The great frustration in visiting naval dockyard towns has always been that they keep their most exciting parts hidden from view behind unassailable walls.
Roaming the streets outside the dockyard defences is like hearing snatches of music through the back door of a concert hall. To catch sight of fragments that make sense -c hance views of the tops of cranes or the roofs of immense sheds worsens the disappointment of not being able to see more.
This sense of being denied the crucial clue to understanding a place used to be particularly strong in the case of Chatham, which except for its dockyard is a miserable, threadbare town. Now the mystery is ended, for on July 6th, just over a year after the navy pulled out, the Chatham Historic Dockyard quietly admitted the public for the first time (and is now open Wednesday-Sunday 10-4). The satisfaction of being allowed through its gates is that of being let in on a long held secret, but if that were all the excitement would soon pall. The revelation is that behind its walls is a town within a town so prodigiously rich in history that Chatham's position in the public imagination will be turned inside out.