Route & what to see

This linear walk of 2 miles goes through riverside Deptford which has associations with a number of famous people.

Route: Surrey Quays Station – Redriff Road - Greenland Quay - Rope Street – Deptford Wharf – Deptford Strand – Foreshore – Pepys Park – Grove Street – Sayes Court – Prince Street – Watergate Street – Borthwick Street – Deptford Green – St Nicholas Church – Fairview Estate – Creek Road – Cutty Sark DLR Station

HENRY VIII 1491-1547
Born at the royal palace in Greenwich. In 1513 he established the first naval stores and dockyard at Deptford. Within 40 years the King’s Yard became the chief Thames dockyard, covering 30 acres with wet docks, slips, workshops, stores, mast pond, rope walks, sail lofts and officer’s quarters. It built many ships, including six large men-of-war in the 1620s, and brought prosperity and fame to the area.

Born at nearby Greenwich Palace. When Drake returned loaded with treasure in 1581 Elizabeth came to dine on the renamed Golden Hind and Drake was knighted. She ordered that the ship be preserved at Deptford where it lasted for nearly 100 years, finally becoming a chair and a table! There are explanatory plaques on the buildings at ‘Drake’s Steps’ which were re-instated in 1991.

Shipbuilders. This family had been in the trade since the reign of Edward VI and owned woodlands in Kent (Petts Wood) which provided timber. Peter was master shipwright until his death in 1589 followed by his son Joseph. Phineas Pett was born at Deptford Strand in 1570 and lodged in Deptford Green. He worked on the Ark Royal and Drake’s ship. His nephew, another Peter, introduced the frigate to the English Navy. He died in 1652 and has a memorial on the north wall in St Nicholas Church.

Pirate, sea captain and explorer. After several slave-trading expeditions to west Africa and the Spanish Main he circumnavigated the globe in the Pelican (1577-80). He delayed the Spanish Armada by raiding Cadiz and helped in the subsequent defeat of this fleet. He died on a Caribbean expedition along with Sir John Hawkins, treasurer of the navy, who was based in Deptford. A sculpture in the river off Deptford Wharf depicts his voyage around the world. A full size replica of the Golden Hind (open to the public) is moored in Southwark

JOHN ADDEY 1550-1606
Master shipwright at HM Dockyard Deptford. He left 200 to the poor of Deptford which was invested in land on Church Street and provided an income to maintain schools. The Addey School was built here in 1821 and enlarged in 1862. It amalgamated with Dean Stanhope’s School and moved to New Cross Road in 1899. Addey was buried in St Nicholas Church and there are plaques to him on the exterior north wall. [
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Courtier, explorer and author. Born in Hayes Barton, Devon. He was knighted in 1585 for his plans to colonise Virginia, although the mission failed. In 1587 he financed the construction of the Ark Royal at Deptford and fought in this ship against the Armada. He later became an Irish landowner and Governor of Jersey. Following the death of Queen Elizabeth he was tried for treason and spent 13 years in the Tower of London where he wrote ‘A History of the World’. After an expedition to the Orinoco which outraged the Spanish Ambassador he was beheaded in 1618 and buried in St Margaret’s Westminster.

Naval officer and navigator. A native of Nottinghamshire. He undertook (unsuccessful) explorations to find the north west passage in 1577 and 1578 (with Martin Frobisher) and 1582. As commander of the Mary Rose he fought against the Spanish Armada. On retiring to Deptford he would tell stories of his exploits in the local pubs.

Playwright and poet. Born in Canterbury he went on to take an MA at Cambridge. Marlowe lived a dangerous life in dangerous times, serving Walsingham as a spy. He was informed against as a militant atheist and arrested on 20th May but granted bail. Meanwhile an informer was instructed to assemble incriminating information. Marlowe was due to appear before the Court of the Star Chamber on charges of heresy, which would have carried the death penalty, on 31st May. The day before at Eleanor Bull’s House on Deptford Strand following an ‘argument over the reckoning’ he was fatally stabbed over the eye. The inquest jury convicted Ingram Frazier of ‘manslaughter in self defence’ but within a month he was pardoned by the Queen. Marlowe's death is recorded in the St Nicholas Church register for 1 June 1593 as ‘slaine by Francis Frezer’. There are modern memorials on the west wall in the church and in the north east of the churchyard [
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JOHN EVELYN 1620-1706
Diarist and writer. Born in Wotton in Surrey he studied at Balliol College in Oxford and travelled on the Continent before returning to the family estate and his passion for gardening. Evelyn married in 1647 and purchased Sayes Court (for 3500) in 1653. The house was partially rebuilt and beautiful gardens laid out. Whilst at Deptford he was a stockholder for the East India Company and a trustee of Addey’s charity. He contributed to the reconstruction of New Cross Road and St Nicholas Church. During the plague in 1665 he arranged for hulks to be anchored off Greenwich to isolate the sick and after the Great Fire he searched for brick-making clay in the area. Later he drained parts of his 200 acre estate and let off building plots. He left Deptford in 1694 to return to Wotton but retained an interest in the area until his death. The small remnant of his estate is now Sayes Court Park.

SAMUEL PEPYS 1633-1703
Naval Administrator and diarist. Pepys was born to a large family in a house near Fleet Street. After attending Cambridge he married and acted as secretary to Edward Montagu. He began writing his diary in 1660 when he was appointed to the Navy Board. His work took him to Woolwich, Deptford and Greenwich where he spent time during the plague year. Pepys tightened security at the dockyards to reduce pilfering. He gave up the diary in 1669 fearing for his eyesight and Mrs Pepys died the same year aged only 29. He was appointed Secretary for the affairs of the Navy until 1679 when he resigned over unfounded charges of spying. He subsequently took up a number of appointments and lived in Buckingham Street. He retired from the post of Secretary of the Admiralty in 1689 and died at a friend’s house in Clapham. He is buried with his wife at St Olave’s Church in Hart Street. [
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Woodcarver and sculptor. Born in Rotterdam he came to England in 1667 and by 1670 was undertaking ship’s carving in Deptford Dockyard. He was discovered by Evelyn working in ‘a poor solitary thatched house in a field’. Impressed with his craftsmanship Evelyn introduced him to the king, who commissioned work for the royal palaces and Sir Christopher Wren, who employed him in St Paul’s Cathedral. He lived the latter part of his life in Bow Street and was buried in St Paul’s Covent Garden. There is a Grinling Gibbons Primary School in Clyde Street.

Naval officer. Evelyn’s Sayes Court was leased to Benbow in 1694 although he had his own house in Hughes Fields. Whilst protecting British colonies in the West Indes he was shot from a French squadron but continued to command the action from his bed on deck. He is buried in Kingston Jamaica where he died of his wounds. Two of his sons are buried in St Nicholas Church.

Czar of Russia. Peter 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 Evelyn’s Sayes Court. In three months he and his party did 350 worth of damage which the Treasury repaid to Evelyn. Peter attended the Quaker Meeting House on the High Street where there is a plaque on the replacement building. There is a statue group on the Fairview Housing estate. The bronze pieces by Russian Mickhael Chemiakin stand on a polished granite plinth made in St Petersburg [

JAMES COOK 1728-1779
Naval captain, navigator and explorer. In August 1768 Cook set out on a 3 year voyage during which he and his party of scientists observed the Transit of Venus in Tahiti and explored and mapped the coasts of New Zealand and Eastern Australia. Their ship was Endeavour, a Whitby collier which had been refitted and provisioned at Deptford. Cook went on two more expeditions to the southern hemisphere in 1772-5 & 1776 but was killed by natives in Hawaii. The Discovery used on this last voyage was moored near Deptford and used as a prison hulk from 1824 until it was broken up in 1833. Endeavour replica

Naval officer and hydrographic surveyor. Born at Kings Lynn in Norfolk. He joined the Resolution at Deptford in 1772 to go on Cook’s second voyage and also sailed on his third voyage as midshipman on Discovery. He died unmarried and is buried in St Peter’s Church in Petersham. Places in British Columbia and Alaska are named after him.

Celebrated American Leaper and Diver. Scott and his wife came to London in 1840 and stayed in Deptford where his stunt of diving into the Thames from a 167’ mast at Lower Watergate was advertised. Another ‘hanging’ trick went wrong with almost fatal results but financial gain. However he was not so lucky the following year when the same stunt killed him at Waterloo Bridge. His widow settled in Deptford after the incident.

RACHEL 1859–1917 & MARGARET 1860–1931 McMILLAN
The Scottish family emigrated to New York where the sisters were born but following the death of their father in 1865 they returned to Inverness. They did much for the health and education of Deptford people including opening the Deptford Clinic in 1910. The sisters established night camps, the girls’ at 353 Evelyn Street and the boys’ at 24 Albury Street providing washing facilities and clean clothes. They believed that early years' education could counter some of the effects of poverty and established a nursery school which remains. Margaret also founded a training college for nursery teachers opened in 1930 and named after Rachel. This has been demolished and replaced with student accommodation. There is a memorial to Margaret at the nursery school and a Margaret McMillan Park along Douglas Way/Watson Street.

Princess Helena of Waldeck married Leopold Duke of Albany and youngest son of Queen Victoria in 1882. She was a patron of the Deptford Fund from 1895 until her death. The fund established the Albany Institute with a sick kitchen, a school of domestic economy and a girl’s club. This last was originally for the ‘Gut Girls’ working in the cattle market. In 1898 changes here led to high unemployment and the Duchess set up a relief fund providing food and retraining for those affected. Later a toy factory provided work for women whose husbands were fighting in WWI. The Fund added a babies’ hospital in 1913 and a boys’ club in 1921.

Electrical engineer and inventor. Born in Liverpool he first worked at Siemens in Woolwich. In 1889 the world’s first electric power station to generate at high tension (up to 10,000 volts) was built to his design 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. A new park, opened in Creekside in June 2004 was named after Ferranti, the name having been chosen by a local resident in a competition.

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 1901. 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 is a carved reredos and a panel depicting ‘Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones’ (formerly on the charnel house) which may be the work of Grinling Gibbons.

There are memorials to a number of famous Deptford People:
Christopher Marlowe – a modern memorial on the west wall
Sir Richard Hughes, Admiral of the White – memorial on west wall
Richard & Mary, children of John Evelyn – memorial on west wall
Captain Edward Fenton – memorial on east wall
Peter Pett – memorial on north wall
The Shish family have a memorial on the south wall. Jonas was master shipwright to Charles II at Deptford & Woolwich. Two sons followed him in this appointment, John at Deptford and Thomas at Woolwich.

The church has display panels and other material relating to Deptford’s history and is well worth a visit. Telephone 020 8692 2749 to check opening.

A series of sculptural faces of Deptford people have been re-instated on the Aragon Tower at Deptford Wharf.

There are roundels depicting naval heroes including Drake, Benbow and Cook on the Pepys Building of the Old Royal Naval College (see above). There is a statue of Raleigh outside [
pix] and one of Cook behind the National Maritime Museum. You can find out much more about seafarers at the museum which is open daily and offers free admission.

There is no public access to the site of Deptford Dockyard. However Chatham Dockyard is an excellent visitor attraction. The 80 acre site has displays, exhibitions, ships and historic buildings. Tickets are valid for a year (except special event days).

Dictionary of National Biography at the National Maritime Museum Library
Turning the Tide – the History of Everyday Deptford by Jess Steele
Lewisham Local Studies & Archives at Lewisham Library 199-202 High Street SE13 2018