THE VICTUALLING WHARF WALL AT DEPTFORD: COLLAPSE AND REPLACEMENT IN THE EARLY NINETEENTH CENTURY
In February 1809, the Victualling Board wrote to the Navy Board to inform them that they were having problems with the wall of the victualling wharf at Deptford. Water was seeping through the wall into the wine cellar, which was likely to cause the iron hoops of thecasks to rot. The inspector of repairs, SamuelHobbs, had reported that the wall had sunk and split, leaving chasms' through which the water entered at high tide and retreated at low tide, taking with it the soil behind the wall and causingthe pavement above to sink. This was likely to worsen if not attended to; he recommended excavating down to the base of the wall and refilling with clay or puddle (a mixture of clay and sand) and also adding piles to secure the land ties and relieve the pressure on them.
Remarking that the wharf had already been repaired several times under the direction of the Inspector General of Naval Works, he suggested the architect at the Navy Office, Mr Holt, should be asked to advise.'
Two days later, the Victualling Board wrote again to report that Henry Garrett, the agent victualler at Deptford, who had checked at high tide, reported that the water was now damaging the boundary wall between the victualling and dock yards, this being exacerbated by rat runs to the pea store and flesh cellars and between the seasoning house and the old cooperage, the water rising over the floor sufficiently to stop the coopers working. The Navy Board's response, which did not come until two weeks later, was to the effect that the problem was caused by broken drains from the settling of the ground, and that these would have to be replaced.
This presumably was done, as there is no more correspondence in the Victualling Board records until October 1811, when the Victualling Board reported to the Navy Board that the ground on the wharf between two of the cranes had 'fell in very much' and that the mudsills had been forced off the foundations, causing the wall to split. This in turn had caused cracks in the groined [sic] arches of the cellars and the party walls of the new storehouses.
A month later, they wrote again to the Navy Board to pass on the agent victualler's report that at low tide 'the ground at the back of the wall [had] sunk down with a great crash' which broke the land ties. The Inspector of Repairs urged immediate action and the Victualling Board asked for the Civil Architect and Engineer to give his opinion.
Initial attempts to solve the problem seemto have been restricted to trying to press the wall down into a more solid foundation, the Victualling Board asking the Navy Board to borrow 600 tons of iron ballast for this purpose, then returning this three months later. Another three months passed, then the Victualling Board asked for cinder ashes from the smitheries in the dockyards at Deptford and Woolwich to mix with ground lime and ballast for repair work, but none of this seems to have worked, as in March 1813 the Victualling Board asked for the Navy Board's surveyor of buildings to make an inspection and give his opinion on the necessary repairs.
Nothing seems to have been done, as in October the Victualling Board reported that the previous day's high tide had made one end of the wharf shift and settle, and requesting an inspection and recommendation that they would create temporary versions above the coffer dam.
However, in November 1817, the Victualling Board wrote once more to the Admiralty secretary, atating that the repairs needed to be extended. They said that Mr Rennie had reported That it appears, from an examination of that part of the Old Wharf Wall which lies between the landing stairs and Eastern end of the Victualling jard, and which, including the return, is Three hundred'feet [92.3 metres] in length and that the whole bottom is silt [which] having sunk away from the planking on which the Wall stands, its weight may therefore be said to be supported by the Piles only, That these piles are all driven perpendicularly, and are kept in that position by the great body of Mud, and Silt, which lies in front of them, so that if this mud was to be removed the piles would fall forward, unless the land ties by which theWall is sustained were sufficiently strong to prevent them;that these land ties are ... very much decayed, and consequently no great dependence can be had on them; that therefore, if this Wall is to be preserved, it must undergo a considerable repair, which with the Tender Piles in front [of] the decayed brickwork will cost at least £2,000 and when done, the great Mud bank in front of it will prevent the full advantage being taken of the deep water along the new Wall, as it will check the current of the Tide and occasion a settlement of mud infront of the new Wharf, the foundation of which lies Seven feet deeper than the Old Wall; that the expense of a Wall of 300 feet in length, with the materials of theCoffer dam now in use, will be about £16,000; whereas if this Wall were to stand over to a future period, it would cost about £25,000, ... that it would not be advisable to leave it in its present state... and that [Mr Rennie] cannot therefore help advising us that the new Wall be extended to the Eastern extremity of the Yards.'
This letter is endorsed as approving the work as detailed.
The final letter in the sequence, in May 1821, reports that the work had been completed 'in a manner which we conceive [is] highly creditableto the professional skill and ability of Mr Rennie ... assisted by the unremitting attention and indefatigability of Mr Hobbs, our inspector of Works...' and goes on to recommend what appears to be a bonus for Hobbs ('such remuneration for his services as [their lordships] may appear to meet').
No record of the finalcost of this work has been found. It should come as no surprise to those familiar with the workings of the Admiralty andits subordinate boards that this saga should have gone on for so long, but it is, if not surprising, intriguing that there is no record of the Navy Board having responded to most the VictuallingBoard's pleas for help in this matter. Perhaps, in due course, the Navy Board letters project will turn up the other side of this story.