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.