A Steampunk Visit to The Medway Festival of Steam & Transport at England's Chatham Historic Dockyard << Prev Next >>
Special UK Correspondent, L.C. Longo travels to Kent for The Medway Festival of Steam & Transport a...
By Outflyer on May 22 2012 Category:Events, Steamlife
This year's Easter weekend saw me travelling out of the familiar tourist strewn streets of London and into the beautiful green pastures of Kent. My destination was Chatham Historic Dockyard for the 12th annual Medway Festival of Steam & Transport. Chatham claims to be the world’s most complete dockyard of the Age of Sail. Its history can be traced back to before the 1500's but was not established as a royal dockyard until 1567 by Queen Elizabeth I. The docks at Chatham continued to play a vital role throughout history, from the Dutch wars of the 17th century to the rise of the submarine in the 20th. It lays claim to having built some of the most famous ships of their day and permanently houses three historic war ships; HMS Gannet (1878), HMS Cavalier (R73) and HMS Ocelot (S17). Sir Francis Drake also lived in the old hulks there and spent his youth in the neighbouring borough of Medway.
This years Medway festival took place over two days and was themed 'Railway'. The event saw the dockyard’s own locomotive ‘Ajax’, together with the 1895 Aveling & Porter ‘Sydenham’ and 1936 Peckett in steam, but also an ex-dockyard locomotive and guest engine, ‘Victory’, following her extensive restoration. Hundreds of of vehicles on display including traction engines, classic cars and motorbikes, commercial and military vehicles, fairground attractions, and antique buses was enough to make a girl giddy. Within five minuets of arriving I was already 'shopping' for when I finally find my displaced Prussian Prince or commercial Airship tycoon. Some sharp eyed readers may recognise Chatham Docks as the place where many Hollywood blockbusters have been filmed including the Guy Richie Sherlock Holmes movies, The Golden Compass series and recently the movie adaptation of Les Miserables. With thoughts of Robert Downey Jr and Hugh Jackman swimming around in my head I made my way past the 'county fair meets biker rally' and onto the Steampunk area of the festival.
The Steampunk Village was located in one of the hangers along the side of the docks and had already got local medias attention that morning. Video of the coverage of the Steampunk invation of Chatham can be found here. Upon my arrival around lunch time the market was in full swing. Steampunk clothing, accessories, gadgets and jewelry were being browsed by curious and amused groups of steam enthusiasts, with lots of questions and compliments coming from groups of children, keen to have a look at the displayed artworks. Stalls of note included Ms. Dee of Second Coming clothing, specialising in upcycled and redesigned one offs, as well as Mothers Ruin Millinery, from whom I purchased a lovely little punk-tastic mini topper. The name of the game was education with various panels taking place throughout the day including "Steampunk Fashion", "What is Steampunk", and a "Steampunk Author's Panel". Sure enough there was Robert Rankin (author of Far Fetched Fiction including Retromancer and Japanese Devil Fish Girl and Other Unnatural Attractions) and his lovely wife Lady Raygun. Robert has recently released a limited edition hardback of his on line comic Empires. I bought two.
I was not at all surprised to see the 3rd (Foot & Mouth) Regiment patrolling the docks. Known to their enemies as The Devils in Skirts, the regiment was formed by a group of active members of the UK Steampunk Community, and fans of the popular British Carry On movies (namely Carry On up the Khyber). Some familiar faces took up their positions throughout the day, parading and escorting Queen Victoria up the docks (oo-er missus!). Regular rabble raisers such as the ever roguish Jack Union, who recently announced the publication of his first book (coverage forthcoming in), everyone's favourite Russian, Count Ilya Rostov selling and promoting his radio play Rayguns in Aspic (recently reviewed by Steampunk Chronicle), and the champion of self publishing steampunks everywhere, Warden Arkwright of The Last Line publishing and the 'Asylum' collective book series. There were also plenty of new faces I was very happy to make acquaintance with. I had a fantastic chat with Mr. Yomi Ayeni, an exceedingly charming, impeccably dressed gentleman who handed me a flier for 'Tomorrow's World Today', an event in London to promote the start of his graphic novel series Clockwork Watch. I had a flip through the example comic he brought with him, and guys, this is certainly one artistic enterprise you will want to keep an eye on.
Having a wander around the Dockyard I took a few moments to pose on the magnificent Victorian naval sloop HMS Gannet and get some pictures of the surrounding attractions. A personal highlight for me was the owl sanctuary stall, fenced in to waist height with six or so upside down flower pots, each with a little owly face peering out. It took a number of responsible adults to stop me from owl smuggling my way to a new pet. Of course there was tea and cake to follow, and it was amazing.
I got back to the Steampunk Village just in time for Lady Elsie to grab me and explain that I would be taking part in the fashion show. What's a shy, retiring, American girl to do in a situation like that? ...I worked it like I was being paid to. It was apparent that the Muff was in... as even the males taking part in 'Chatham Fashion Week' carried the furry hand warmers with them. While my time in the spot light was brief it was not over yet! I was again approached and it was explained that I would be sitting on the 'What is Steampunk' panel. No pressure. Happy to rep it for the Yanks, and for the Ladies in the room, I took my place next to Major Tinker (of The Asylum) and the irrepressible Herr Doktor to banter and exchange views with our audience and our discussion leader Jack Union. The reception was very positive and there were a number of converts all reaching for goggles and top hats by the end of it.
I needed a drink. So I made my way past some of the sexiest cars to ever drive the earth, was asked to pose on a motor cycle, and had a quick pop into the Tardis before I found a place that would give me gin. Serenaded by a steam powered organ and Hobo Jones & The Junkyard Dogs on the small stage, who had a killer set and had everyone dancing to some grimy swing. I also had a chance to listen to Dark Gypsy Folk, a band keen to get involved in steampunk. Have a listen to some of their stuff, i really liked thier folky sound.
The climax of the day had to be the crowning of the first Chatham Tea Duelling Champion. There had been some scandal the day before when, being only the second recorded person to ever be disqualified from a round for cheating (the other being the un-named person responsible for ‘The varnished biscuit incident of 2011’), Herr Doktor showed his more dastardly side. The contestants were made up of both new comers and seasoned veterans of the sport, so competition was fierce. The entire hanger filled with people during the final few rounds when, after re-entering after his first day disgrace, Herr Doktor was matched against Lady Raygun in the final. This was a grudge match, and the silence upon the biscuit dunk was deafening. Breaths were held and hands locked in prayer and in the end, with a clean Nom, it was Lady Raygun who came out victorious. Wielding her winners sugar spoon, she is off to the finals as Chatham Champion at Asylum in September.
What a weekend! Safe to say I was knackered by the end of it, so tucked safely in the backseat of the car, I headed home safe in the knowledge that once again the British Steampunk Community had served up an event that was just my cup of tea... with two spoon fulls of splendid.
Special UK Correspondent L.C. Longo has been described as a force of nature unto herself, an enigma of both time and space, a hero of the dance floor and a time bandit of noted distinction. Currently residing just outside of Central London after permanently moving over from Pennsylvania in 2005, Ms. Longo makes it her business to have as much fun as is humanly possible. Working by day for the British government, by night she can be found at any sort of party provided they are serving gin... and cake. Flying the sepia flag for lovers of the post apocalyptic aesthetic, she has been known to roll a multi-sided dice from time to time and keeps a zombie survival guide by her bedside with notes in the margins. Leanna is available for parties and weddings and enjoys nothing more than meeting new steampunks and listening to their ideas. Knowledge is power, and each steampunk has something wonderful to bring to the table. Her favourite book is The Lies of Locke Lamora, she enjoys moon lit walks at night on the beach, laughing at herself and not taking life too seriously.