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Thursday 13 October 2011

Sold Down The River

Deptford Master Plans……they come and go!

For centuries Deptford has been the subject of over ambitious master plans
Following the opening of London’s first railway from Deptford to London Bridge in 1836, the Deptford Pier Company proposed a rail spur from the Deptford station to a Thames-side steam boat terminal for disembarking passengers who could then be whisked into the city in fifteen minutes avoiding the densly packed Pool of London. (Yes, even in 1836 there were four trains an hour.) The bold plan was to demolish several Thames waterfront buildings and houses along the High Street and King Street (now Watergate Street) and several buildings that formed the courts adjacent to King Street.

The project failed due to local resistance based on the detrimental effect on scores of people’s homes and partly due to it being pipped to the post by Brunswick Wharf a short distance down river on the north bank of the Thames. The legacy we are left with today are the grand arches of Paynes Wharf reminiscent of Cubitt’s King’s Cross station, and a detailed plan and description of the use and occupation of every building along the west side of the High Street and the buildings along and either side of the former King Street.

A final legacy worth mentioning is the rare survival of a c.1838 cast-iron wharf wall in front of Payne’s Wharf.

Another ambitious master plan to colonise vast swathes of Deptford was proposed by the Great Steam Dock Company. Their proposal was to build a 55-acre dock that required the wholesale demolition of all the buildings from the Creek, back towards what is now Albury Street (formerly Union Street, up to what is now Watergate Street and back towards the river. The most extraordinary aspect of this doomed proposal was that St. Nicholas Church tower would sit marooned on an island in the middle of the dock.

Have you ever wondered why Deptford Church Street is a dual carriageway?
Late nineteenth century plans proposed a road tunnel under the Thames from the top of Deptford Church Street where it meets Creek Road tunneling under Deptford Green (Charlotte Turner Gardens) This proposal like the others, ran aground.

Another monolithic master plan that hits the buffers and never sees the light of day is by the famous late eighteenth century architect George Dance and was sited at Crossfield Street. A grand terrace stretching from the High Street to Deptford Church was proposed, but failed to get off the ground.

Master plans come and go. The most recent from Hutchison Whampoa is entirely unsuited to a site that holds Lewisham’s and Deptford’s greatest concentration of heritage assets of international significance.

The developer proposes preservation in situ for the monumental naval dockyard infrastructure, however buried more deeply in the proposals is the data that the development will have severe adverse impacts on the areas water table that risks drying out both the vertical timber piling supporting the foundations of the docks, slipways basin and mast ponds and the horizontal timber ties impairing the structural integrity of the walls of the dockyard’s defining structures. On one hand we are told by the archaeologist that the monumental engineering structures are too delicate to work with in some form of presentation or exposure and yet on the other hand we are asked to believe that the sheer density and extensive piling required to support this development can be achieved without any further harm coming to the heritage assets. It has also been indicated that the entire stretch of river wall that testifies to the entrances to the docks, slips, basin, mast pond and landing place stairs, itself not a buried structure but visible from the foreshore, and currently structurally sound, will require wholesale rebuilding, thereby erasing from view any trace of its historic fabric. It is simply the case that this development is wholly unsuited to a site of unparalleled national historic importance on the London Thames. Let's not be sold down the river by accepting these current development proposals to the detriment of the future enjoyment of one of London's most internationally historically significant sites.


  1. Interesting piece. Now that would have been some dock covering that expanse!

  2. there was even an idea to create a dock all the way from Deptford to Vauxhall that would have avoided the rise and fall of the tide and at the time the attendant putrefying gases rising from the mud on the foreshore!

  3. Deptford Royal Dockyard Site is a Site of
    National as well as Local Heritage Importance

    I Have been Thinking about how to Preserve
    the Site and that is to Promote the Naval
    Heritage with a Naval Present

    If Deptford Royal Dockyard Site was given a
    Symbolic Commission Say as HMS DEPTFORD and
    put under the White Ensign again it would mean
    that there would be a Duty of Care of Maintenance from HM Government

    Obviously this may Cost but it is a Far
    Less Destructive Cost than the Wholesale
    Eradication of any Visible Trance of this
    Ancient Royal Dockyard

    Deptford is Deserving of such an Protective

    I would like to See Historic Naval Buildings
    Rebuilt and a Living Naval Heritage Museum
    Established with Wooden Sailing Warships constructed at the Rate of 1 every Year or
    2 Years

    Deptford Navy Days would Not be beyond the Pale
    Considering Deptfords Illustrious Naval Heritage

  4. This could mean a whole lot for the London Thames too