Tuesday 15 May 2012

Meanwhile, in Deptford Docks...

SALON, the Society of Antiquaries of London, has covered Convoys Wharf in its latest online newsletter (14 May 2012).

Meanwhile, in Deptford Docks...

The Council for British Archaeology is engaged in another campaign with a maritime flavour down in Deptford Dockyard, in the East End of London, where developer Hutchinson Whampoa have plans to build 3,500 new homes, plus hotels, offices and a cultural centre on a huge site called Convoy’s Wharf. Local people, while welcoming the investment, do not feel that the current master plan for Convoy’s Wharf pays sufficient heed to the heritage of England’s first Royal Dockyard, founded by Henry VIII in 1513, and visited by Peter the Great in 1698 when the Tsar came on a three-month fact-finding visit prior to establishing the Russian navy.

The target of heavy bombardment during World War II, the historic docks were levelled after the war, but recent archaeological work carried out by MOLA has revealed that far more archaeology survives than was thought, including impressive eighteenth-century dockyard walls and slipways and the ground floor and cellars of Sayes Court, home to the diarist and horticulturalist John Evelyn (it was here that Tsar Peter lived during his three-month visit as a guest of the English government, leaving such a trail of destruction that the Treasury eventually agreed to pay £350 to Evelyn in compensation).

Such is the strength of local feeling in favour of retaining and restoring evidence of the site’s past use that Lewisham Council has sent back the initial planning application for further thought, saying that the master plan was not ‘sensitive enough to the unique heritage assets of the dockyard’. As a consequence, the developers, Hutchinson Whampoa, have called in Sir Terry Farrell to look at redrawing the master plan.

The Council for British Archaeology has offered a helping hand and has convened a panel of independent experts from the Naval Dockyards Society, the Garden History Society, the Panel for Historic Engineering Works and the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society. Hand in hand with the local campaign group ‘Deptford Is’, the CBA has offered to ‘assist the developers and English Heritage in their understanding and enhancement of the dockyard and its remarkable history … with the aim of achieving a better, heritage-led scheme that delivers wider public benefit and a more sophisticated approach to this internationally important site’.

The events that Deptford witnessed included the refitting of the Mary Rose, the knighting of Sir Francis Drake by Elizabeth I aboard the Golden Hind in 1581, the refitting of HMS Bounty in 1787, the rebuilding of Cook’s Endeavour in 1768 and the construction of several of the warships that served under Nelson at Trafalgar. Just as importantly, lying beneath the site’s concrete are the avenues, orchards and trial beds of John Evelyn’s garden, where he experimented with the new plants brought back by Deptford ships from all corners of the globe, thus having a enormous influence on garden design and planting in England in the seventeenth century; a re-creation of that garden is certainly one possibility that the group would like the developers to consider.

Thanks to Jon Wright from the Council for British Archaeology for forwarding.


  1. 1513 was the dockyard,could we not have a celebration/flagwaving/regatta /type thing next year?

  2. Firstly, the Convoy project must also remember how many slave trade ships came through here. The Royal docks were the base for the slave trader John Hawkins. This project must learn from the Museum of London Docklands and not try to whitewash this barbaric history. It must not be forgotten that much of the wealth did not come by good means. This time round, the Convoy Project aims to create wealth through honourable and noble ways and it seems for the benefit of all in the area.
    Secondly, I am perplexed by using BoxPark as an example of regeneration. This forgets that Brick Lane was already a major tourist centre by the time this outfit arrived. In the days when no one knew about Spitalfields, people visited Spitalfields Market which in its hey day had organic food introducing many middle class people to the delights of the area and let us not forget the antique bargains and bric a brac of Brick Lane Market which also took you through to Columbia Road. Spitalfields Market, the Truman Brewery and the Spitalfields Small Business Association had temporary spaces for businesses and artists (many set at affordable rents in the case of the SSBA which was the first social entrepeneur organisation). It was a combination of these large sites and projects that made the area work. Spitalfields and the surrounding areas experienced a a renaissance as a result of the collective organic uses being discovered by ordinary people and now for many years, tourists. Nowadays Spitalfields is well known for the reputation created by fashionistas primarily vintage shops. The reason why two of London's leading advertising companies chose to be in the area.