Key Heritage Zones at Convoys Wharf
There are three potential primary, key heritage zones in the Convoys site.
The first potential Key Heritage Zone is in the centre of the site and comprises the area from the existing Sayes Court Park on Grove Street through the remainder of Sayes Court Garden now within the site of Convoys Wharf continuing with the ‘Olympia’ sheds across the Henry VIII’s Great Basin to the riverfront.
The second potential Key Heritage Zone is along the riverfront comprising the potential re-instatement of the openings to the Henry VIII’s double dry dock, the slipways, Henry VIII’s Great Basin, the mast pond and the boathouse slipways.
The third potential Key Heritage Zone comprises the GII Group Value listed perimeter dockyard wall and ancient gateway on Watergate Street through the potential re-instatement Clerk of the Cheque’s Garden passed the protected TPO London Plane trees and culminating with the potential re-opening of the stone-built Head Dock of the double dry dock.
These three key heritage zones combined would provide increased permeability to the development site from surrounding existing communities providing a less hostile stance than the current development proposals allow. Increased legibility of the historic environment can be provided by the critical mass of heritage assets described in the three zones that give the site of Henry VIII's dockyard its unique identity. The realisation of the three heritage zones articulates a ground breaking and world class reading and interpretation of current policy rather than the meagre backwater response indicated in the outline planning proposals recently submitted to Lewisham by Hutchison Whampoa.
Key Heritage Zone 1
The potential to extend the area of the existing park requires the simple act of restitution of part of the remainder of Sayes Court Garden. This re-marriage of the currently divided garden meets the rear elevation of the GII listed ‘Olympia’ sheds, the 1846 slipway covers to the Great Basin. Coherence in planning policy for the historic environment highlights the importance of the setting of listed buildings. What better setting could be afforded to the monumental Great Basin Slipway Covers than that provided by one of the country’s most significant sites of horticultural history to one side and the opening of the original Great Basin to the other? Planning policy for the historic environment also highlights use and stipulates that where possible a building be returned to its original use. The original use may be the optimum use of a building. In order to comment effectively on the development proposals for Convoys Wharf and to ensure that Deptford benefits from the public funds invested in the creation of planning policy and benefits from the funding of the heritage agencies it is vital to familiarize ourselves with PPS5. (See especially HE& and HE9)
Proposed development within the Great Basin substantially harms the significance of the listed slipway covers. By ignoring the potential contribution of the basin as a contemporaneous structure with the double dry dock diminishes the impact and significance of both.
The slipway covers are an appurtenance to the basin. The key element in the evolution of the site is firstly the presence of the basin c.1517, followed by the slipways, and then finally the slipway covers c.1846. The basin is intended to be below ground, this does not make it archaeology. It is a naval and industrial engineering structure with its origins in the Tudor period with re-workings that express developments in naval and civil engineering throughout the Georgian period.
The basin slipway covers do “as it says on the tin” they cover a pair of contemporaneous slipways. The slipways were built to the design of Captain Sir William Thomas Denison of the Royal Engineers in 1845 immediately prior to his dispatch as Governor of Madras. Williams became governor of Van Diemann’s land and Governor of New South Wales Australia where he was responsible for the design of a number of significant civil engineering projects.
The slipways were in use for only twenty-three years before being filled in. As they are beneath the slipway covers no new building has occurred around them and therefore the quality of their condition is likely to be extremely high. In fact it is likely that most of the dockyard structures are in a repairable condition. Archaeology reports have stated clearly that where truncation has occurred its effect has been minimal. Besides, almost all historic buildings require repair and restoration.
The extension of the existing Sayes Court Park into the area of Sayes Court Garden presently within Convoys Wharf also opens the development site up to the area of the Evelyn Estate. A new planting scheme centered on the park could also extend outward to include Grove Street and the Evelyn Estate, making the gesture of a strong link through planting of the existing estate into the new development.
The opening of the Great Basin with its monumental entrance and floating caisson gate is the final link in a rhythm of three elements, Sayes Court Garden, the Olympia sheds and the Great Basin before arriving at the river itself. This scheme wholeheartedly incorporates the estates to the south of the development site of Convoys Wharf, taking advantage of the opportunities to capitalize on linking the green spaces around these blocks with the new Sayes Court Garden.
Historic Significance of Henry VIII’s Great Basin
The Great Basin of 1517 began its life as a medieval pond and it is likely that shipbuilding in Deptford was made possible due to this naturally occurring harbour-like feature. Naval historian Michael Oppenheim has suggested that the existing pool was enlarged to form the structure that became known as the ‘ponde’ or the wet dock. From the time of Edward I, the people of Deptford were recorded as having put out ships for the King. By 1517, the Mary Rose, the Peter Pomegranite, the Great Bark, the Lesser Bark and the Christopher are recorded as riding in the ‘ponde’ at Deptford. In the 17th century John Evelyn describes experiments for a diving bell taking place in the wet dock.
Experiments would appear to have been made from time to time; at all events, here is the record of one of which Evelyn was an eye-witness. On July 19, 1661, he writes: "We tried our Diving-Bell or Engine in the water-dock at Deptford, in which our Curator continued half an hour under water; it was made of cast lead, let down with a strong cable."
Captain James Cook hoisted the pennant on board the Endeavour in the basin:
"Having received my commission, which was dated the 25th of May, 1768, I went on board on the 27th, hoisted the pennant, and took charge of the ship, which then lay in the basin in Deptford-yard. She was fitted for sea with all expedition; and stores and provisions being taken on board, sailed down the river on the 30th of July, and on the 13th of August anchored in Plymouth Sound. While we lay here waiting for a wind, the articles of war and the act of Parliament were read to the ship's company, who were paid two months' wages in advance, and told that they were to expect no additional pay for the performance of the voyage". - Captain James Cook.
These are merely a few of the historic associations of the Great Basin of the royal naval yard. It’s worth repeating that the presence of the basin is probably the reason Henry VIII chose to site his royal dockyard at Deptford, and proudly emblazon the storehouse with his cipher.
This brings us to the second heritage zone.
Key Heritage Zone 2
This is the area of the river wall, the wharf that runs as a ribbon along the riverfront of the site. Here the structures of dock, slips, basin, mast ponds and boathouse are still extant, mostly built of stone and filled in intact c.1895-1950.
These structures could be re-opened and repaired. Although this may sound impossible, the structures referred to are built of stone and brick. The proposal, like that of the extension of Sayes Court Garden is simply for re-instatement. The entrance to the Great Basin built by John Rennie in 1814 is a monumental structure using stone blocks some even larger than 7 feet by 7 feet. The basin slipways are built on a bed of concrete, built up in brick and lined with Carline nose stone. At least one slipway entrance to the river was rebuilt in brick and the slipway to the west of the storehouse was extended in c.1859 to accommodate the frigate Ariadne that was built along the lines of the American ship the Merrimak. Given the date of this final work on this slipway it is likely that stone or brick rather than wood has been used.
These re-instated openings would allow for Seven Bridges to be re-instated along the dockyard river wall creating the most dynamic and historically rich stretch of the Thames Path in London.
This brings us to the third heritage zone
Key Heritage Zone 3
This zone has been determined based on heritage policy that requires the setting of a listed building to be given careful consideration when and where new opportunities arise to improve on poor decisions made in the past that may detrimentally affect the setting. However the same principles, guidelines and policy are not being applied to the listed Olympia sheds.
Leaving Twinkle Park crossing Watergate Street through the impressive dockyard wall you will enter a small green space that once formed the formal garden of the Clerk of the Cheque. Passing under the hundred plus year old protected London Planes trees you will reach the site of the double dry dock. Following the 400ft length of the dock to the river will take you to the Landing Place and Look-out stairs of 1720. These watergate stairs were used by the monarch for ceremonial purposes as depicted in paintings of the launching of ships. These are Deptford’s royal stairs.
The GLA has recommended that a series of significant sites is both desirable and possible within the Convoys Wharf development. To only offer one of these sites, currently only Zone 3 is offered, diminishes the significance of the site as a whole. To attempt to disaggregate the contemporaneous dockyard structures all with a Tudor origin harms the heritage assets of the site and is in direct contravention of the spirit of publicly funded heritage policy.