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Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Royal Maritime and Naval Deptford 1513-2013 How will it look?

In 1954 Henry VIII'S Great Storehouse was demolished "for economic and strategic reasons" The building that replaced the 450 year old structure, one of the earliest on The London Thames, stood for less than 30 years. Deptford now faces the imminent destruction of the remaining structures of Henry VIII's dockyard by what is politely termed 'preservation in situ'.

Of critical significance in the current proposals is the apparent lack of understanding that the site is composed of a number of very early and internationally significant historic assets that are indivisible from each other as an integrated whole. Here is a continuously evolving,inter-related series of structures situated in a single site of considerable antiquity fast approaching its five hundred year anniversary in 2013. How will it look? Will Lewisham Planners and English Heritage, both publicly funded organisations working on behalf of local people who daily pay their wages and expenses maximise the developer's capital or Deptford's cultural capital?

The unique inherited identity that is the dockyard is primarily comprised of the Scheduled Ancient Monument of Henry VIII’s Great Storehouse, Henry VIII’s Double Dry Dock and Henry VIII’s Great Basin, all of which are recorded as extant c.1517 in an Indenture of the site held at the British Library. The early origin of these structures is witnessed in numerous plans such as the Evelyn annotated plan of Deptford 1623, Kings MS 43. 1688. The Charles II era small mast pond should be included as should the slipways that are, in origin, most likely the earliest features of the yard being recorded c.1420, according to Dr. Christopher Phillpotts.

English Heritage Maritime and Naval Building Selection Guide 2007/2011 recommends, “a holistic approach to be taken where several original or near contemporary associated structures survive together or where a group of structures displays the evolution of port facilities in one significant place” (2007:05 republished Feb 2011).

To attempt to disaggregate these historic features is to demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding of the historic and cultural values of the site and their significance to the founding and the history of a number of nations and their populations as well as to the immediate local population of Deptford and to London as a whole. The specifically targeted English Heritage recommendations arise as a result of publicly funded research on behalf of a public service organization. The general public of Deptford and the wider London public do not expect to be excluded from the benefits of this publicly funded and published research and will continue to be vigilant in their scrutiny of heritage and planning decisions related to the site of the former King’s Yard at Deptford.

Destinations are not made of commercial, retail, cafés and restaurants alone
To accept these current development proposals, which fail to take account of established policy, initiates resistance to and actively demonstrates ignorance of current specifically targeted policy and guidelines on the historic maritime and naval environment and its potential contribution to the sustainability of new development through the adaptive re-use of the heritage structures.

The site of Convoys Wharf is rich in historic structures far beyond the single GII Olympia building so far touted. The most relevant policies to be applied to this site are first and foremost those policies concerned with the enhancement of the historic environment, and more specifically those targeted at maritime and naval heritage as well as heritage of the Thames Gateway. Nowhere else on the London Thames is as historically rich in connections with internationally significant events over five centuries and presently has so little to demonstrate this inherent value.

The majority of the heritage structures are indeed below ground. This does not render them archaeological remains. They have simply been filled in intact. The structures are by their nature and function intended to be below ground. Archaeological survey alone is an insufficient means to determine the quality of survival of these structures as buildings. Archaeological policy is insufficient to cover the scope of understanding of these structures and therefore the current archaeological approach is seriously flawed and is therefore exposed and vulnerable to legal challenge in the form of judicial review should decisions be made that fail to implement specific policy targeted at naval and maritime heritage structures.

Respect and integration of these structures into the new development does not necessarily prevent the realization of the developer’s aspirations. Likewise the developer’s aspirations to capitalize on financial capital need not exclude the aspirations of national policy and guidelines to capitalize on historic cultural capital. Indeed, I know of no policy that seeks to ensure the enhancement of a developer’s financial capital to the detriment of the nation’s historic cultural capital.

The site of the former Royal Naval Dockyard at Deptford is Lewisham’s most important historic environment and possibly ranks in the top five most important historic environments on the London Thames alongside the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and Lambeth Palace. It is galling for the developer to proffer maps showing ‘Historic Greenwich’ whilst riding roughshod over Deptford’s heritage. The development scheme at Hammarby Sjöstad in Stockholm, a former area of docklands, highlighted in the Government’s World Class Places 2009 provides some principles that Lewisham could apply to the Deptford site. Lewisham now has the responsibility to ensure that this development respects local people’s aspirations and the future enjoyment of the cultural capital held in the historic environment of the former royal dockyard.

Significant sums of public money have already been invested in determining and delivering policy and guidelines for sustaining the maritime and naval historic environment in order to ensure the present and future enjoyment of the cultural capital we all share in these assets. Many of these are listed on page twenty-three of the 2009 document under the heading Government policies to promote better quality of place 1999-2009. It is up to Lewisham planners and up to English Heritage to ensure that Deptford is not subjected to social exclusion from the benefits to be derived from the application of these publicly funded resources.

Monday, 29 August 2011

heritage/social exclusion/participation


Wednesday, 17 August 2011

River Wall at Deptford Royal Naval Yard

River Wall at Deptford Royal Naval Yard

Information Presented on the River Wall in Response to the CgMs Archaeological Report Jan 2010 River Wall Section.

Archaeology reports in 2000 state, “ “The river wall in its entirety appears to be in relatively good condition and has retained key structural components to phases of construction associated with the 18th and 19th century dockyard. These features are the last in a complex development of slipways and dock entrances that date back to the dockyards initial construction in the early 16th century. The wall should be retained and incorporated in future proposals because of its historic features.” (Lowe 2000:13, 4.8)

It is indisputable that the river wall at Deptford is the point of origin for momentous historic events in the life of the nation. As well as the site of the launching of over three hundred ships many in the presence of the monarch, the river wall at Deptford bears witness as the point of departure for countless journeys of exploration, voyages of discovery and naval battles of immeasurable importance to the cultural life of the nation. The river wall is Deptford’s royal quayside. Henry VIII chose to emblazon the storehouse with his royal arms and cipher along the waterfront here in 1513. The site continued with a royal title until the end of the WWII when operations of His Majesty’s Supply Reserve Depot were concluded.

The site prior to the royal dockyard of 1513

As Geoffrey De Saye, 1135-1214, was Lord of West Greenwich we can safely assume that the parts of the dockyard site that once formed part of Sayes Court pre-date the dockyard by several centuries. Although Henry VIII established the royal dockyard here early in the sixteenth century, records testify to shipbuilding in the area for almost as long as records exist. William Page records that as early the reign of Edward I the men of Deptford were exempt certain taxes and granted fishing rights having out ships for the King.

Michael Oppenheim has stated,

there is some evidence that a pond with an inlet communicating with the river was in existence in the thirteenth century, in which case Hopton only adapted and improved it. The storehouse can be traced back to 1513, but it is possible that the building hired at 'Greenwich' in 1485 by Henry VII was in fact really at Deptford.

Dr. Christopher Phillpott’s writes,

The shipbuilding industry at Deptford Strand is known to have begun in 1420 with the rebuilding and refitting of royal ships, and the digging of a dock for one of them in a former garden belonging to William Ramessy (the precise location has not been traced). There had probably been earlier activity for which the evidence no longer survives. The Thomas had been waiting there on the stocks since 1418. The dock was retained to hold the dilapidated Katerine until March 1425, when she was sold for scrap. By the end of the fifteenth century this activity was well established at this settlement. In the 1460s Sir John Howard, Edward IV's commander at sea, laid up his ships at Deptford. In 1464 William Rose purchased timber from the Bridge House store at Southwark to build a ship at Deptford Strand. Ten years later a tenement was rented from the Bridge House estate there to repair a royal ship called the Antony Camfere. In 1487 Henry VII rented a storehouse for naval gear at Greenwich (possibly West Greenwich) and sent shipwrights and caulkers from Deptford to rig and repair his ships laid up in the Hampshire ports. A shipwright was buried at St. Nicholas church in 1494.

Among the many historic events associated with the site, perhaps the return of Drake, aboard the Golden Hind, his knighting here on board ship in the presence of Elizabeth I, and the laying up of the vessel in a makeshift dock, (most likely, I believe, the creek that became the canal to the mast pond) is the greatest moments of distinction for the dockyard. The wharf wall of Deptford royal naval yard is unparalleled along the London Thames for being closely associated with such a high number of nationally significant events. The occasions when monarchs are present at the waterside for the launching of their ships are too numerous to mention. The scale of these elaborate ceremonies sometimes attended by thousands of onlookers warrants a study of it’s own.

That the earliest plan of the dockyard survives intact from c.1517 marks this site as a rare and possibly unique survival of royal naval shipbuilding facilities on the London Thames.

Where the opportunity arises for the assessment of national heritage assets, in accordance with nationally published guidelines, following this process, a program of conservation and repair is a common response.
It is of course not unusual for heritage assets to be diminished in reports commissioned by developers. Spitalfields in the 1970’s and 1980’s is a good example. The silk weaver’s houses would have been swept away were it not for the perseverance of a handful of individuals determined to pursue a more enlightened approach. I wish to draw attention to a number of concerns regarding the factual accuracy of both English Heritage assessment and archaeology reports on the site.

We can no longer stand by waiting to hear in another ten years time, “If we knew then what we know now”. Thorough primary source research challenges claims made by English Heritage and developer led archaeology that seeks to diminish the historic importance of the Deptford yard. English Heritage first received a proposal to list the features of the yard in 2002, following the omission of the Deptford yard from the Alan Howard review of military establishments that was carried out in 1999. This first listing proposal was thoroughly updated in December 2009 with new information and highlighted the correspondence of this new information with publicly funded heritage policy published in 1998, 2005 and 2007 specifically aimed at maritime and naval sites. English Heritage has refused the invitation extended to the authors and counter signees of the now discredited English Heritage report. After a lengthy twenty-month process conducted by English Heritage, there is still no decision on the fate of the assets at Deptford.

The Problem with the Application of Archaeology Policy on purpose built below ground structures

In relation to the dockyard, where there are extant docks, slips, basins and mast ponds, it is simply neither accurate nor sufficient to speak of archaeology when these structures, such as the river wall, the massive stone construction of the double dry dock and John Rennie’s monumental basin mouth are extant structures, with evidence of their positions clearly visible from the foreshore. Since it is the nature of docks, slips, basins and mast ponds to be situated below ground, their presence below ground does not characterize the structures as archaeology nor warrant archaeological survey alone, but building survey also, in order to determine the full extent of survival and potential for conservation and repair, as is generally afforded to any structure of national and international historical significance.

A precedent for this has been established at Rochefort on the River Charente in France, where docks and basins silted up for a hundred years have been cleared and repaired for re-use. The English Heritage site at Sherborne Castle uses soil and turf as a conservation method.

Consideration of Historic Associations

The yard at Deptford witnessed the labours of Henry VIII’s Master Shipwrights Matthew and James Baker. In the period of Elizabeth I, Deptford laid up Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind and put out ships for the Armada. In the Hanoverian period, voyages of discovery by James Cook, Martin Frobisher and George Vancouver began at Deptford. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, Deptford launched several ships for Nelson’s battles, including launching several ships for the Battle of Trafalgar. The yard also served as a military base during the twentieth century as His Majesty’s Army Supply Reserve Depot and Transport Depot in WWI and WWII. The site served as U.S. Advance Amphibious Vehicle Base during which time 14 U.S naval personnel lost their lives in a single V-1 rocket attack on the dockyard. The area of land in question, far from being a mere brown-field site, has served the Nation as a military installation through a period of five centuries. It would be difficult to propose a more historic stretch of the Thames in London.
The place has outstanding heritage value to the nation because of the place’s potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of the cultural history of the nation.

Fair and Reasonable Application of Policy

The English Heritage document Maritime and Naval Buildings Selection Guide 2007, published more fully February 2011, states that works by Samuel Bentham and John Rennie warrant special consideration. Under subheading, Special Interest, it states, “Docks and harbour walls pre-dating 1840 generally form the most impressive engineering structures of their date and even where they have received alteration, as nearly all have, will normally merit designation, with those displaying technical innovation or association with major developments in shipbuilding, warranting a high grade. Examples would be key developments in modern dock construction such as those pioneered by Smeaton and Rennie or Samuel Bentham’s development c.1800 of caisson gates.”

The presently blocked penetrations to the docks, stairs, slipways and basin and the length of the extant river wall are the material evidence of their predecessors of the previous five centuries. The current penetrations were designed and constructed by the leading engineers of their day, including in the late Georgian period works by John Rennie and George Ledwell Taylor. These works predate the 1840 EH guideline by several decades, in one case by as much as twenty-five years.

The place has outstanding heritage value to the nation because of its association with the works of a person, or group of persons, of importance to the nation’s maritime engineering history.

Nowhere else on the Thames in London can a complex of docks, slips and basin entrances be found that directly relates to the nation’s greatest maritime journey’s, discoveries and battles through five centuries. It was, in part, this technology that gave rise to Britain’s centuries of maritime supremacy.

Composition of the River Wall

In respect of the river wall it would be intellectually incoherent not to include the penetrations of the wharf wall where the Thames has lapped against the walls of these various structures. The immediate landward structures are therefore proposed as part of the structure and character of the river wall per se. Indeed what marks this stretch of the Thames out from any other is the continued presence of these structures, albeit presently filled in intact. As a complex of maritime technology they are an unrivalled testament to the technological development of shipbuilding on the London Thames. The earliest plan of the dockyard is intact. The locations of the Double dry dock,
The Great Storehouse, The Great Basin, all present c.1517, remain in their ancient location.

The river wall has been repaired and altered as have each of the intrinsic structures of the dockyard. Such alterations elsewhere are acknowledged by English Heritage 2007/2011 as contributing to the historic value as expressions of development in naval technology.

The ‘dockyard wall’ can be understood as a single element of dockyard technology that contains all of the landward penetrations. The dockyard river wall is composed in part of the dockyard’s defining structures, its building facilities, the docks, slips, great basin and mast ponds.

The place has outstanding heritage value to the nation because of the place’s importance in demonstrating a high degree of creative or technical achievement at a particular period.

The penetrations under consideration are as follows: from the Upper Watergate moving upstream; the Great Dock c.1517, with its magnificent granite piers evident on the wharf wall and the recently excavated finely engineered massive stone stern dock entrance, most likely dating from the last decade of the eighteenth century to the first decade of the nineteenth century, possibly the only eighteenth century royal yard to survive; the Landing Place and Look out stairs dating from c.1720, in use for over two hundred years prior to being closed c.1930, these stairs maintain a fine early Georgian causeway still present in remarkable condition on the foreshore; Entrances to the pair of slipways depicted in John Cleveley’s several paintings of the yard in the mid eighteenth century such as Buckingham on the Stocks c.1750 ; John Rennie’s 1814 monumental stone worked entrance to the Great Basin evident as an extant penetration in the wharf wall and the Rennie designed wharf wall with its characteristic course of stone banding; According to the account written by M. Chevallier in 1860, the slipway immediately to the west of the storehouse was enlarged c.1858 at a cost of the sterling equivalent of 54,000 French francs in order to accommodate the building of the 26 gun screw frigate Ariadne in 1859. Ariadne was constructed on the model of the American Merrimak. (Chevallier 1860:11) In 1860 the “Ariadne,” commanded by Captain Edward Vanisttart, formed one of the escort to H.M.S. “Hero,” which vessel conveyed His Royal highness the Prince of Wales, afterwards His Majesty King Edward the Seventh, on his memorable visit to Canada and the United States of America.
The final extant penetration of the river wall is George Ledwell Taylor’s canal to the Mast pond constructed c.1828.

Misunderstandings, Errors and Confusions in Official Reports

Although the archaeological report has been revised three times since its publication in September 2009 with the latest revision at 2010, there remain several questions regarding the data contained in the report in the section reporting on the river wall.
Following the serious errors in the recent English Heritage report into the dockyard (Julian Heath/Emily Gee 2010), it is vital that claims made in the archaeological report are accurate as the publicly funded heritage agencies depend on these resources in order to make their own assessments. I have submitted documents earlier to demonstrate that Jonathan Coad’s work The Royal Dockyards 1690-1850 concentrates on a period when Deptford has already been in operation for 175 years. Coad forms conclusions without reference to Deptford’s contribution to the development of the royal yards and many of his claims are now disproved and whilst they have served an important role in the preservation and restoration of Chatham and Portsmouth yards, this work can no longer be relied on as a basis for understanding Deptford’s role and contribution to the development of the royal dockyards as a whole.

I address the queries as they arise in the section on the river wall and give substantive evidence to challenge the accuracy of the current archaeological report.

At 6.2.40 the CgMs archaeological report claims,

No part of the existing river wall predates 1796-1808.

Parts of the existing wall rest on the foundation of the earlier wall. This can be ascertained from low-tide examination of the colour and coursing of brickwork and from comparative examination of historic maps. In the exercise of determining the date for the wall, the plans of the dockyard I have consulted are Milton’s Plan 1753, Plan of the Kings Moorings c.1770’s, Plan of the yard, 1774 Plan of the yard c.1808, Plan of Deptford Dockyard 1870.

On river and dock walls, English Heritage Maritime and Naval Buildings Selection Guide 2007 specifically states,

:05 under Special Interest reads.
“Docks and harbour walls pre-dating 1840 generally form the most impressive
engineering structures of their date and even where they have received alteration, as
nearly all have, will normally merit designation, with those displaying technical innovation or association with major developments in shipbuilding, warranting a high grade.”

Key elements of the dockyard structures used to determine the date of the the river wall include the 1720 steps, the mouth of the dry dock, the distance between the storehouse and wharf wall, the distance between the 17th century mast pond and wharf wall (the anchor wharf) and the c.1838 axonometric drawing showing the boat house slips and wharf wall.

The river wall at Deptford is most substantially altered at the dock mouth and at the basin mouth by John Rennie c.1814 in order to accommodate larger ships in the basin. The caisson gate developed in conjunction with the Master Shipwright was a sufficiently significant development in Rennie’s work for him to specifically record the development in his personal papers. Therefore on a number of counts according to English Heritage recently published documents the works at Deptford, the river wall and basin warrant a high designation. This would seem to be a straightforward affair where policy is satisfied by factual evidence. However this is one area where English Heritage’s own research was woefully inaccurate and its procedures of counter signing and quality assurance pitifully remiss.
According to the archaeological report, no part of the river wall predates 1796-1808. An apparent sleight of hand immediately declares, “that the wall post-dates the dockyard is most vividly illustrated by the fact”, however, what is most vividly illustrated is the sudden transition from 1796 to post date the dockyard i.e. 1870’s. This is both confused and confusing presentation.

The report claims that “the bulk of the river wall appears to have been constructed in the period 1896-1916”. The only evidence cited is that the wall cuts through “probably nineteenth century slipways on the foreshore. However, a more straightforward conclusion is surely that the blocked slipway entrances cut across the timber slipways. The remainder of the river wall is late 18th to early 19th century. This can simply be ascertained by a comparative analysis of the changes from the Milton plan of 1753 to the George Ledwell Taylor plan of 1830. The blocked entrances to the dry dock dates to 1875, the blocked entrance to the Great Basin to 1895. It is likely that the three slipways to the Thames were blocked at the same time as the dry dock. The boat-house slipways were open in 1838 as indicated in the axonometric drawing by W. J. Rivers.

Many of the lower ranges of bricks in front of the Master Shipwright’s House and the Storehouse are plum coloured stocks of the eighteenth century, and the presence of areas of pozzolano cement indicate a late eighteenth early nineteenth century construction. The distance from the north elevation of the storehouse to the river wall remains consistent from c.1750 to 1870 and beyond. This stretch forms approx a third of the river wall. The length of wall constructed by Jolliffe and Banks to Rennie’s design in 1814 and forms approximately another third of the of the river wall. Thus two thirds, therefore the bulk of the river wall is Georgian. As a work of Rennie’s according to English Heritage Maritime and Naval Buildings Selection Guide 2007/2011 the river wall warrants a high grade of protection.


Moving west along the wall, we encounter the survival of George Ledwell-Taylor’s 1828 work creating the canal to the mid-eighteenth century mast pond (NMM ADM Y/D/11-D8 1828). Jonathan Coad refers to Ledwell-Taylor as one of the finest dockyard architects. Further west, to the left and right of the Basin mouth, already established as work by Rennie 1813-17, the presence of 150ft length of Craigie stone specified by Rennie during his works to the Basin mouth is extant and clearly visible. (PRO ADM 106/3185 WORK 41/594 signed John Rennie. NMM ADM Y/D/11-D7 16 Nov 1813. See also, A.W. Skempton A Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers in Great Britain and Ireland. 2002 and CgMs 3.2.4 / 3.2.1)
The Landing Place and Stairs, that feature in John Cleveley’s eighteenth century paintings of the launching of ship, blocked post-1930, formed the ceremonial and Royal entrance to the yard for more than two hundred years. (See Metropolitan Archives, Thames Flood Defence Survey MBW) The granite quoins to these Royal Stairs align with the granite quoins to the Double Dry Building Dock, as shown on George Ledwell-Taylor’s 1820 plan of the yard and correspond to the 1868 O.S. map. It is therefore established beyond doubt, through on site and archive based study that the harbour wall to the King’s yard is early to mid nineteenth century expressing the work of George Ledwell-Taylor and John Rennie following proposals by Samuel Bentham. (NMM ADM Q/3320-3323 9th Oct 1802, 23rd Aug 1805)
In summary it is highly unlikely that the presentation of data given in the report is sufficiently accurate as to present a correct picture of the river wall.
From the period c.1770 repairs will, of course, have taken place overtime, however, it appears that the length of wall from Upper Watergate at the east end of the yard heading west to the beginning of John Rennie’s works has not altered at least in position. John Rennie’s works are significant in themselves to warrant a high-grade listing. From the basin mouth East the wall is largely constructed of infill, to the most westerly slipway and infill to the early mast pond and infill to the boathouse slipways.


The river wall is dramatic site of the labours of the Navy’s foremost Master Shipwright’s, naval architects and artificers. As a single entity the river wall expresses the work of George Ledwell Taylor, John Rennie, the filled in Landing Place and Look out steps from 1720, and the granite piers to the double dock. The river wall is the site of countless launches in the presence of monarchs throughout the life of the dockyard, the putting out of ships for the Armada, the voyages of exploration and discovery of Raleigh and Drake and Frobisher in the Tudor period, the knighting of Drake aboard the Golden Hind, of Cook’s voyages of exploration and discovery in the 18th century, of Nelson’s battles including Trafalgar, and of the deaths of 11 U. S. Service men in WWII by VII Rocket. These events mark this stretch of river wall as an important historic elevation that has served the nation as a military base for six centuries, since the first records revealing ships put out for Edward I.
However, the now discredited English Heritage designation report in Overall Conclusions claimed that the river wall is, “a relatively common type of feature with similar examples found elsewhere along the Thames throughout London.” Appearing to blatantly ignore the early origin of this site as a royal dockyard, the English Heritage claim pays no attention whatsoever to the countless associations with historic events and individuals throughout the centuries.

The English Heritage report also claims, “The applicant cites Jon Lowe's report 'Preliminary Assessment of Surviving Historic Fabric Convoy's Wharf, Deptford' (June 2000) 3,2,4 as stating that the bulk of the river wall was thought to date to the re-modeling of the Dockyard during the 1830s, and because of its pre-1840 date should be designated.”

However, English Heritage’s own published documentation Maritime and Naval Buildings Selection Guide Heritage Protection Department
March 2007:05 under Special Interest reads,
“Docks and harbour walls pre-dating 1840 generally form the most impressive
engineering structures of their date and even where they have received alteration, as
nearly all have, will normally merit designation, with those displaying technical innovation or association with major developments in shipbuilding, warranting a high grade.”

The river wall from east to west is a structure containing the work of George Ledwell Taylor’s canal to the 18th century Mast Pond, the John Rennie basin mouth and river wall, the blocked Watergate steps of the Landing Place and Lookout c.1720 and granite piers to the c.1806-8 Georgian dry dock. (See George Ledwell Taylor’s 1831plan). The river wall expresses a unique collection of royal dockyard engineering structures on the London Thames and is far from being “relatively common” and “found elsewhere along the Thames” as the report claims, summarizing reasons not to confer statutory heritage protection (Heath 2010:07).

The now discredited English Heritage designation report goes on to claim, “John Rennie supervised a partial rebuilding in I8|6 on an occasional superintendence basis. However these works had to be replaced some twenty years later in the l840s £800 was spent on dismantling and rebuilding the wharf wall. Some of the 1840’s brickwork survives since a recent archaeological assessment by Jon Lowe and updated by Duncan Hawkins concluded that the 'fabric through out the length of the wall.....was probably constructed during the last major re-modeling of the dockyard in l846.” (Heath 2011:06)

John Lowe’s report for CgMs reads,
“The bulk of river wall thought to date to the final re-modeling of the Dockyard during the 1830’s with the blockings inserted 1869-1894. The Thames frontage of the site was surveyed in detail in both plan and section in 1832-38.” (Lowe 2001:3.2.4)
The survey referred to is the Hydrographic Survey commensurate with the George Ledwell-Taylor’s 1831 plan together indicating that the majority of the river wall predates c.1830 contrary to unsubstantiated claims made in the report. Indeed, Heath’s report appears to mis-quote Lowe who writes, at Lowe 3.2.6. “ The brick fabric throughout the length of the wall is unlikely to have a large date range as it was probably constructed during the last major re-modeling of the dockyard in the 1830’s. The similarity of material both above and below the stone features indicates initially one phase of build.” This detail is very important in determining the date of the wall. The stone feature referred to above is that described in 3.2.1 of Lowe’s report,
“The river wall is mainly brick with a large stone course incorporated intermittently along its length.” This feature is John Rennie’s specification of 1815. "There are to be two courses of stone through the wall, of fifteen inches thick each course; the facing is to be of Dundee or Craigleeth stone, and backing of Roach Portland, and they are to be of like sizes, and done in similar manner as the walls of the entrance; and the whole is to be coped with Dundee or Craigleeth stone, eighteen inches thick, four feet broad in the beds, and in lengths not less than five feet with stone joggles in the joints."
The archaeologists did not consult the Rennie archive at the Institute of Civil Engineers. (ICE REN Tracts Folio Vol.49.) It was therefore not known at the time of writing the reports that this stone feature was the 1814-1815 works by John Rennie. However the inclusion of this detail in these archaeological reports dispels claims that Rennie’s works were “destroyed” in the 20th century or that the bulk of the river wall is post 1840.

The sum of £800 referred to and the occasional superintendence by John Rennie refers solely to the 10ft, small stretch of wharf wall to the east of the Basin mouth and the slip which the Admiralty against John Rennie’s advice in 1814 chose not to replace. The horizontal stone banding and stone toggles are specified by Rennie and shown on his plans of May 8th 1815, 31st August 1814 (ADM 140/1170 Parts1- 2) are still in place.
(Specification of the Masonry, Brick Work, Piling, Planking, &c. of A New Entrance to the Basin at the Royal Dockyard at Deptford, and also for the Building of A River Wall From the said Entrance to the Second Slip on the South. ICE REN Tracts Folio Vol.49).

The length of extant river wall by John Rennie is 160ft, a further 400ft length of wall from the dockyard limit to the west (being the Upper Watergate steps), shown on George Ledwell Taylor’s 1831map, comprises the wall to the fore of the Master Shipwright’s House and the wall to the fore of the 1720’s storehouse, which other than receiving due repair is in line with that shown on the Ledwell-Taylor plan of c.1828. Other than infilling of dock, slipway and basin mouth closures, which according to archaeologists “are the last in a complex development of slipways and dock entrances that date back to the dockyards initial construction in the early 16th century.” The report offers no documentary evidence to substantiate its claims of majority post-1840 construction.

Conclusions reached by archaeologists in 2000 state, “ “The river wall in its entirety appears to be in relatively good condition and has retained key structural components to phases of construction associated with the 18th and 19th century dockyard. These features are the last in a complex development of slipways and dock entrances that date back to the dockyards initial construction in the early 16th century. The wall should be retained and incorporated in future proposals because of its historic features.” (Lowe 2000:13, 4.8)


Recommend assessments to ascertain the potential for the re-opening of the 1720 landing place stairs that were closed in the 1930’s, the re-opening of the stone entrance to the dry dock, the re-opening of John Rennie’s monumental basin entrance and the three slipway entrances in order to vividly express the uniqueness of this internationally historically significant Thames frontage and along with the extant opening of the George Ledwell Taylor canal to the 1760’s Mast Pond this will allow for the re-instatement of seven bridges along the dockyard river frontage creating a historically unrivalled section of the Thames Path in London.

In relation to the river wall and its component docks, slips, basin and mast ponds a no build-line proposal may be drawn from the wharf wall to the extent of the length of the Double dry dock approx 400ft to the far west of the site incorporating the slipways, the Olympia shed and small mast pond in order to avoid any further destruction of the substructures of the historic assets of the dockyard.

Whilst this may at first appear extreme, it is not yet known how the component structures of the yard are constructed and what may remain of earlier structures. In particular damage to timber land-ties, brick and stone ‘foundations’ to the sides of the structures must be avoided. Therefore observing the curtilige or ‘apron’ of the docks and slips where the main capstans and penstocks are housed will ensure the satisfaction of policy guidelines outlined in PPS5.

Until knowledge of the build of the docks, slips and basin is gained any outline permissions will be in contravention of PPS5. Such knowledge has not yet been established by the piecemeal test pits carried out so far. Aside from PPS5, URB20 determines that heritage assets are fully understood.


The river wall at Deptford is an outstanding and unique heritage resource. Among all the royal dockyards, only at Deptford is the early Tudor plan exhibited with the dock and basin still extant in their early locations and the current penetrations are the signifiers of their ancient predecessors. The Carolean and Hanoverian expansions of the yard to the west also remain intact.

The dockyard gave rise to the wider town of Deptford and local people take a pride in the history of the area. The Deptford foreshore as a place to walk and view the river wall is an important cultural resource for local people.
The place has outstanding heritage value to the nation because of the place’s importance in exhibiting particular aesthetic characteristics valued by a community.

Where the construction of openings exist or traces remain, such as the vast granite piers to the dry dock, the visible fletton-blocked opening to the 1720 Landing Place and Lookout stairs with its fine stone causeway extant, the timber slipways on the foreshore marking the entrances to the slipways, where exact measurements of the openings can be read from numerous plan sources, the extant opening of the basin slipway, and the extant opening of the mast pond canal, the 1838 axonometric drawing of the boathouse slipways prior to their infill, all these elements could be re-instated.

Where one or more markings survive along the river wall to testify to the locations of dockyard structures this should be capitalized on to consolidate and contribute to the assets of the dockyard as a whole, in line with English Heritage policy that a holistic approach should be taken where several structures demonstrate the evolution of port facilities in one significant place over a period of time.

We await English Heritage’s recommendation and deliberations.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

10 Good Reasons Why

Ten Good Reasons

1.Deptford is the only royal dockyard with its Tudor plan extant. The undercroft of the storehouse, the dry dock, slipways and great basin are all structures that have their origin in the Tudor period c.1517. Nowhere else in England testifies to the Tudor and Stuart arrangement of a royal naval dockyard. Regardless of the condition of the dockyard’s intrinsic structures, which are incidentally described in archaeological reports as extremely good, the plan of these structures has remained unchanged for five hundred years.

2.Nowhere else on the Thames in London is as rich with five centuries of historic association with events of national and international significance and has so little at present to visibly demonstrate this.

3.Simply because the docks, slips and basins were filled in intact a hundred years ago it does not mean they should remain filled in. In particular their below ground position does not make them archaeology, they were built ‘below ground’. Building survey is required in order to fairly and fully assess their future potential. At Rochefort in France, docks filled in a hundred years ago have been successfully excavated and repaired.

4.Deptford was instrumental in securing and maintaining Britain’s worldwide influence, leading the world in industrial design, naval architecture and military technology. The position of Master Shipwright at Deptford was the highest ranking of all the royal naval yards.

5.Maritime technology including the construction of docks and basins was exported from Deptford to its immediate neighbours on the Thames, to the outlying royal yards such as Chatham and across the world. Expertise from Deptford was employed to create the basin at Chatham, the port of Dover and even as far as Australia, where Capt. Sir William Denison, who had built the basin slipways at Deptford, went on to built Fort Denison in Sydney.

6.The success of the dockyard at Deptford gave rise to the wider establishment of Deptford town, and it has been claimed, to the maritime status of Greenwich.

7. The dockyard at Deptford is a significant site not only for the United Kingdom but especially for countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Voyages of discovery by Raleigh, Drake, Frobisher, Vancouver and Cook as well as success in numerous naval battles including the Armada and Trafalgar were made possible by the technology and expertise of the infrastructure and dockyard labour at Deptford. As well as the ‘discovery’ of the antipodean nations, the first transports enforced and voluntary departed from Deptford. Deptford’s expertise contributed to the raising of the Russian navy for Peter the Great in the eighteenth century and for Catherine and Potemkin in the nineteenth century.

8. Deptford is yet to receive the benefit of statutory heritage policy formed in relation to naval dockyards, indeed it may be described as socially excluded from specifically targeted maritime and naval policy created by English Heritage in 1998, 2005, 2007 and 2011. Studies show that areas of social deprivation benefit from investment in their heritage environments. Heritage environments contribute significantly to the wider development of local economies.
1998 http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/thematic-survey-navy/
2005; http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/conservation-bulletin-48/cb4816naval.pdf
2007/ 2011: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/dlsg-maritime-naval-buildings/maritime_and_naval_final.pdf

9. A debt is owed to Deptford by the present inheritors of the statutory heritage agencies for multiple failures by the heritage agencies in the past, including the loss of the Great Tudor Storehouse of 1513 in 1954 and the demolition of the last of the c.1712 storehouse in 1984.

10. Deptford deserves the right to fair and equal access to statutory heritage protection applied to royal naval yards elsewhere in order to secure the economic benefits, the social benefits and the enjoyment of the cultural capital of its heritage environment. Research indicating the presence of phenomena such as the persistence of urban deprivation in particular areas of cities, suggests that poverty and social exclusion may be related to properties of the spatial structure of the physical form of the city.

Inaugural Sculpture for the Great Basin

Summer 2017
Following the successful excavation and re-opening of the Henry VIII's Great Basin at Deptford and celebrating its five hundred year anniversary, the first in a series of sculptures has now been installed.