a metal mast, and used to summon the workforce at Chatham Dockyard, are a direct descendent of the C18 muster bell mounted on a timber frame; experimental metal mast, fitted to HMS Undaunted in 1872;
* Rarity: once common to all dockyards, it is one of only two masts remaining at Chatham Dockyard and is rare nationally with only one other listed bell mast, at Maurice Yard, Devonport;
* Historic interest: originally located adjacent to the Coppersmiths’ Shop, the bell mast contributes to the fabric and understanding of the historic dockyard at Chatham which is recognised internationally as a site of the highest historic significance. Its origin as a foremast to HMS Undaunted also adds interest.

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