Monday 31 October 2011

Deptford presents: Alternative visions for the King's Yard

Friday 4th November, 6.30pm - 10pm; presentation at 7pm.

Saturday 5th November 9.30am - midday. Drop-in open house.
The Master Shipwright's House
Watergate Street

This exhibition is a showcase for local responses to the development opportunity at Convoys Wharf, the former King's Yard at Deptford. A large portion of this forty-acre stretch of the Thames has been closed off to the public for the last five centuries, but now it is to be developed into a new neighbourhood with a range of homes and spaces for work and play.

The King's Yard is one of the most significant historic locations on London's riverside: since the Royal Naval Dockyard was founded here by Henry VIII in 1513, this was the starting point of some of the greatest voyages and maritime innovations in our nation's history.

Portrait of the Lennox by Willem Van de Velde circa 1684 (National Maritime Museum)

It was here that Sir Francis Drake was knighted, and here also that Elizabeth I commanded that his ship the Golden Hind be preserved as a monument in his memory.

The Golden Hind painted by Harold Willier. (National Maritime Museum)

Part of the site was at one time the home of the diarist John Evelyn, and his famous garden here at Sayes Court was a favourite retreat of his good friend Samuel Pepys – whilst Peter the Great showed his appreciation by riding through the holly hedges in a wheelbarrow. This garden had an exhilarating renaissance in the 19th century, when it became a public park which played a formative role in the origins of the National Trust.

John Evelyn: carving by Grinling Gibbons, 17th century. (National Maritime Museum)

Inspired by this wealth of heritage, local residents and designers have proposed a series of interventions which use the physical history within the site to create a dynamic environment with a strong sense of identity and local pride.

Suggestions include building a Restoration warship using a combination of traditional and modern ship-building skills, and recreating the historic garden as an innovative and productive public open space. The ideas put forward in this exhibition focus on activities which encourage collaboration between the existing community and its new residents, helping to meld the development into the vibrant neighbourhood of Deptford.

The workhouse in 1840; it was built on part of Evelyn's land after Sayes Court was demolished in the 18th century

With elements ranging from local to international significance and opportunities for education, work and leisure, Deptford Presents proposals which have the capacity to inform and infuse the wider design to create a world class place for London.

Come along on 4th or 5th November to find out more!

If you intend to come, please help us plan by sending a brief RSVP to

Sunday 30 October 2011

Spotted locally...

The Deptford Dame and others noticed some spoof posters in the high street and environs this week...

Very naughty! Whoever's responsible, please keep 'em coming...

Deptford's Royal Dockyard - 1774

Our Greenwich neighbour, the National Maritime Museum, owns a spectacular model of Deptford's royal dockyard which was built in 1774 by Thomas Roberts and William Reed.

(Copyright National Maritime Museum)

This topographic scenic model was built at a scale of 1:576 and is one of a set six commissioned by Lord Sandwich for George III in 1773-74, showing the Royal Dockyards as they were at the time.
As with all six of these models - Chatham, Deptford, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Sheerness and Woolwich - ships of various sizes are shown at the different stages of construction ranging from just a keel through to a ship on the slipway ready for launching.

(Copyright National Maritime Museum)

These models are also extremely accurate and detailed and illustrate all the different processes, materials and buildings within the dockyards that are required to build and maintain the fighting warship. Probably the most noticeable feature on this model is the great storehouse - the large square building on the left hand side which has the double dry dock to its left - and the great basin right in the centre of the model. Apart from building and maintaining the fleet, Deptford was also used as a victualling yard for providing supplies to the warships.

In its case, the model measures 1.6m long and almost 1m wide; sadly it is not on display but is in storage*. However, detailed photographs of the model are online at the NMM's website here, where you can zoom in and see the exquisite detail. In due course, we hope that the model will be able to return to Deptford; it would make an incredible centrepiece to any museum about our royal dockyard.

* See comments for details of how to view the model - thanks to David Baxter for contributing this.

Friday 28 October 2011

Battle of Convoys Wharf

A two page article with the title 'Battle of Convoys Wharf' appeared in the Evening Standard on Wednesday 26th October, in the arts section of the newspaper.

The article - which you can read in full here - was written by Kieran Long and addresses some of the issues that Deptford is.. wants to be more extensively considered by the council and developer Hutchison Whampoa.

Long visited the site and interviewed Chris Mazeika of the Master Shipwrights House in an attempt to understand more about the Deptford is campaign. As a result, he has written an in-depth piece which raises some very pertinent questions about the planning process, and identifies with some of the aspects of the Convoys Wharf proposals that we are questioning.

In particular, he questions the difficulty of translating a local understanding of, and passion for, heritage and place, into a practical manifestation of the same:
"The nuanced understanding of the place that the locals advocate here in Deptford is mirrored all over the city by local interest groups, amateur historians, and concerned residents near large regeneration projects. But it has no way of gaining traction in a development process involving this much money, and that is a failure of our planning system and of imagination of the politicians who are the guardians of our city."

It's also reassuring that Long supports our assertion that the bland presentation of the masterplan is harmful and undermines any confidence in the outcome. We believe that with skilled architects engaged in the design process, a much more sympathetic and appropriate solution could be developed.

But in deploying standard urban design tactics the masterplan does find itself ignoring what makes this place special in the first place. I suspect the history of the site will be signalled in branding and signage more than any real, physical or spatial sense. And while it is a very difficult task to capture all these historical and cultural layers of a city in urban design and architecture, good architects should be able to do it.

As for 'vagueness' about our aims, we intend to dispel this impression when we launch our alternative proposals next week (see details here).

Friday 21 October 2011

Convoys Wharf: transport planning

The recent granting of outline planning permission for the massive redevelopment of the Surrey Canal  site around Millwall's stadium was inextricably linked to improvements in transportation at the site. Not only has the initial application for 2,700 residential units been cut back to 2,400, but the developer Renewal has committed to a large number of transport improvements, most notably topping up the cost of building the new Surrey Canal Road station on the East London Line Extension.

As London Reconnections points out, the transport improvements agreed do not stop at a new station, they are quite comprehensive and offer reassurance that sensible measures are in hand to try and minimise the impact on public transport that this increase in population will have. At the moment, the site has a 'PTAL' rating (a way of calculating the public transport accessibility level) of 2, which on a scale which goes from 1 (lowest) to 6, is poor.

Likewise, the Convoys Wharf site has an average PTAL rating of 2. On a site of this size, to come out with an average of 2 underlines its inaccessibility.

Compared to Surrey Canal's 2,400 residential units, Convoys Wharf developer Hutchison Whampoa is proposing more than 3,500. So how will the impact of this huge increase in population on the public transport system be minimised?

According to HW's application, "as part of the redevelopment at Convoys Wharf it is proposed that a bus route would be provided through the development site from the beginning of Phase 2, either by diverting and enhancing an existing route or by providing a new route". So if you move there in phase 1, you will have to fight your way onto the existing buses.

Will Convoys Wharf be a public transport-free zone? (Flickr: gritty-but-pretty)

The application states: "Particularly as Crossrail and High Speed domestic services will divert a considerable amount of existing rail traffic onto other routes, it is considered that the rail services from Deptford can accommodate the demand likely to be generated by Convoys Wharf." As a reminder, Crossrail services are not scheduled to begin until 2018 - and that's still seven years away, so not exactly guaranteed!

The domestic high speed services are already up and running, so conditions on the trains at the moment should reflect any improvement due to this.

The planning application considers that most underground trips will begin at Canada Water. I estimate the walking time from the furthest point of the site to this underground station to be about 20-30 minutes, and I'm a fast walker. Presumably people travelling by underground would take the bus there, so it's really the impact on the buses that carries the greatest weight here.

"With 15 trains an hour on this section, each train will only carry a maximum of 5 additional passengers, if those leaving the development all travel in the same direction. This is not considered to be a significant impact."

River bus?
"Discussions are ongoing with Riverbus operators to identify the most effective form of service provision at the new pier. Nevertheless, it is anticipated that from the end of Phase 1
  • a dedicated shuttle boat will run between the new pier and Canary Wharf at 20 minute intervals during the weekday morning and evening peak periods, providing a capacity of at least 180 passengers/hour by direction
  •   The existing Embankment Pier – Woolwich Arsenal services will serve the pier during off-peak periods. "
Improvements to walking and cycling routes are also proposed, which is just as well.

The transport assessment – available to download here if you wish to read it in detail - also contains extensive justification of the number of parking spaces that the developers want to include (approximately 1800 for residents). You might take this as indication of where the real transport planning is pointing.

And as for the public transport 'improvements', how will they affect the PTAL rating of the site? Even the developer's transport consultant can't gloss over this one. "By routeing a bus service through the development and providing the new river bus service, walk access times to public transport will become shorter. Across the site, PTAL will rise to a minimum of 2 with the area around the New King Street entrance rising to a PTAL of 3."

Broadly speaking (and certainly on average), no change.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

John Evelyn's legacy...

Deptford and its Dockyard, London Journal, 49:255 (Feb 27, 1869), p136. 
Copyright 2007 ProQuest LLC.

Deptford Is... uncovered this reference to the Deptford Dockyard in the London Journal of 1869. The article begins with an announcement about cuts in government spending, resulting in the loss of 800 jobs at the dockyard (and more at Woolwich). In the following extracts, as the article sets about commemorating the history of the town, we learn that provenance of the dockyard is shrouded in "peculiar circumstances..."

"The new Ministry have signalized their accession to office by some measures of retrenchment which have carried dismay into most of the lower regions of the public departments connected with the State. The Horse Guards, the Admiralty, and the Civil Service are each threatened with a new-born zeal for economy, and, as usual, the least able to resist or protest are the first to be made to suffer. Clerks and private soldiers are among the earliest victims; but their distress will be trifling compared to the misery which stares the artizans and labourers in some of our dockyards hard in the face. The most prominent of these will be those employed in the Royal dockyards of Woolwich and Deptford, which under an Admiralty order have to be closed on the 1st of October next.

"…So that the doom of Deptford as a Government establishment seems to be sealed, and our readers, especially distant ones, will, no doubt be glad to learn something about so celebrated a place. We hasten, therefore, to inform them that Deptford, at the time of the Norman survey, was called Moreton, or Town of the Marsh. It was afterwards, from its contiguity to Greenwich, called West Greenwich, and Deptford Stronde, from a deep ford in the river Ravensburne, of which the mouth forms the small estuary now called Deptford Creek. Edward III frequently resided there; but the place was of little importance till the time of Henry VIII, who for the better preservation of the royal navy, established a dockyard...

"The town of Deptford architecturally is not attractive, and its main support used to be derived from its royal dockyards, and in later years from the various manufactories erected within its limits, chiefly connected with shipbuilding and engineering; but its trade in firewood, supplied to the half million of dwelling-houses in the metropolis, gives it no slight importance, and if we include several other industries, such as matting, earthenware, and chemical works, it will readily be understood that it is not quite dependent on Government patronage for support.

"But the royal dockyard was always a great feature. It included a space of about thirty-one acres of land, and there the ships of the royal navy were formally built and repaired, and the royal yachts generally laid up...

"Sayes Court, the ancient manor-house of the manor of West Greenwich, so called from its having been possessed in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries by the family of Say, became, through marriage, the residence of John Evelyn, Esq., the author of 'Sylva', who, after the Restoration, obtained a lease of Sayes Court, and the demesne lands for 99 years. In 1726 the estate was granted in fee to the Evelyn family.

"And it appears that the Deptford Dockyard is held by the Admiralty under peculiar circumstances, which preclude its ever being sold for purposes of private enterprise...The greater part of the dockyard is held on a peppercorn rent, under the will of the celebrated John Evelyn. In the time of Evelyn land at Deptford was of but little value; and, being anxious to encourage shipbuilding, he gave land to Government at an annual rent of a peppercorn, on condition that there should always be a ship on the stocks; and during the twenty-six years it was closed, up to 1843, the letter, if not the spirit, of Evelyn's will was carried out by the keel of a vessel being laid down, and left in No. 1 building slip. At the present time there is only one vessel left on the stocks; and if this should be launched without another vessel being laid down, it is said the greater part of the dockyard and its valuable storehouses would revert to the present descendent of Evelyn, who is a Frenchman residing abroad..."

To read more, click on the image above and drag the window to enlarge.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Where are our councillors?

At the Drop-In at St Nicholas' Church last Tuesday 11th October, members of the public mingled with Lewisham's planning team headed by Emma Talbot, along with architects from Aedas, senior project managers from Hutchison Whampoa and other partners in the Convoys Wharf development team (BPTW, HardHat and Buro Happold), plus Duncan Hawkins, supervisor of the archaeological work being undertaken by the Museum of London. Drawings and plans were laid out on tables but no model of the site was available.

One attendee wrote to Deptford Is...

"It was hard for the locals to know who anyone was since no one was wearing a label to identify themselves. I found myself talking to Hutchison Whampoa Senior Project Manager Phil Haden (I had to ask) who was very keen to stress how wonderful the river park would be, and who dismissed the recent three-day, three-mile radius traffic gridlock after a small fire on Deptford Broadway as the fault of the emergency services (and therefore not of major consideration in the scheme's transport provision). He was also amused that Lewisham wanted a new school when Greenwich had just closed one down nearby. Much of the time I had to stand behind a huddle of people who were arguing about the lack of provision for young people, the paltriness of the public open space, and the details of the archaeological dig. Questions asked tended not to get straight answers, whilst answers were given to questions not even asked. The architects themselves seemed not to know their own drawings and Hawkins, the archaeologist, defended his position fiercely despite gaping holes (pun intended) in his arguments."

Most obviously missing from those in attendance were our local councillors – in particular, those from Evelyn Ward, who although not in a position to vote on the proposals, would be given time to speak on their constituents' behalf. Before the meeting we wrote to Cllrs Joseph Folorunso, Crada Onuegbu and Sam Owolabi-Oluyole asking them to come to the Drop-In. Not one replied – Cllr Folorunso's email box was so full, our request bounced back.

From New Cross Ward, we got replies from Cllr Madeliene Long who apologised that she already had another meeting. Cllr Maslin (who is on the Strategic Planning Committee gifted with the powers to pass the proposals) responded that he did not know about the Drop-in and had domestic commitments but would talk to Head of Planning to take up the points we had made. He later wrote to assure us that local concerns were being taken very seriously by the Head of Planning. Cllr Padmore did not reply.

According to the New Cross councillors, only Evelyn Ward were notified of the Drop-In, yet none saw fit to attend. This ill serves the democratic process that is meant to be part of an application of this magnitude. Our elected representatives are supposed to be our first line of defence. It is particularly worrying that one of these councillors attends their mailbox so infrequently that it will not accept any more emails.

We also wrote to Joan Ruddock who responded promptly to say she was going into hospital. She did not send any representatives however, but her assistant has since written to say Joan has asked to meet with Lewisham planning officers about our concerns. Cllr Onuegbu also got in touch after the Drop-In to apologise and agree to a meeting with objectors (yet to be arranged).

On the Convoys Wharf website, under Next Steps, it is stated that statutory public consultation has begun and will run until mid-December. A Drop-In of the kind organised last week where no one wore a name badge and conversations took place in small clusters cannot be considered 'public consultation'. We will therefore be requesting a Public Meeting, where the questions asked and the answers given can be heard by all.

Sunday 16 October 2011

Deptford's extended shipbuilding legacy: Brunel's Great Eastern

The establishment and long-term success of Deptford's dockyard undoubtedly sparked the development of other shipbuilding works and associated businesses on both sides of the Thames at this point.

Directly across the river from the dockyard at Deptford,  Isambard Kingdom Brunel built his famous, iron steam ship the Great Eastern at the Millwall iron works owned at the time by John Scott Russell. At the time of her launch in 1858, the Great Eastern represented the next generation of vessels, being by far the largest ship ever built, and had the capacity to carry 4,000 passengers around the world without refuelling. A few years ago the Deptford Dame wrote about her enduring delight in this particular aspect of shipbuilding heritage, and explained what it meant to her:

(National Maritime Museum)

"Yesterday's cycle ride, which passed the launch site of Brunel's famous Great Eastern ship on the Isle of Dogs, reminded me to share one of my favourite paintings. Building the Great Leviathan, by William Parrott, shows the construction of the great ship at Millwall Shipyard, with the domes of the Old Royal Naval College in the background.

It's not really the kind of painting I would have on my wall, but it moves me for a number of reasons. I am a great admirer of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and his life and works continue to fascinate me. The fact that he is so inextricably linked to Deptford and surrounds by his involvement in the Thames Tunnel (through which the East London Line now runs) and the construction of the Great Eastern, pleases me more than I can explain.

Often when I'm gazing out across the River Thames from Millennium Quay, I try to imagine how the view would have been when Brunel's 'great leviathan' was finished and ready for launching, towering over all the buildings that surrounded it. I am sure that if it was there now it would still look impressive, even with all the tall blocks around it.

The painting is usually on display at the National Maritime Museum - you can find out more about the story of the ship at the NMM's website here.

(V&A museum)

Photographer Robert Howlett documented the construction of the Great Eastern for The Times, and his famous photograph of Brunel in front of a set of enormous chains was part of this work.

If you are interested in finding out more about Brunel, you should take a trip to the Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe, which is housed in buildings at the top of the shaft from which the Thames Tunnel was driven.

Many books have been written about Brunel; I would recommend two in particular.

LTC Rolt's biography of Brunel has endured several decades; it might not have the glossy photos and diagrams of other publications, but the style and content is excellent.

For great pictures (including a large fold-out print of Parrott's painting) and a stylish design which is nonetheless not compromised by content, try Steven Brindle's excellent hardback book 'Brunel; The man who built the world'."

Saturday 15 October 2011

Local, regional, national, international

Deptford's maritime history and influence extends much further afield than just the local or even national area - its international significance and heritage is extensive, a flavour of which is given in the brief notes below.

The Americas
As well as defending the nation through its naval and maritime technological prowess, Deptford was the point of departure for key voyages of discovery to the Americas and other parts of the world; voyages which are cornerstones of the nation’s maritime history. Passengers - both enforced and willing - embarked at Deptford to establish new nations, which were supplied with goods from the same place.

Newspaper archives tell how a Cherokee chief came to London and amongst the highlights of his visit, the itinerary included a visit to the dockyard at Deptford, as well as St Paul’s Cathedral.

Ships built at Deptford also fought in the American War of Independence, and in the Second World War, eleven US marines were killed by a V2 rocket when their amphibious vehicle moored alongside Deptford's dockyard jetty. 

Australia and New Zealand
As well as these ties with the founding of the US, Deptford’s history is closely linked to Australia and New Zealand. In 1768, Captain Cook hoisted the pennant in the Great Basin (the wet dock at Deptford), before setting out on his voyage to ‘discover’ Australia on board the Endeavour. Both enforced convict labour and willing prospectors boarded ships at Deptford, and many Australians have returned to Deptford to visit the point of origin of their families.

HMS Endeavour off the coast of New Holland by Samuel Atkins c.1794

This intimate connection of Deptford with Australia continued as Deptford sent its shipwrights to build the first dockyards and to source timber that was sent back to Deptford to build the British Navy’s ships here. In the 1846 Royal Engineer Captain William Denison, having completed the construction of the new slipways to the Great Basin in Deptford, ventured to Van Diemann’s land, eventually becoming the Governor of New South Wales where he built Fort Denison and was responsible for the introduction of railways into Australia.

In 1698 Peter the Great spent three months studying shipbuilding in Deptford whilst residing in John Evelyn’s house at Sayes Court adjacent to the dockyard. Peter the great returned to Russia to found St Petersburg, taking with him from Deptford labour and expertise to raise the first Russian Navy.

One hundred years later we find Samuel Bentham - brother of the more famous Jeremy - raising the Navy for Catherine the Great and Potemkin. In 1805, Bentham’s last task before returning to Russia was to rationalise the dockyard offices at Deptford, based on the principle of the Panopticon, and to provide offices for making ships models to test the introduction of iron into shipbuilding.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Questions to ask the applicant and planners

If you are attending the Drop-In at St Nicholas' Church tonight, here are some questions to ask Lewisham Planning and the representatives of Convoys Wharf s.a.r.l.

1. We are still unclear as to exactly what precisely, apart from a new school, the Section 106 agreements are for the site.

2. What conditions are they currently considering putting on the development should they grant development?

3. This is the last stage at which Lewisham can apply conditions to the development that ensure the very best results for the people of Deptford. 'Outline' planning permission that is being sought for a 'masterplan'. There are no drawings to approve, in fact the visuals provided in this application are extremely poor. 'Parcels' of the site may be sold off to other developers to build what they like (up to an approved height and width). This is the point at which Lewisham should add conditions so that later developments are of good quality.

4. This application is different from and, not as the developers suggest, an amendment to the previous 2005 application. The developers seem to be under the impression that the 2005 scheme is more or less acceptable, despite the fact that it has been dismissed by GLA, Design For London, Design Review Panels and local consultation. Can the applicants clarify this application's relationship to the 2005 scheme?

5. Who is representing the applicant here? HWL, BPTW, Hard Hat, Aedas? Who are the planners negotiating with? With so many different entities representing the developers is it possible to know who is giving the orders about the massive density of these proposals?

6. Why is the history of the site given so little consideration with this application going in before the archaeological excavations have finished? Has Lewisham Council not realised the enormous potential of the site as of national (and international) significance in Britain's heritage? If they have, why have they not conveyed this more strongly to the developers, backed up by other important (and willing) authorities and national bodies?
7. What would happen, should the archaeological excavations which are currently ongoing, turn up something of importance? Surely a 46 floor tower block could not be built over such potential finds.

8. What will the Olympia shed to be used for?

9. Why is the site now considered a residential site? The LSE report commissioned by Lewisham says its should only be 25% residential. GLA agreed.

10. Why has the number of affordable housing units shrunk from 25% to 14%, when the London Plan asks for 35% to 50%?

11. Does Lewisham have a plan for a post-recession Deptford that isn't just creating a dormitory for jobs in the City or rental income for foreign investors? What does Lewisham want to see in Deptford? Don't we have enough luxury residential developments built on potential employment sites already?

12. Where are the employment opportunities except for in the short term? (Even the Olympics site has failed to employ more than 10% of local people). Where are the future alternatives to jobs in retail and catering?

13. Why is the Working Wharf in phase 2 of the proposal? Why is it so small? Why do the developers have the right to buy back some of the land at a later date?

14. Why has there been so little public consultation? Planning Aid London, Building Communities, the Prince's Foundation, the Stephen Lawrence Centre, could have helped. If other agencies have been consulted are the minutes available for public view?

15. Is the application is being rushed through in order to avoid potential loss of revenue due to the possible application of the Boris tax (the mayor's Community Infrastructure Levy to pay for Crossrail)? Or is it a fact that nothing may actually be built for some years and means this tax won't apply (if it ever comes into existence)?

16. The latest plans will create wind tunnels theatening river navigation as well as residents and visitors. Very tall buildings – not just three exceptionally tall towers – but most buildings will block sunlight not only on the site but for all existing and surrounding housing.

17. Practically non-existent green space and reduced access to the river. Green areas showing on the application are in fact raised gardens above carparks. There is very little public space (green or otherwise) left in these new plans.

18. Parking for 2300 cars is unsustainable, when one fire in a small town house on Deptford Broadway causes our local road networks to stop moving for three days.

19. No additional transport plans in place.

20. OUR HERITAGE: The building over of Deptford's history: John Evelyn's house and gardens, most of King Henry VIII's dockyard (more of which is appearing as the archaeology continues) leaving nothing really for Deptford citizens to engage in and be proud of? Is this site not deserving of World Heritage Status?

Sunday 9 October 2011

Convoys wharf archaeology tour

1698 view of the Dockyard. © City of London, London Metropolitan Archives

Around 60 people turned up for the tour of the Convoys Wharf site on Saturday, which was led by Duncan Hawkins, the archaeologist from the Museum of London who is in charge of the programme of work at the site.

The historical significance of the Convoys Wharf site is so immense, and has such implications for our national heritage that large areas of the site are being dug and examined. Most of this work is not visible from the boundaries, and it was quite sobering to see the physical extent of the dig. It was also sobering to realise that what we were seeing was just a fraction of what has been uncovered - large areas have already been buried again for 'preservation'.

The current programme of archaeological investigations is approximately halfway through, Hawkins explained, with a lot more digging still to be carried out. Major below-ground structures such as the mast ponds and the dockyard basin have still to be properly opened up, and these will be the focus for the coming months. But some of the dock structures, including a substantial part of the Great Dock at the eastern end of the site, still have buildings standing on them. Other parts, such as Sayes Court Gardens, are not even included in the programme of works.

According to Hawkins, Hutchison Whampoa intends to use the building on top of the Great Dock for storage of the archaeological finds, hence the Great Dock will not be fully excavated until the development is well under way.

Likewise, the archaeological investigation of the mast ponds and dockyard basin are not expected to be completed until May 2012. Deptford is.. maintains that it would be totally shortsighted - perhaps even negligent? - of the council to grant planning permission for a site which is still being excavated. Proposals for the future redevelopment of the site can surely not be granted until the full extent of the archaeology is investigated and understood.

The first part of the visit focused on the remains of the Tudor storehouse, which dates from 1513 and is a scheduled ancient monument. Many of the old walls have been uncovered and it's still possible to see the shape of the building, although previous construction work has driven concrete piles through the walls in various places. Bricks from the upper parts of the walls were taken away and used to rebuild the garden wall at Hampton Court when it was demolished, incredibly as recently as 1954. Much of this part of the dig was still open but Hawkins said that it would be backfilled shortly to protect the remains from frost damage during the winter.

In the middle of the photo above, the dark grey area of soil is evidence of one of two medieval docks found on the site - these would not have been much more than holes dug into the clay. According to the archaeologists they represent the earliest evidence of ship-building left in London today.

From the jetty, Hawkins pointed out the dressed stone which marks the entrance to the Great Dock - one of only two double dry docks in the country, the other being in Chatham (you can see the dressed stone to the right of the post if you click on the photo below and view the larger version).

This diagram from the May 2010 archaeology report shows the positions of the trial trenches (in red) overlain on the 1868 dockyard map. (If you click on it you can see a larger version).

Very little excavation work has been carried out on the Great Dock so far (marked here as 'stem dock' and 'head dock'); a large warehouse covers most of it and one trial trench has been dug at the river end of the site. This part of the site is slated to be retained for public use by the developers. However they proposed to recreate the 'footprint' of the dock as some kind of public park or garden area, not to excavate and reinstate it, which would be a much more appropriate solution for such a significant piece of heritage. Despite the minimal amount of investigation that has been carried out into this structure, the archaeologists were confident in their assertion that it would be impossible to reinstate it.

To the west of the Tudor storehouse remains, two wooden slipways have been uncovered. There were originally five slipways in the docks - three which opened directly to the river, and two which were covered by the Olympia building (in the background of the picture above) and led out to the huge dockyard basin.

Many of the wooden timbers remain, with the uprights showing that the former slipways had been modified over time to accommodate bigger and bigger ships. Some of the timbers are recycled from ships. The walls are brick and concrete - a very early version of the concrete we use today.

The next phase of excavation involves opening up the dockyard basin - a huge area of land enclosed by a brick wall, part of which Hawkins is standing on in the photo below. The upright timbers in front of the wall are old mooring posts. Although the top half metre or so is missing, the majority of the wall itself seems very well preserved. The archaeologists are intending to open up the whole dockyard basin, before moving on to the mast ponds and the other slipway at the far end of the site.

The last part of the visit was the Olympia warehouse, where the archaeology team have established that the granite slipways are still intact and remain just half a metre or so below ground level. This is a listed building and as such the developers must retain it - but as yet there is no clear indication as to how it could be used apart from some rather vague title such as 'cultural centre' or similar.

One of the issues that Deptford is.. wants to highlight is that Hutchison Whampoa is claiming that the revised planning application is an improvement on the earlier proposals, but in fact we believe it is a retrograde step. For example the Olympia warehouse was originally set next to a public area, which while not ideal, at least gave the structure some kind of dignity and respect despite it still being overshadowed by the neighbouring towers.

In the new plan, shown below, the public area is gone and the only connection between the covered slipways and the river - the feature which informs the very purpose and history of the structure - is via a narrow, tree-lined path which links one corner of the building to its natural partner like a lifeline that is gradually being snuffed out.

The structure of the building is largely intact, with its originally cast-iron columns and beams, although the cladding and some parts of the roof members are much more modern. The ability of the structure to bear any substantial loading will have to be thoroughly assessed before any design can be progressed for its rehabilitation - one of the cast-iron columns is already cracked and the brittleness of this material means that cracking is a risk for other parts of the structure.

The Olympia warehouse visit marked the end of the tour - rather prematurely, many of us thought, with no mention of the investigations into John Evelyn's former home Sayes Court and its famous gardens.

After being asked about this, Hawkins explained that excavations had been carried out and the team believed it had uncovered the remains of the house, which is mentioned in a news item on the Museum of London's archaeology page here.

This contrasts somewhat with an earlier archaeological update note published by Hutchison Whampoa, Museum of London Archaeology and CgMs Consulting in July 2010 which stated that: "On the site of Sayes Court, trial trenching has revealed no surviving trace of either the buildings or gardens of Sayes Court due to the impact of later development. Previous archaeological work in 2000 had revealed fragmentary remains of the main Mansion House of Sayes Court and this can now be shown to be an isolated find in a relatively small area of the site."

Clearly the original lack of surviving trace has since been found to be erroneous. But the claim that the site team have actually found the remains of Sayes Court is strongly disputed on the London's Lost Garden blog, which believes that the overlays used by the team have not been placed in the most appropriate locations. The authors – a qualified archaeologist and a landscape architect among them – believe that the structure uncovered by the Museum of London team was the former army pensions office, which was built next to the site of Sayes Court.

In discussions at the site, Hawkins stated confidently that his team had found the right building, but the excavation and the trenches had already been backfilled under a huge mound of rubble so there was no visual evidence to examine. The documents submitted with the planning application were written in April 2010, when the team believed no evidence of Sayes Court remained. We await the full report on this part of the dig with interest.

Despite this about-turn on the presence of Sayes Court, no attempt has yet been made to investigate the archaeology of the former gardens. London's Lost Garden blog explains the heritage significance and potential of the site thus:

Sayes Court is a site of national historical importance. Its archaeology has yet to be properly investigated and recorded.
Informed by a thorough archaeological excavation, the development proposals should include a historically-accurate restoration of a substantial part of the garden as a valuable local amenity, an economically-significant visitor attraction, and a worthy memorial to John Evelyn.

Update: Shipwright's Palace has posted more about this here.

Friday 7 October 2011

What Deptford is saying: part 2

This objector begins with a plea, then summarises her case below:

May I urge the Mayor, Councillors and Officers of the London Borough of Lewisham to reject this planning application.

The London Borough of Lewisham, right at the moment, has this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a decision that, for Deptford, will be favourable, prestigious, sustainable and permanently economically advantageous.

Please choose a future for Deptford and not just a clichéd, high-rise past. Evidence shows (Olympic site) that such building works bring only temporary jobs. Should high-rise flats prove be a mistake for Deptford’s riverside, as they have been so proved elsewhere (numerous demolished high-rise blocks), once they are built, and become individually owned, there will never again be an opportunity for the London Borough of Lewisham to reverse its mistake.

Deptford’s historical potential
The reinstatement of Deptford’s historical heritage will inevitably lead to World Heritage Site status. All docks and necessary surrounding areas were, and could be, working docks for didactic, historic and contemporary boat building purposes. Working areas are not compatible with residential uses. Residents complain of industrial sights and sounds (inter alia, Teddington, Isleworth, Eel Pie Island, Brentford and along our Thames)

Deptford’s employment potential
Deptford’s significant maritime and naval south-side Thames bank, with its deep-water, downstream location means that The London Borough of Lewisham is the only London riparian Borough that now has unique and special economic and employment opportunities in the naval, maritime and related industries. Londoners need these industries and Deptford people need relevant local jobs. Financial sector jobs are not relevant to Deptford people (UDP).

Deptford’s economic opportunities through its proximity to the Olympic site

The London Borough of Lewisham has immediate economic opportunities on this site opposite the 2012 Olympics venue.

Destructive effects of high-rise developments on Deptford’s side of the Thames
There are significant material reasons for rejecting the application. These are, inter alia, that the applicant’s submitted documents show that the wind effect of the proposed high-rise blocks located on Deptford’s bank on this curve of the river will cause river mishaps: mishaps that could lead to death. Further, the applicant’s submission shows that its own residents will be blown off balconies. Perhaps the balconies are designed to be cosmetic only?

Factually incorrect, misleading or alarming documents submitted by the applicant
There are errors, misleading statements and alarming assertions in submitted documents. Please eliminate all documents from your consideration that contain errors or misleading statements. Please take very seriously, alarming revelations. It would be a travesty if a decision were to be made on false information or made knowing the damage that the applicant intends to make to Deptford and other parts of London.

Thursday 6 October 2011

What Deptford is saying: part 1

So far, more than 130 objections have been received to the planning application for redevelopment of Convoys Wharf. If you haven't sent one yet, it's NOT too late!

We'll be publishing a few of the objections here, in case you need some inspiration or want to hear what others are saying....

"In 1513 AD the King's Yard was founded at Deptford, a tiny hamlet by a marshy creek on the south side of the Thames on a deep self-scouring bend of the river. Surrounded by mainly oak woodland and close to the Dover Road the choice of site was not accidental.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

DIARY DATE: Saturday 8 October, 10.30am, Archaeology Tour

An opportunity to look round the Convoys site and view the archaeological remains, led by Museum of London (prior to the Drop-In meeting on Tuesday 11th at St Nicks). 
Date: Saturday 8th October
Time: 10.30am
Place: Meet at main gates on Princes Street

Saturday 1 October 2011

DIARY DATE: Tuesday 11 October, 5-8pm, St Nicholas' Church Hall

Those people who put in objections to the Hutchison Whampoa proposals should have now received a letter from Emma Talbot at Lewisham Planning. Because of the number of objections, the Council has organised a Drop-in session to "enable an assessment to be made of the areas of concern before the application is considered by the Council's Planning Committee". Local ward councillors are also invited, as are the applicants (or their representatives).

Date: Tuesday 11th October 2011
Time: 5pm – 8pm
Place: St Nicholas' Church Hall, Deptford Green SE8 3DQ