When the Naval Dockyard at Chatham was being enlarged and improved under the direction of Col. Pasley in the latter half of the 19th century, the need arose to provide a suitable means of transporting iron plates and other components required in shipbuilding from the point of transshipment to the desired building slip.
The loads giving rise to particular difficulties were those of an 'intermediate' nature, [i.e, too heavy for horse-drawn carts but under 15 tons] as a result of their relatively high rate of recurrence.
Col. Pasley decided against the employment of a standard-gauge system for this type of internal traffic, on the grounds of its relative inflexibility in handling intermediate loads.
In 1868, the decision was made to experiment with a horse-drawn 18in-gauge tramway consisting of cast-iron plates with running grooves, the requisite distance apart. The plates were cast in the required configurations for the straight sections, curves of predetermined radii and points and crossings, while a number were arranged for double track working.
Although originally designed for horse working, the tramway soon received its first locomotive in 1871.
By 1873, 1,480 yards of double track were in use and 1,865 yards of single line. The narrow-gauge system tended to be concentrated in the locality of the Gun Wharf, Ropery and Building Slips areas.
The enlargement of the standard-gauge network to cope with increasing loads in the early years of the 20th century was followed by the scaling-down of the narrow-gauge operations after the 1918 armistice.
By the late 1930s, locomotive hauled workings on the narrow-gauge system had ceased, but certain sections remained in use for hand-pushed four-wheeled wagons.
A number of maps survive which show the narrow-gauge track, these include complete Ordinance Survey Maps of 1904 and 1911 in the Public Record Office at Kew, together with an incomplete fragment of an 1880s map.
A number of relics of the system do still survive, however, including several tramplates within the dockyard, 3 wagons, 1 of which is displayed in the Dockyard Museum and 2 in the Locomotive Workshop.
A dual-gauge wagon weigh-bridge still survives in No.7 Building Slip, but this is not open to public access.
The narrow gauge system ceased operating in the late 1930s.
Chatham was also one of the sites which tested the suitability of a prototype Handyside loco built by Fox Walker, designed to operate in the trenches. Details
Details of the Tramway Track can be found Here
For details of the rolling stock Click here