A Deptford Riverside Walk

Route & what to see


ROUTE: Lewisham Station - Tesco car park - Connington Road - Brookmill Park - Deptford Bridge - Deptford Church Street - Creekside - Copperas Street - River walk - Borthwick Street - Watergate Street - Prince Street - Sayes Court Street & Park - Grove Street - the Colonnade - Deptford Wharf - Rope Street - Greenland Quay - Surrey Quays retail centre & station.

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 abandonned 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 of 1997.

The Ravensbourne rises at Caesar’s Well in Keston and joined by the Beck, Pool, Spring Brook and Quaggy flows into the Thames at Deptford/Greenwich, a distance of nearly 11 miles. The river is culverted, channelled and covered along much of its course. However a section running through Brookmill Park has been naturalised offering new habitats for wildlife including kingfishers. In the 1840s the park was occupied by a reservoir surrounded by grassland and trees but by 1900 this was no longer in use. The park, opened in 1951 and re-designed in 1998, has a lake, ornamental garden, play area, nature reserve and ranger’s office. The Ravensbourne Water Company was founded on the site of the former Brook Mill in 1701 becoming Kent Waterworks in 1809, the Metropolitan Water Board in 1903 and then Thames Water. River water was used until 1862 but this was replaced by wells from 1849. Some buildings of the water works remain.

Deptford Bridge has been a major crossing point since Roman times when it was a fording place along Watling Street. In Medieval times a wooden bridge would have been used by pilgrims to Canterbury. Subsequent bridges would have carried stage and mail coaches and as the present A2 it is still of importance. To the south is the old Seagar (Gin) Distillery which operated 1770s – 1970s and is due for mixed-use redevelopment. 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 in the 1970s. Some buildings of Mumfords Flour Mills (founded 1790) remain including a silo designed by Sir Aston Webb in 1897 which has been incorporated into a redevelopment as apartments.

Just north of Deptford Bridge the Ravensbourne becomes Deptford Creek, with a tidal difference of some 17’ making it a muddy channel at low tide. Mudflats, overgrown vegetation and the rotting wood of river frontages provide cover, food and nest sites for a variety of wildlife which Creekside Environment Project worked to maintain. It was also responsible for the Creekside Centre which 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. The covering of this and the area around the building with crushed rubble replicates the brownfield environment which is often lost to development but which is important ecologically. Tel 020 8692 9922.
On the opposite side of the Creek is the Greenwich Sewerage Pumping Station, part of Bazalgette’s system of the 1860s.

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! It was intended to build houses within the arches but they proved unsuitable and many are now used for workshops/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 derelict lifting bridge would have enabled the track to be lifted clear of boats using the Creek. The line was lit by gas supplied by the the railway company’s own gasworks on the site now occupied by the Creekside Centre.

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. Tel 020 8691 8600.

The site now occupied by Fairview Housing is a historic site having been used by Trinity House, the East India Company and the General Steam Navigation Company. 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.

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. 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 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. 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.

Naval warehouses were set up alongside the dockyard. These became the main navy victualling yard in 1742 manufacturing and storing provisions. 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.

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. There is a model of this in the church of St Nicholas. 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.

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. 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.

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, enabled 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.


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
Retracing Canals to Croydon and Camberwell – Living History Publication 7
London Docklands – an architectural guide by Williamson & Pevsner
Collins Superscale (5.3" to 1 mile) London Docklands Map

london-footprints.co.uk 2018

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