Wednesday 19 October 2011

John Evelyn's legacy...

Deptford and its Dockyard, London Journal, 49:255 (Feb 27, 1869), p136. 
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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..."

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