Deptford Dockyard (Convoys Wharf) site became the subject of a Richard Rogers Partnership Planning Application submitted in 2004, NDS commenting that it did not reflect suitably Deptford’s maritime location and underground archaeology.
Hutchison Whampoa subsequently purchased the site and after extensive archaeology submitted a new application in 2011 which was rejected by Lewisham Council. A new application (DC_13_83358) for outline development consent on the Deptford Dockyard site was submitted to Lewisham in April 2013 in place of the earlier one (see DC/02/52533/X) to which many organisations objected. Lewisham Borough Council did not determine this new application within the statutory 16 weeks, which laid it open to challenge. Lewisham wrote to the developer in September 2013, presenting the range of issues on which agreement with the developer had yet to be found.
The Developer (Hutchison Whampoa) wrote to the London Mayor (Boris Johnson) on 17 October 2013, asking him to ‘call in’ the case, which he has powers to do in cases of strategic importance to London. Greater London Authority (GLA) officers wrote a report to the Mayor dated 30 October 2013, recommending he take over the role of the Local Authority in determining this case, which he did on 1 November 2013.
The NDS wrote to Boris Johnson on 1 November 2013 requesting that he reject this application because it does not authentically reflect the below ground archaeology and will not produce the best outcome for the Deptford community, the River Thames riverscape and the Greater London Authority. The following issues, arising from public discussion of the significance of Deptford Dockyard, should be addressed to produce a richer conceptual solution which adds value to the site.
The Naval Dockyards Society has been involved in reviewing the plans for Deptford Dockyard since the Richard Rogers proposal of 2004. Consistently, its comments have highlighted where the designs have not acknowledged the local, national and international significance of Deptford Dockyard. To date, the plans have not provided a quality of design to reflect this, but merely a generic high rise development that could be located anywhere. The World Monuments Fund has also listed the site on its 2014 Watchlist “to raise awareness about this rich heritage and to advocate for sensitive integration of its historic vestiges into redevelopment plans.” This will direct the international gaze upon the progress of this unique site.
Discussion of Application DC/02/52533/X (2011) allowed public debate of the significance of Deptford Dockyard:
• Deptford is one of the earliest British royal dockyards, founded by Henry VIII in 1513, its 500th anniversary celebrated in 2013. It was the leading R&D dockyard on England’s capital river until 1869 and was nearest to the Navy Office and the Admiralty. Prototype ship designs were developed at Deptford and the Deptford Master Shipwright was the most senior and skilled of all the master shipwrights.
• Many monarchs visited the town from Henry VIII to George III: Queen Elizabeth knighted Drake aboard Golden Hind in 1581. Peter the Great, Czar of Russia, came to study shipbuilding at Deptford in the 1690s before building his own dockyard at St Petersburg.
• Ships were fitted out at Deptford for major world exploration, circumnavigation, colonisation and war for Sir Francis Drake, Rear-Admiral George Anson, Captain James Cook, botanist Sir Joseph Banks, Commander William Bligh and Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson. Deptford also had connections with the East India Company.
• In the C17 the nationally renowned diarist and horticulturalist John Evelyn lived in Sayes Court, which forms part of this development. Fellow diarist and Navy Board official Samuel Pepys described many official and unofficial visits. Internationally recognised civil engineer John Rennie designed the basin mouth, caisson and riverside wall c.1814.
• The distinctive individual character and intrinsic interest of the Tudor and Stuart naval storehouses are valuable to the current community in Deptford and neighbouring boroughs. Few Tudor and no Stuart naval storehouses survive elsewhere, yet the Great Storehouse, even in its below ground fragmentary state, provides a valuable tangible indication of the importance of Deptford Dockyard to Henry VIII and Elizabeth, especially when linked to the nearby royal palace at Greenwich. Fragments are important signifiers of cultural heritage which should be valued, as fragments of Tudor castles and Mary Rose are valued.
Like the preceding scheme of 2011 but with a new architect, Terry Farrell, the current application provides for 3,500 homes (most of them private), mostly in slab blocks of up to 14 storeys plus three tall towers, employment opportunities in a 2.6 hectare ‘protected wharf’ zone at the north-west end and retention and adaptation of the Grade-II-listed former shipbuilding shed (Olympia Building) in the centre of the site. The tallest tower, over 500 feet high, is now right on the riverfront so is even more prominent.
Relative to 2011, the layout of plots and circulation routes has been rearranged to create narrow internal vistas along new streets. Presumably the locations of underground features found in the recent excavations have been taken into account to avoid damaging foundations. A broader vista will now link the Olympia shipbuilding shed with the entrance of the former Great Basin, where a small patch of water will be recreated in the entrance channel – a small improvement, but these will be crowded on each side by tall buildings. The ground above the former double dry dock at the eastern end will be laid out as open space with interpretation, as before, and No. 1 Slipway is now to be treated similarly and with its more durable features displayed where practicable. The foundations of Sayes Court would be displayed under cover.
New design guidelines include expressing the memories of a few other buried features in the design of paving and so on. As previously, the development of the individual plots is to be governed by abstract parameters such as maximum and minimum building heights, floor areas and the mix of dwellings. The use of such parameters resembles the Kings Cross Central development that is now progressing in Camden, but there appears to be less inspiration in architectural guidelines. Landscaping and other matters are only indicative within this outline application. The lines of the changing perimeter walls are the most immediately identifiable features to an outsider; yet these barely feature in the design.
The Scheme for Archaeological Resource Management (SARM), an outcome of the Deptford archaeological investigation, promotes enhancement of its heritage assets, the ‘multi-cultural nature of heritage issues’, ‘public access and display where possible’ and crucially, restoration of the Olympia Slip Sheds and protection of the double dry dock, John Evelyn’s house and the Tudor Storehouse.
It identified that piling has the potential to have a severe and widespread archaeological impact depending on the density of the piling pattern. Piles will pass through the entire stratigraphic sequence and generally require the removal of any significant obstruction (such as masonry or timbers) prior to the pile being augered or driven. However, piling patterns can be developed which can facilitate the preservation of archaeological remains through the use of former foundation positions or disturbed ground.
Lower density piling patterns may be compatible with the preservation in situ of underlying archaeological deposits, particularly where pile caps and ground beams can be contained within modern made ground or existing ground levels be raised.
Deptford Archaeology uncovered new evidence of the evolution of the docks and basins:
The large pool which became the Basin probably began as a natural pond at the confluence of the River Thames with the small stream identified earlier in the excavation. Historical sources suggest that the basin was adapted to moor several of the King’s ships in the early 16th century and was later used to season masts. By 1688, the Dockyard Basin (or ‘Wett Dock’) was hexagonal in plan, with slipways on the west side and a canal connecting it to the river. Once the ships were largely complete, they were launched into the basin to be fitted out.
Geoarchaeological data was collected from an ancient channel that crosses the site. Area 10, in the west part of the site, was dug to over 6m deep to allow geoarchaeologists to sample the full depth of alluvium filling the channel.
The Great Dock, the Tudor Storehouse (Scheduled Ancient Monument), the Olympia Slip Shed (1846-7, Grade II Listed) signify the long and distinctive history of building and repairing great ships at Deptford, evidence of the research and development aspect of Deptford Dockyard as the most senior design yard of the six royal dockyards in England.
Deptford Dockyard as the most senior design yard of the six royal dockyards in England.
Surviving walls of Sayes Court manor house were found. John Evelyn, the 17th-century horticulturalist and diarist, obtained a lease for the property from Charles II in 1663. He was one of the founder members of the Royal Society and was friends with Samuel Pepys and Christopher Wren. One of many publications, his book Sylva, was first published in 1664 to encourage landowners to plant trees for timber for the navy.
Civil engineer John Rennie the Elder (1761–1821) remodelled Deptford Basin and rebuilt much of the river wall (evidence from tender documents of 1815 and an extant 1814 drawing for the invert under the new caisson gate).
The Naval Dockyards Society’s (2013) Conference identified that:
The earliest evidence of Deptford Dockyard is valuable and worth saving as a whole. The Society calls for the preservation of any evidence which conveys the size and multi-period aspects of this complex. Archaeologists rarely find above-ground structures and usually have only robbed out foundation trenches and post-holes with which to work. In Deptford there is a wealth of precise floor-plan information supplemented by historic plans and representations.
An imaginative realisation of the L-shaped Deptford Officers’ terrace, which formed the first palace front terrace in a royal naval dockyard and possibly the first in England, would create a diverse architectural ambience and scale. Other housing blocks might replicate the floor level plans of excavated buildings, just as refurbished officers’ houses at Chatham and Sheerness dockyards have restored residential quarters to add character and value.
Preservation of the shape in the ground of the double dock is essential to a comprehensive interpretation of the dock’s evolution. It is also paramount to investigate the composition of the inner end. The assumption that it is concrete has led to rejection of the need to preserve it. Docks were enlarged and rebuilt – this is their story. The Tudor dock is most likely to have been consumed in the enlargement – this is its story. Failing to find physical evidence does not negate the site’s importance.
This archaeology can inform interpretation with overlaid maps, public archaeology involving schools, 3-D models of lost buildings, sensory displays, a replica ship, storytelling and recording the arrival of successive Deptford communities. The Naval Dockyards Society reiterates, on the basis of over ten years of archaeology, that more of the archaeological footprint should not only be preserved, but integrated within the design, to reflect the significance of Deptford Dockyard.
Below ground remains embody Deptford’s tangible and intangible heritage and give this project a unique character which should distinguish it from many other new developments, inform the overall design and improve its ‘brand’.
The Naval Dockyards Society therefore urges you to use your powers to reject this Application. A legitimate design would conserve the underground remains and reflect them unmistakably in the above ground design, rather than bury them. Use your powers to restore the heritage and prestige of Deptford Dockyard to its community through richer conceptual solutions which will add value to the site:
1. Olympia Slip Shed, 1846 should be restored for both permanent and temporary exhibitions of artefacts with interactive displays showing key events and Dockyard changes; and an interpretation centre built to resource ongoing research and interpretation. Its size allows both open space and interior enclosed space for an exhibition and research centre. It would be a fitting project to be funded under the S.106 Agreement. A broader vista now links it to a small patch of water at the entrance of the Basin, but these will be overshadowed by tall buildings. This principal listed building ought to be plainly visible from the river, to which it related.
2. Royal Dockyard Basin/Wet Dock, 1517. This ought to be presented within a public piazza, with its evolving walls and gates etc. marked by stone paving.
3. The 1513 Tudor/Georgian Storehouse should 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 the buildings one storey above ground level as was done at the YHA building in Sydney and would make a clear link between 1513 and the present.
See Sydney Harbour Big Dig Project: http://www.thebigdig.com.au/; http://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. It would visibly interpret Deptford’s rich shipbuilding past, engineering practices and restore the link to the nearby Master Shipwright’s House and the office of Surveyor of the Navy Samuel Bentham.
5. Sayes Court c. 1405. Displaying its foundations under cover will interpret the close association of John Evelyn and Czar Peter the Great with Deptford. A garden should feature the plants listed in Evelyn’s plan at the British Library to revive his horticultural research.
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. Reconstructing a ship from Deptford’s rich shipbuilding past, such as Lenox, would add dynamic and economic value to Deptford, as Hermione has to Rochefort and Golden Hinde II to Southwark.
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.
Joan Ruddock, MP for Lewisham Deptford secured a debate in the Commons on 22 January 2014 which was broadcast live on BBCtv Parliament. Despite her cogent arguments for promoting national heritage issues in the development, the Mayor of London passed the outline planning application for Convoys Wharf on 31 March 2014.
See: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/calendar/?d=2014-01-22 http://www.joanruddock.org/
However, on 1 April 2014: ‘Mayor approves plans for major new development at Convoys Wharf’:
The NDS awaits further details.
Application DC/13/83358 (2013) http://planning.lewisham.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=_LEWIS_DCAPR_69913
World Monument Fund Watchlist for 2014 Deptford Dockyard and Sayes Court Garden
SARM, Scheme for Archaeological Resource Management(2010) http://www.convoyswharf.com/pdfs/Volume_2a_Technical_Appendices/2A-5-Archaeology/CW2-2A-2-5_Archaeology_Vol_II_SARM_Rev_5_Jan_2010.pdf
Convoys Wharf – the Dockyard Basin (27 February 2011)
Convoys Wharf (16 June 2011)
Convoys Wharf: Sayes Court (28 September 2011)
Convoys Wharf: the storehouse and slipway (28 November 2011)
For the most recent account see Ann Coats, Five Hundred Years of Deptford and Woolwich Royal Dockyards and counting . . ., Philip MacDougall, ed., Transactions of the Naval Dockyards Society, Volume 11, Five Hundred Years of Deptford and Woolwich Royal Dockyards (Naval Dockyards Society, Portsmouth, January 2019), pp. 1-17), ISBN 978-0-9929292-8-2