St Mary's Island History Group


1919 to 1938 continued

HMS Arethusa was commissioned at Chatham in 1935. The same year the‘Peking’ became the Arethusa training ship at a new base of the Shaftesbury Society for up to 300 boys established at Lower Upnor.


When the first Arethusa was broken up its figurehead was kept and is now within the grounds of the Arethusa Venture Centre. In 1975, the second Arethusa was sold to the South Street Seaport Museum of New York where you can visit her as the ‘Peking’.


Chatham Dockyard built 12 submarines between 1930 and 1938 with each being an improvement in design or equipment devised in the dockyard or intended for overseas operations in a World-wide navy.


The activity on St Mary’s Island steadily grew as the submarine fleet increased and the crews were trained, particularly in engineering, with ships becoming more complex. Above Basin 1 was a long established saw mill and timber store. The corner to the left of the caisson crossing point (where the island bridge now is) became submarine corner with buildings for special maintenance and testing.


Alongside Basin 2 the training schools expanded for artificers. There was also a fleet maintenance unit where navy engineers not allocated to ships helped the dockyard workers.


When ships were in refit all their engines were shut down so there were coal-fired bath houses and ablutions.


Basin 3 had a large boat house for repairing the launches and lifeboats from the ships.


Also in this 1940 aerial view notice the sports fields with a pavilion/canteen.

areth index 936792_orig 001489_1_hmsg3 Aerial1940

HMS Arethusa

The 'Arethusa'

'Submarine corner'

Medway Queen on the Medway

Aerial view 1940