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.

    The NDS takes issue with the analysis in D. Hawkins, (April 2003), Independent Appraisal of the Archaeological Importance, pp. 17-8, 30, where it is stated:

    ‘4.19. There are no extant Stuart storehouses. Below ground archaeological remains of such complexes can be anticipated at Plymouth, Chatham and Woolwich as well as Deptford.

    4.20 Extant Georgian Naval storehouse buildings are present at Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth. The below ground archaeological remains of such storehouses are likely to be present at Portsmouth, Plymouth, Sheerness and Woolwich, as well as Deptford.

    4.21 Overall it can be seen that the remains of the Tudor, Stuart and Georgian storehouse complex at Deptford are fragmentary in the extreme compared to the original structures. The remains are not unique and are paralleled at a number of other dockyard sites in Britain.

    9.3. Parallel buildings to the storehouse existed in other dockyard complexes in Britain and there are surviving examples of Georgian storehouse complexes. There are numerous examples of late Tudor and Stuart mansion houses in England and Wales.

    The NDS believes that, given the rarity of Tudor, and the non-survival of Stuart naval storehouses, the Great Storehouse, even in its below ground fragmentary state, provides valuable tangible indication of the importance of Deptford Dockyard to Henry VIII and Elizabeth, especially linked to the nearby royal palace at Greenwich. Stating that the remains below ground of Tudor, Stuart and Georgian storehouses are fragmentary and paralleled at other dockyards belittles their distinctive individual characters and intrinsic interest and their value to the current community in Deptford and neighbouring boroughs.

    If that is all we have left, fragments are still important signifiers of cultural heritage which should be valued, as fragments of Tudor castles and Mary Rose are valued.

    The same considerations apply to the Great Dock, which signifies a major historic activity of Deptford Dockyard: the repair and rebuilding of great ships. The present structure has the further distinction of being a double dock, designed for two ships with a middle gate. Whereas there may be the remains below ground elsewhere of such docks of earlier period, built of timber, this is the only one durably constructed in stone, that at Devonport (Plymouth) having been rebuilt. That major point was not made in the Appraisal.

    The entrance area was found to be relatively intact (as illustrated on the cover of MOLA’s evaluation report), although the condition of the middle part of the Dock is not known, because it is currently under the Convoys warehouse (see front cover, Convoys Wharf Evaluation Report, 2010). So, it may be found possible to restore a portion of the Rennie dry dock. It would become a visible interpretation feature, with the opportunity to display an appropriate reconstructed ship in the manner of Cutty Sark and Victory (i.e. not filled with water), which will bring Deptford alive to current residents and bring visitors to generate income.

    Together, the Great Dock and the Olympia Slip Shed signify the long and distinctive history of building and repairing great ships at Deptford, and the research and development aspect of Deptford Dockyard as the most senior design yard of the six great royal dockyards in England.

    Therefore the NDS does not accept that much of the below ground remains lack national or international significance. They embody Deptford’s tangible and intangible heritage and ought to give this project a unique character which will distinguish it from many other new developments, inform the overall design and improve its ‘brand’.

    While the archaeological reports conclude that the below ground remains can only be conserved in situ, much more can be accomplished to memorialise these below ground features and make them relevant to today’s residents and visitors than by merely marking their outlines above ground. Footprints should not only be preserved, but integrated. We therefore suggest, as a minimal provision, the following measures.
    4. NDS Recommendations

    4.1. Restoration for historical authenticity

    1. Olympia Slip Shed, 1846, to be restored for both permanent and temporary exhibitions of artefacts with interactive displays showing key events and Dockyard changes; and an interpretation centre built within to resource ongoing research and interpretation. The size of Olympia allows both open space and some interior enclosed space for an exhibition and research centre. It would be a fitting project to be funded under the S.106 Agreement, to provide future interpretation and research. Greenwich Discovery Centre shows how archaeology can inform interpretation, with overlaid maps, public archaeology involving schools (schools outreach will be carried out by CgMs in the final archaeological stages), 3-D models of lost buildings, sensory displays, storytelling, displaying the arrival of successive Deptford communities. Heritage lottery funding could be sought for community and educational projects. Links could be made to nearby football clubs.

    2. Royal Dockyard Basin/Wet Dock, 1517. This ought to be presented as a piazza, and have its outline, gates etc. marked by stone paving. If there are areas where its remains are found close to surface level, they should be restored. The proposed plans for this area should be reconsidered, so that the Basin is expressed within a public square, for reasons discussed below.

    The NDS strongly disputes the description of the basin walls as the truncated remains of a lining, surviving in poor condition. The 19th-century rebuilding in brick and stone attributed to John Rennie will have been a substantial structure, as has now been revealed in an ongoing excavation.

    There is a misstatement in relation to the current planning application, that ‘the proposed masterplan indicates a piazza across the bulk of the basin area’. That may have been the case in previous schemes, but the ‘finalised’ illustrative masterplan of July 2011 shows the potential piazza pulled right back, close up to Olympia, and residential blocks within Parcel ‘A’ extending across most of the Basin site. Moreover, the plans showing limits of deviation of the development parcels would enforce this new layout. This statement needs to be formally acknowledged by the planners as an error. See the sketch plan that we have added at the end of this letter, showing the basin outline overlaid on the finalised

    A ramification of this concerns the foundations of buildings. To follow SARM advice, piled foundations will need to be located to avoid damage to the archaeological features, but that is likely to be very difficult where the buildings are now indicated above Rennie’s entrance passage, which will have a solid invert at least under the site of the caisson gate. Through lack of investigation, we also do not know whether the walls in that area are surviving to near ground level, which would affect shallow foundations and services. A tower block impinges on one edge of the Basin, and in its proposed limits of deviation could impinge further, and it is likely to be incompatible with protection of the wall without major cost in bridging foundations.

    There is a more profound adverse effect of the crowding in of the buildings around Olympia. This former Slip Shed was designed to face the Basin, and launch ships into it, but in the proposed layout that special functional relationship is entirely lost. Further, this principal listed building ought to be plainly visible from the river, to which it originally related, but it will not be, except by a flank wall. The artist’s illustrations that accompany the application are disingenuous in this regard, since the aerial view that features in the Design and Access Statement shows an earlier scheme with a broad vista to the river that has now been removed. There is also a view from the river that heads the Convoy Wharf webpage that is used to access the application documents, so seen by many stakeholders, which seems to be a still earlier visualisation showing the Olympia building misleadingly in full view. The NDS urges a redesign of this area.

    3. The 1513 Tudor/Georgian Storehouse, which is proposed to be built over in Parcel C, to have a significant part of its foundation walls exposed, protected environmentally and interpreted and displayed with appropriate artefacts, beneath the new buildings but visible to the public. This would involve raising it one storey above ground level. This was done for the YHA building in Sydney and would make a clear link between 1513 and the present. See Sydney Harbour Big Dig Project www.thebigdig.com.au/ ; www.icssydney.com.au/index.php?id=206

    4. Great/Dry Dock, c. 1517. If a substantial portion of Rennie's rebuilt dock is found on further investigation to remain, then that part of this impressive and unusual double-dock structure should be restored for public display. The option should be available to display a reconstructed ship from Deptford’s rich shipbuilding past (see list) to visibly interpret shipbuilding and engineering practices and make clear links with the nearby Master Shipwright’s House and the office of Surveyor of the Navy Samuel Bentham.

    5. Sayes Court c. 1405. The NDS supports the marking out of its outline to interpret the close association of John Evelyn and Czar Peter the Great. However, a garden should be added, referencing plants listed in Evelyn’s plan at the British Library, to introduce residents to the horticultural research carried out by Evelyn.

    6. River Wall, C18-19th century Thames foreshore timber slipways; 20th century jetty. The existing jetty should be utilised for inviting ships such as Shtandart, as part of an ongoing interpretation programme of maritime history. See shtandart.com/shtandart_replica.htm.

    7. Mark the chronological sequence of the dockyard boundaries by stone paving, linked to surviving walls and gates, to show Deptford Dockyard’s expansion. This can also be interpreted within the permanent exhibition in Olympia Slip Shed.

    4.2. Interpretation Schemes

    1. Durable interpretation boards to be funded by the developer and located at regular intervals along the Thames Path to inform walkers about the history of the application site and take them off the Path to internal trails. These to connect the internal historic sites to the Master Shipwright’s House, the Victualling Yard, Payne’s Wharf, the East India Company Yard, St Paul’s and St Nicholas’s churches and Deptford Strand.

    2. Trails to be funded by the developer to connect the historic sites within the application site and to historic sites outside and along the Thames Path (Greenwich Royal Hospital, the Observatory, the National Maritime Museum, Woolwich Dockyard, Trinity House, the East India Company, John Penn’s Boiler Factory at Payne’s Wharf, the Victualling Yard, Rum Store and Offices and Victoria Dock and other commercial docks to the west).

    3. Name all new streets and blocks of housing after dockyard locations (such as Timber Yard), Deptford master craftsmen (unless already used locally) and Deptford-built ships (see List annexed). This will signify Deptford’s rich and varied history of shipbuilding to residents and visitors.

    4. Display selected artefacts, protected behind glass walls, within new public buildings. See Ebbsfleet for a good example of displaying archaeology in a modern structure.

    5. Erect statues of Sir Francis Drake, Samuel Pepys or others. Statues could be selected through school and community engagement and competition and feature as major elements of Hutchison Whampoa branding, allowing imaginative national and international interpretation.

    6. Make links with the replica ships Golden Hinde and Shtandart. See goldenhinde.com and www.shtandart.com/shtandart_replica.htm 

    N.B. As Hutchison Whampoa propose only 15% of social housing in the scheme, and undefined leisure/community benefits, these various proposals will cost relatively little money if incorporated at this stage of the planning, and will allow future meaningful interpretation. (Planning Statement Appendix 12, S106 Agreement - Draft Heads of Terms)

    5. NDS Conclusions

    This Application shows insufficient regard in places for the documentation and archaeology of Deptford Dockyard which confirm its unique intangible heritage, in particular for the setting of Olympia Slip Shed and the above ground interpretation of the Royal Dockyard Basin and its river connection.

    If NDS recommendations are followed, this project design will be more authentic and provide excellent community and publicity opportunities. In this rich archaeological, yet fragmented site, such an approach will provide a more affirmative riverside ambience and a more authentic outcome for Deptford’s 500th anniversary.

    The full text of the letter can be found here.


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