A Deptford & Millwall Walk

Additional Information


[Deptford Dockyard] [Ferranti Site] [Grand Surrey Canal] [Greenland Dock] [Reference Sources] [Sayes Court] [St Alfege's Church] [St Nicholas Church] [South Dock] [Victualling Yard]

This was originally the Howland Great Wet Dock opened around 1696 as a 10 acre facility for 120 merchant ships. Edged with poplar trees it provided a haven against winter gales & river ice, for repairs to be carried out and made theft of cargo more difficult. From 1763 it was renamed and became a centre for the whaling trade until 1809 when it became an import dock. A slipway on the south side marks the point at which the Surrey Canal entered. It was enlarged to 22 acres in 1894-1904 and now serves as a water sports centre. The entrance lock designed by Sir John Wolfe Barry in 1904 has been preserved with its original features although it is now unused. The bascule bridge at the west end allowed ships access to Surrey Commercial Dock from Greenland Dock. Originally installed on Deptford Creek in 1955 it was moved in 1959.

The Grand Surrey Canal of 1801 reached Camberwell Road in 1811-2 with a branch to Peckham opening in 1826. A two-armed dock and ship lock was built at the river end in 1804-7. Initially it carried coal but later timber became the main trade. The canal was widened into the Russia Dock in 1898 in conjuction with the enlargement of neighbouring Greenland Dock. A canal office of the 1890s remains on Rope Walk. Sections of the canal became disused after WWII but it finally closed with the docks in 1970. Hoopwick Street was extended as Oxestalls Road to serve the Pepys estate, crossing the canal just before its closure.

This was built as the East Country Dock in 1807-11 but was purchased by the Commercial Dock Company in 1850 when it was enlarged and re-named. During WWII it was drained and used for the construction of concrete sections for the temporary Mulberry Harbours. It now serves as a marina for a mixture of boats. Two remaining grain warehouses of 1938 have become the mixed development Marine Wharf.

Naval warehouses were set up alongside the dockyard. These became the main navy victualling yard in 1742 manufacturing and storing provisions. The Royal Victoria title was added after the Queen's visit in 1858. They closed in 1961 after which the Pepys estate was constructed on the site but some buildings of the 1780s remain. The gateway on Grove Street is decorated with ox skulls and anchors. Adjoining is the Colonnade Building and beyond this the Terrace. On the riverfront are the former rum warehouses.

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 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. Visable from Barnes Terrace are 2 covered slipways of 1846 (Olympia). There were originally 3 of these 30m span sheds used to construct ships undercover. They survived wartime bombing and apart from those at Chatham are the only survivors in Britain.

Sayes Court was the manor house of Deptford becoming home to the diarist John Evelyn from 1652-1694. He re-built and enlarged the house and turned the surrounding orchard and pasture into a beautiful landscaped garden. In January 1698 Peter the Great (aged 25) arrived in London 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 Sayes Court. In three months he and his party did 350 worth of damage. During his time in Deptford Evelyn supported local projects and continued to do so until his death in 1706. The house was taken down in the 1720s and the material used to build a workhouse (later almshouses) - finally demolished in 1930. Part of the grounds became a recreation area in 1878 and now the only remnant is a small park with a mulberry tree.

This is the original parish church of Deptford entered by skull & crossbone-topped gate piers [
pix] 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 plaque on the exterior north wall to shipwright John Addey [pix] and one to Christopher Marlowe (who was murdered in Deptford) in the north east of the churchyard [pix]. Marlowe's death is recorded in the church register for 1 June 1593. There are displays relating to the area's history inside the church and a model of Evelyn's Garden. Tel 020 8692 2749 to check or arrange access. www.deptfordchurch.org

The site now occupied by Fairview Housing is a historic site having been used by Trinity House 1511-1660, the East India Company 1600-1782 and the General Steam Navigation Company 1825-1970. In 1889 the world’s first electric power station to generate at high tension was built by Sebastian De Ferranti. Extensions were added in 1926 (Deptford West) and 1948 (Deptford East). The buildings were finally demolished in 1992 and only the coaling jetty remains. There is a statue group to Peter the Great. The bronze pieces by Russian Mickhael Chemiakin stand on a polished granite plinth made in St Petersburg.

The roof of the old church collapsed during a storm in 1710 and the parishioners petitioned for funds as they were unable to finance a new church themselves. It was built to the designs of Nicholas Hawksmoor against a surviving tower to reduce costs. This was later encased and the steeple by John James added in 1730. It was virtually gutted by war damage in May 1941 but restored by Sir Albert Richardson in 1953. General James Wolfe, killed at Quebec in 1759 and composer Thomas Tallis who died in 1585 are buried under the church. It is open to visitors on a regular basis and has information panels and a small shop.

Reference sources
London Docklands by Williamson & Pevsner
Discover London Docklands A-Z Illustrated Guide by S K Al Naib
Docklands Heritage published by the LDDC
Turning the Tide by Jess Steele (a history of Deptford)
Darrell Spurgeon’s ‘Discover’ series Volume II (Greenwich) & Volume VII (Deptford)

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london-footprints.co.uk 2018