Route & what to see

This walk looks at things ‘made’ in Deptford – crafts, products, buildings, structures, pioneering systems ..... and a costly mistake!

ROUTE: Lewisham Station – Tesco car park – Connington Road – Brookmill Park – Deptford Bridge – Deptford Church Street – Creekside – Copperas Street – Millennium Quay – Borthwick Street – Deptford Green – McMillan Street – Albury Street – Deptford High Street

The area occupied by Tescos car park is a historic mill site. Initially it was used for corn milling but by 1371 was grinding steel. During the Tudor period it became part of the Royal Armoury Mill founded in Greenwich and producing specialist armour. After 1637 the mill was largely abandoned until 1684 when ‘simple’ armour was being manufactured. In the 18th century a corn mill operated on the site in addition to that producing items for the Board of Ordnance. In 1807 the site was redeveloped to become a small arms factory. This operated until 1818 by which time all workers not transferred to Enfield were discharged. Around 1824 the mill was converted to produce silk thread and after 1860 gold & silver trimmings, including the first tinsel. The company went into liquidation in 1926 and receivership in 1931. Other firms operated on the site from 1926. Much of the mill building was demolished in 1937 and the site cleared for the DLR extension.

The DLR was initiated by the LDDC in the late 1980s to aid the regeneration of Docklands. Automatically driven tram-derived light rail vehicles work from a third rail current. They mostly run on lightweight concrete viaducts or disused railway viaducts. The system was opened by the Queen in July 1987. The extension to Lewisham which runs underground between Mudchute and Greenwich then follows the line of the river opened in November 1999.

The gin distillery was operated 1770s – 1970s by firstly Goodhews, then Hollands and later Seagers. The Domesday Book of 1086 records 11 mills on the Ravensbourne and Roque’s map of 1745 shows 5 between Lewisham and Deptford. The old tide mills were replaced by Robinson’s steam powered flour mill in the 1820s which was finally demolished after a fire in the 1970s. Some buildings of Mumfords Flour Mills (founded 1790) remain including a silo designed by Sir Aston Webb in 1897 which was incorporated into its redevelopment as apartments.

A number of premises in Creekside including Framework and Cockpit Arts provide work and exhibition space for crafts people. Art in Perpepuity Trust occupies the Harold Works built as the Stewart & Dennis engineering factory in 1900. Adjacent to the Cockpits Arts building is a charming mural by local schoolchildren ‘Love Over Gold’ (Gary Drostle 1989).

This was the site of chemical works in 1867. Another building was used by Zenith Carburetters (part of the Solex Group). During the 1970s thousands of carburetters per week were produced for the major motor companies. This factory was mainly concerned with assembly and testing whilst the Lewisham factory (in Thurston Road) did most of the machining.

It was intended to build houses within the railway arches but they proved unsuitable and many are now used forworkshops/storage. A tree-lined boulevard run at ground level along the length of the track, of which only fragments remain. This crossed the Creek by means of a bridge for which a toll was charged. The Ha’penny Hatch has been re-instated - without the charge. The now derelict lifting bridge would have enabled the track to be lifted clear of boats using the Creek. The line was initially lit by 200 gas lamps supplied by the the railway company’s own gasworks on the site now occupied by the Creekside Centre.

The Creekside Centre organises school visits, holiday events, courses, walks (including low tide), leisure activities and projects. The building itself incorporates many ‘green’ features and a ‘brown’ roof which is important ecologically. The steel gates featuring flora and fauna of the Creek were designed by local artist Heather Burrell.

On the opposite side of the Creek is the Greenwich Sewage Pumping Station, part of Bazalgette’s system of the 1860s. Two beam engine houses are joined by a boiler house supplied from open-sided coal sheds. Electric and diesel pumps replaced the original engines in 1934.

Potteries and lime kilns were established here in 1701 and run by the Parry family for 190 years. Colour works are shown on a map of 1867. The Gibbs & Canning industrial pottery on the site was demolished in 1967. A section of brick wall remains. A landscaped park and children's playground to the east of the site has been named after Ferranti.

The Laban Dance Centre was designed by Herzog & De Meuron, architects of Bankside Power Station/Tate Modern. Constructed in 1997-2002 it won the Stirling Prize for Building of the Year in 2003. By day the centre’s activities are semi-visible through the colourful glass and translucent polycarbonate facade and by night it becomes a beacon for the area. The lime, magenta and turquoise colours are also featured in the internal ‘streetscape’ including a foyer mural by Michael Craig-Martin. Inside there is a 300 seat theatre, 13 studios of various sizes one of which can be made into a performance space plus lecture rooms, health facilities and a library. The garden has been landscaped into an amphitheatre and the building has a ‘brown’ roof. The cafe and some performances are open to the public.

Copperas was a valuable substance used in the production of acids & chlorine, as a dye fixative, printers ink, tanning agent and gunpowder component. It was obtained from iron pyrite-rich nodules found within London Clay. The stones were placed in chalk or clay-lined beds and left to weather for up to 6 years! The resulting liquid was boiled with scrap metal for 3 weeks then cooled for 15 days during which time it crystallised. The ferrous sulphate crystals were then heated to melting point and poured into moulds. Copperas works prospered for some 200 years and by 1746 England was amongst the largest sources in Europe. However this method of production was superceded during the 18th century and the Deptford works closed in 1828.

Peter the Great (aged 25) arrived in London in January 1698 as part of a European Tour to study western science and technology. He was keen to learn about ship building and design in Deptford and was granted the use of John Evelyn’s Sayes Court. In three months he and his party did 350 worth of damage which the Treasury repaid to Evelyn. There is a statue group to Peter on the Fairview Housing estate. The bronze pieces by Russian Mickhael Chemiakin stand on a polished granite plinth made in St Petersburg.

The site on the west side of the Creek mouth has been occupied by Trinity House (responsible for navigation aids) 1511-1660, the East India Company (for building and fitting out its ships) 1660-1782 and the General Steam Navigation Company 1825-1970. In the 1860s there were works producing floorcloth, pitch/tar/varnish, soap and manure. On the east side of the Creek were the Phoenix Gasworks.

In 1889 the world’s first electric power station to generate at high tension (up to 10,000 volts) was built by Sebastian De Ferranti on the site now occupied by Fairview Housing. Cables, some of which remained in use until 1933, were laid along the line of the railway to supply the west end. After renovation in 1900 it also supplied tramways and railways with power. Extensions were added in 1926 (Deptford West) and 1948 (Deptford East). The buildings were finally demolished in 1992 and only the coaling jetty remains.

Paynes Wharf was from the 1860s until 1913 the boiler shop of John Penn & Sons marine engineers. In the 1980s the premises were used by London Egg Products. The adjoining Borthwick Wharf, which was built as a cold store by Sir Edwin Cooper in 1934, has been demolished for apartments. In the 1860s there was a foundry and engineering works on the site.

The Royal Naval Dockyard was established by Henry VIII in 1513 becoming the chief Thames dockyard and bringing a large population and prosperity to Deptford. However the silting up of the river and the change to iron ships led to its closure in 1869 at which time it covered 27 acres and employed 800 people. It had produced some 450 ships, the last being the Druid. The site served as a cattle market with 80 slaughterhouses from 1871-1912 then a War Department supply depot before being purchased by Convoys (importers of newsprint) in 1984. Convoys have now left and mixed re-development is planned for the site. At the river end of Watergate Street is a view of the Master Shipwright’s House of 1708 with adjoining Naval Offices.

This is the original parish church of Deptford entered by skull & crossbone-topped gate piers with a charnel house to the right. The ragstone tower is possibly 14th century although the top was replaced after a storm in 1903. The church was rebuilt in red brick in 1697 by C Stanton and following bomb damage was restored by T F Ford & Partners in 1958. There remains some fine carved woodwork and memorials to the shipwright families of Shish and Pett. Grinling Gibbons was discovered by John Evelyn working in a Deptford hovel. Impressed with his craftsmanship he introduced him to the king who commissioned work for the royal palaces. There is a plaque on the exterior north wall to John Addey (another shipwright and local benefactor) and one to Christopher Marlowe (who was murdered in a nearby tavern) in the north east of the churchyard. Marlowe's death is recorded in the church register for 1 June 1593. St Nicholas House was build in 1926 to house workers at the power station.

The McMillan sisters Margaret and Rachel did much for the health and education of Deptford people. The nursery school they set up remains but the adjacent college building was demolished and has been replaced with student accommodation. The Albany Institute was founded in the 1890s and operated from premises in Creek Road. It was gutted by fire in July 1978 and demolished in 1981 to be replaced by a new building in Douglas Way. In 1915 the Duchess of Albany opened a toy factory which employed 24 girls, 3 men and 2 boys.

ALBURY STREET (originally Union Street)
This was developed from c1707 by Thomas Lucas and provided homes for sea captains and shipwrights. There are some fine carved doorcases on the remaining houses.

This was one of the '50 new churches' built in 1713-30 on the site of a market garden and 5 small houses. The Baroque style building by Thomas Archer is in Portland Stone with a semi-circular portico. The curved east end features a Venitian window and there is a north rose window by Alan Younger commemorating Father David Diamond.

Opposite in Ffinch Street Shields & Whitaker made bitumen products.

The first passenger railway in London, designed by GT Landmann, was built in 1836 between Deptford (later Greenwich) and Spa Road (later London Bridge). The track was laid across four miles of mainly gardens and meadowland on a viaduct of 878 arches which utilised some 60 million bricks! A inclined plane was constructed to carry rolling stock onto the track. The arches supporting this, which still remain, have been utilsed as stabling, storage and workshops. Railway arches were also used by Stone & Co from 1842-1881. The company which Josiah Stone began in a small way producing copper nails and rivets went on to become an international business. They produced a wide range of articles including manhole covers which can still be seen on London streets. Deptford Station was rebuilt in 1927.

Fat from the cattle market together with rag ‘n’ bones collected by local totters was used to produce candles and soap. There were soapworks in Copperas Street (Wheens) and Frankham Street (opposite the school!).


Further Reading
Turning the Tide – the History of Everyday Deptford by Jess Steele
The Lewisham Silk Mills & the History of an Ancient Site by Sylvia Macartney & John West
Discover Deptford & Lewisham by Darrell Spurgeon

Lewisham Local Studies & Archives on the second floor of Lewisham Library 199-202 High Street SE13 [
Articles from the Greenwich Industrial History Society newsletter can be accessed on
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