Thursday 22 December 2011

Season's Greetings to all our readers

The Frozen Thames, 1677. Painting by Abraham Hondius. Museum of London /  Wikimedia

Although we may enjoy some mild weather over the festive season, wintry conditions are still to come, although we are unlikely to experience anything as extreme as the Great Frost of 1683-4.

At that time, the Thames was completely frozen for two months, with the ice reaching a thickness of 28cm. Whilst shipping was impeded, Londoners nevertheless took to the river for transport, trade and entertainment.

The first recorded Frost Fair was in 1608. In the previous century, King Henry VIII travelled by sleigh to Greenwich during the winter of 1536, and Queen Elizabeth 1 went shooting on the ice in the winter of 1564. John Evelyn described the winter of 1683-84 thus:

"Coaches plied from Westminster to the Temple, and from several other stairs too and fro, as in the streets; sleds, sliding with skeetes, a bull-baiting, horse and coach races, puppet plays and interludes, cooks, tipling and other lewd places, so that it seemed to be a bacchanalian triumph, or carnival on the water."

Great Britains Wonder: or, Londons Admiration (1684), AN501914001, © The Trustees of the British Museum.

The last Frost Fair was in February 1814. The climate had grown milder and the ice was melting too quickly. In 1831 London Bridge was demolished to be replaced by a new bridge with wider arches, which allowed the tide to flow more freely, and at various stages during the 19th century the river was embanked, making it less likely to freeze.

However, local blogger, Ian Visits, posts that the winter of 1854 was exceptionally cold, causing ice flows that seriously affected shipping – something which had been thought impossible since the embanking. The Illustrated London News reported "immense blocks of ice and frozen mud (in some instances seven and eight feet thick) entirely filling the distances between high and low-water mark, and giving the banks of the river the appearance of a monster polar region."

Illustrated London News, January 14th 1854.

Meanwhile, as recently as early 2009, this was the scene at Deptford Creek...

 Photo: Nick Bertrand

Deptford is...still being talked about!

Lewisham Deptford MP Joan Ruddock last week spoke out against the proposed masterplan for Convoys Wharf, telling News Shopper that she believed Hutchison Whampoa's plans to build 3,500 residential units were too high a density for the site.

The story was further expanded in The Mercury today to include a quote by Malcolm Woods from English Heritage: "It is our view that the regeneration of Convoys Wharf, as it is now proposed, fails to grasp the unique opportunity to create a distinctive sense of place that takes full advantage of the rich historical legacy of the site and its local area." (See our post on English Heritage's response here.)

Ms Ruddock spoke in support of the proposals put forward by Deptford is... at the launch of our alternative vision in November. She is currently working with Lewisham Council to arrange a public meeting at which community groups such as ours can put their proposals to an independent panel. We will bring you more news of this meeting when the date and format have been finalised.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Convoys Wharf architects in the spotlight

Aedas, the architectural practice responsible for the Convoys Wharf designs, was in the spotlight last week after it took the top slot in Building Design magazine's World Architecture 100 list.

The list is based on nothing more sophisticated than size, however, and in an article in the Observer last week, the paper's architecture critic Rowan Moore questioned whether size and adaptability was any substitute for 'vision and flair'.

Worth a read for background information about the practice that is leading Hutchison Whampoa's team; the comments also offer some insight into how Aedas is regarded by the wider world.

Friday 16 December 2011

Deptford is.. forging links in the wider community

Last week's Evelyn Assembly meeting offered a great opportunity for Deptford is.. to make new links in the local community and to present its plans to Evelyn ward's councillors.

While we have been working hard to tell people about our ideas, and to get out and about making connections with other local organisations and community groups, there are always more people to meet!

Despite a lack of cooperation from the projection equipment, Deptford is.. member Bob Bagley managed to inspire the audience with verbal imagery of our plans to build the wooden Lenox warship, to recreate John Evelyn's lost gardens, and to install seven bridges over the former waterways that connected Henry VIII's dockyard to the River Thames.

As a result we have established new links with youth groups and community organisations that we had not previously had the opportunity to meet, and intend to work with them to try and establish some common aims which we can cooperate on in the future.

Opportunities for heritage crafts in Deptford

These days heritage crafts are very much associated with individual makers; they are often small businesses that struggle to survive, or they make a living but cannot afford to take on apprentices to train in these crafts and pass the skills on.

Deptford is lucky to have the Cockpit Arts studios on Creekside, where crafters such as potters, weavers, jewellers and others are given help and advice in how to turn their skills into a sustainable business.

But while there are plenty of local crafters working in the decorative arts, at the moment there is very little opportunity for people in Deptford to learn or even see rural crafts in action. Even skills as common as green woodworking or basket making can only be seen at rural craft fairs.

There has been a lot of discussion on these pages, and among the members of Deptford Is.. and the organisations we have been in touch with, about the importance of our local heritage. People generally interpret the word 'heritage' to refer to buildings, places, or solid objects, but it's interesting to note that Unesco - the same body that awarded World Heritage status to Greenwich - also has a convention that is concerned with safeguarding 'intangible cultural heritage', part of which covers traditional craft skills. Some 117 countries have signed the convention - sadly the UK is not one of them.

According to Unesco's convention: 'Rather than focusing on preserving craft objects, safeguarding attempts should instead concentrate on encouraging artisans to continue to produce craft and to pass their skills and knowledge onto others, particularly within their own communities.'

Our three projects - the construction of the Lenox warship, the re-establishment of Sayes Court Gardens and the seven bridges of the Thames waterfront - could offer many opportunities for demonstrating a variety of heritage crafts, and even providing apprenticeships in them, in parallel with state-of-the-art technology and digital modelling processes that will offer valuable training and transferable skills for local students.

These heritage crafts could also add an extra dimension to the tourism draw created by the three projects, with the opportunity to host special open days, run courses, and attract additional volunteers to the site.

The Heritage Crafts Association was set up to support and promote heritage crafts in the UK and its website contains a lot of useful information about individual crafts and craftspeople, case studies, surveys and initiatives that are under way to try and achieve these aims.

Earlier this year the chair of the HCA, Robin Wood, visited the New Oseberg Ship Foundation in Norway, where a Viking ship is being built using traditional crafts and traditional tools. He spent several days volunteering on the project, and wrote a fascinating account of his experience on his blog.

The first post is here, with links at the bottom to the following posts, I think there are seven in total. Robin has also kindly given permission for us to use a few of his photographs, but there are many more on his own blog.

In the photo above, the complex process of splitting the logs is shown - in fact the process in itself is not complex, involving the use of wedges and hammers, but the skill comes in anticipating how the log will split, and taking note of knots and so on in the wood which could change the direction of the split

Above the planks are being hewn to size using an axe like the one below. Note how the axe and the volunteer are on opposite sides of the plank - this ensures that only the plank, not the volunteer's legs, gets hewn. Heritage crafts have also been exploited in the production of the tools that are being used - forging and woodworking in the case of the axes. In his final post, Robin reveals that he is intending to use some of his skills in a project in Dover next year, to reconstruct a Bronze Age boat using the tools and methods of the time.

Heritage crafts also have many uses and applications in garden management and maintenance, including specific woodworking crafts such as rakemaking, basket making and even riddle and besom making.

Saturday 10 December 2011

Build the Lenox!

This week, the Deptford Is... team produced a brochure to introduce The Lenox Project to maritime enthusiasts and potential supporters. Click here to download the four-page document.

The Lenox Project aims to build a replica 17th century warship in the restored dockyard at Convoys Wharf. The project would reconnect Deptford with its maritime heritage, creating jobs and apprenticeships with modern, transferable skills. The Lenox was the first of King Charles II's great Thirty Ship building programme of 1677. Her construction and that of her sister ships was the responsibility of Samuel Pepys, famous diarist and Secretary of the Admiralty, and is extensively recorded in official records and artworks of the period. Thanks to painstaking research by marine historian and author, Richard Endsor – whose book The Restoration Warship covers the history of the Lenox in minute detail – it is possible to construct an exact replica.

There are already successful replica ship building projects across Europe, the most spectacular of which is the Hermione project at Rochefort on the west coast of France. The local mayor claims the project has turned around the fortunes of his town, boosting local pride and creating jobs. This summer the Hermione welcomed its three millionth visitor and currently opens its doors to 250,000 tourists each year.

Such a precedent indicates that the Lenox project could be equally successful, attracting tourism, forging links with the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, and inspiring the local community. It could form the dramatic centrepiece of a Maritime Enterprise Zone on Convoys Wharf, attracting cutting edge and traditional marine industry to the area.

For more information on how to donate to or get involved in the realisation of this project, please contact Julian Kingston at

Illustration: King Charles II attending the launch of Lenox. Painting by Richard Endsor

See also our previous post Alternative vision is launched.

Thursday 8 December 2011

Deptford is.. still in the news!

A couple of weeks ago the Royal Horticultural Society published a story titled: Evelyn's garden under threat from development.

Yesterday the Evening Standard reported that "40-storey towers ‘will destroy Henry’s historic shipyard'".

The Garden History Society has also published an extensive article here about the threat to Sayes Court Gardens. In the article the GHS states its support for our proposal to recreate the gardens:

"The GHS supports this campaign and is adding its voice to those suggesting that Lewisham Council looks favourably on the idea of conserving the site of Sayes Court as part of an overall development plan when the application is considered by Lewisham’s planning committee in either January or April."

Tuesday 6 December 2011

What the experts are saying: the Naval Dockyards Society

Honorary secretary of the Naval Dockyards Society, Ann Coats, has responded to the Convoys Wharf planning application on behalf of the society. We have published extracts from the letter below (with NDS emphasis): the full text can be accessed via the link at the end of the article. 

The NDS is, in the main, commenting on the archaeological statements published on Convoys website and the future use and interpretation of the historic sites within the application site, following points made in the 2004 consultation: 

• In particular both EH and the Naval Dockyards Society felt that an approach was needed, that respected the original layout of the site, in order to restore the community to the lost link with its maritime past. Similarly CABE expressed some disappointment that higher aspirations have not emerged in the masterplanning of a site with a rich historical legacy in a location of strategic importance. (CgMs Ltd Environmental Statement Archaeology Technical Appendix, Convoys Wharf, p.17)
    NDS does note and deplore the excessive height of the tall buildings, which will impinge upon vistas between historic Greenwich Park and the City and diminish the human scale at the application site.

    It also deplores the project’s high density of buildings which will constitute an unattractive intrusion into vistas along the River Thames, an historic route and the cause of the town’s existence, linking royal Deptford and Royal Greenwich. A high quality design should celebrate 500 years of maritime history.

    From the drawings, particularly the 'Finalised Illustrative Masterplan' (Design and Access Statement p. 143), there seem to be no effective views to the river from the site interior, including the historic shipbuilding sheds, which is also deplorable. 

    The NDS does welcome river transport links, as in Venice and Sydney, to diversify travel options for residents and visitors.

    The NDS supports stakeholder comments in Community Involvement (2011) which include concern for:

    • the excessive height of the tower blocks, the high residential density and concomitant parking which would overwhelm the development and add to traffic problems in the area
    • poor interpretation of Deptford’s history
    • socially differentiated housing
    • mediocre and indistinguishable architecture which is ‘oblivious to local culture’
    • Olympia being called a warehouse rather than a slip shed;

    and call for:

    • celebration and revival of Deptford’s history and traditional occupations through a museum/interpretation centre
    • dynamic use of the river, wharves and Deptford’s maritime heritage to ensure the Thames Path is accessible and user friendly.
    • retention of the ‘unique sense of place and space’
    • inspiring and distinctive architecture which resonates with Deptford’s singular history.

    The NDS is concerned that outline planning permission may be granted in 2011, before the archaeological investigation is completed in May 2012.