Wednesday 6 January 2010

Royal Dockyard Deptford

Proposal to List Features of King’s Yard (Convoy’s Wharf) at Deptford
December 2009


In 1999, Alan Howarth, then Culture Secretary, announced comprehensive statutory protection for Britain’s maritime heritage, principally covering the Royal Dockyards as a result of the Defences of Britain Study. Subsequently Engllish Heritage has published its Maritime and Naval Buildings Selection Guide in 2007.

The King’s Yard, established by Henry VIII in 1513 at Deptford, did not form part of this survey, however, archaeological surveys since carried out by CgMs and Pre-Construct Archaeology in 2000 (Hawkins) 2000 (Lowe), 2001 (Divers), at the former Royal Dockyard at Deptford established, “by far the greater part of the dockyard survives as buried structures filled in intact between 1869 and 1950.”
The structures of the yard proper, the docks, slips, basins, mast ponds landing places and stairs, constitute a substantial architectural fabric that is currently extant, though largely invisible, being covered by superficial accretion or infill. (David Divers. Jan 2001:12/ 3.5.14).
Docks are recognised as being the most significant structures in the operation of the yard as well as a dockyard’s defining characteristics.


Based on the new information established from the archaeological surveys and further archive based and site survey based research, the opportunity now exists to ensure that the historic cultural assets of the earliest Royal Naval Dockyard of 1513 benefits from the same statutory protection deployed and enjoyed elsewhere (Defences of Britain Study) and to comply with several English Heritage guideline and policy documents that have been delivered in the intervening period, namely, Sustaining the Historic Environment 1997, An Archaeological Research Framework for the Greater Thames Estuary 1999, Heritage Dividend 2002, A Sense of Place for a New Thames Gateway 2004, Naval Heritage: Managing Change in the Royal Dockyards. Conservation Bulletin 2005 Issue 48, Maritime and Naval Buildings Selection Guide Heritage Protection Department March 2007 and The Tidal Thames Habitat Action Plan (TTHAP).

The opportunity now exists to consider the dockyard landscape with its definitive historic components within the above guidelines and policy. Deptford dockyard is an internationally significant historic site and deserves the opportunity for comparable assessment for listing that has been applied to dockyards elsewhere in the country. Indeed, not to apply such a comprehensive approach would constitute a form of social exclusion from such statutory protection deployed and enjoyed elsewhere.

“We cannot expect these important sites to remain unchanged, but we can expect change and development to occur within the context of informed conservation.”
Maritime and Coastal Heritage. Conservation Bulletin Issue 48, Spring 2005.

The case for listing

The yard at Deptford witnessed the labours of Henry VIII’s Master Shipwrights Matthew and James Baker, laid up Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind, put out ships for the Armada as well as Cook’s, Frobisher’s and Vancouver’s voyages of discovery, as well as for Nelson’s battles including Trafalgar and also served as a military base into the twentieth century as Army Supply Reserve Depot in WWI and WWII and served as U.S. Advance Amphibious Vehicle Base and married quarters in WWII. (PRO WORKS 43/614-6) The area of land in question, far from being a mere brown field site, has served the Nation as a military installation over a period of five centuries.

New evidence and amendments

There are four important re-assessments and amendments to be made to the archaeological assessments carried out to date which impact on the heritage assessment of the value of Deptford’s historic cultural assets and therefore impact on the proposal to list.

1. The Great Georgian Dock

The Double Dry Building Dock, in use as early as 1517 and featured in the John Evelyn map of Deptford of 1623, underwent remodelling in the intermediate period between Samuel Bentham and John Rennie. (see new information, PRO ADM 1/3501-3503 May 18th 1815 and NMM ADM Q/3320-3323 9th Oct 1802, 23 Aug 1805) This work pre-dates work by John Rennie to the listed docks in Chatham, for example and may constitute some of Rennie’s earliest works in Royal dockyards. Recent EH test site excavations have established that the walls are three metres thick, and coped in granite with articulated works in limestone. It is now widely acknowledged that docks from the earliest date, and the Double Dry Building Dock at Deptford may be one of, if not the earliest surviving dock, subsequently rebuilt, express advancements in the technology of shipbuilding and that these developments enhance rather than detract from the historic merit. In Maritime and Naval Buildings Selection Guide, works by Bentham and Rennie are signalled for 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.” (2007:05) Also mentioned for special consideration is the use of Roman cement. Divers, writing on the Georgian Great Dock at Deptford, states, “Waterproof ‘Roman’ cement (patented 1796) was used towards the front of the wall. (Divers, 2000:58/7.17.2 Trench 17 fig.29) For the reasons stated above, further investigation may bring to light that, as the sole surviving double dry building dock from the Tudor period, reworked by Rennie to proposals by Bentham, the structure is unique. These works are unlikely to have undergone alteration due to the closure of the yard in 1869. Indeed the outline of the Great Dock in George Ledwell-Taylor’s plan of 1820 is commensurate with that of 1868.

2. The Great Basin
The Great Basin was also an early resource of the King’s Yard, mentioned in an Indenture of 1517 (BL Add.6555), as holding amongst other ships the Mary Rose. The Basin was also the site of testing early diving bells by John Evelyn, (Diary 19 July, 1661). In Charnock's "History of Marine Architecture" it is given "A note how many ships the King's Majesty (Henry VIII.) hath in harbour, on the 18th day of September, in the 13th year of his reign (1521); what portage they be of; what estate they be in the same day; also where they ride and be bestowed." From this we are enabled to see what use was made of Deptford as a naval station at that time:—"The Mary Rose, being of the portage of 600 tons, lying in the pond at Deptford beside the storehouse there, &c. The John Baptist, and Barbara, every of them being of the portage of 400 tons, do ryde together in a creke of Deptford Parish, &c. The Great Nicholas, being of portage 400 tons, lyeth in the east end of Deptford Strond, &c. … The Great Barke, being of portage 250 tons, lyeth in the pond at Deptford, &c. The Less Barke, being of the portage of 180 tons, lyeth in the same pond, &c. The twayne Row Barges, every of them of the portage of 60 tons, lye in the said pond, &c. The Great Galley, being of portage 800 tons, lyeth in the said pond, &c." (

Originally a naturally occurring pond in the 14th century, the Basin underwent several periods of re-modelling. New archive-based assessment has established that the final designs were by John Rennie, and re-workings of earlier proposals by Samuel Bentham. The works were carried out by Jolliffe and Banks. Banks was knighted in 1822 for his works to Southwark and Waterloo bridges on the Thames. Rennie was paid a sum of £4,500 to widen and deepen the Basin and move the Basin mouth to the east. In the Abstract of Contracts, related to works to the Basin, Rennie specifies coping the Basin with Craigie or Dundee stone. The mouth to the Basin is shown as open with an extant Swing bridge in the Thames Flood Defence Survey of 1898. (Metropolitan Archives, MBW 2787)
However no outline of Rennie’s 1814 modification is given in the recent archaeological surveys. It is possible therefore that the archaeological site survey placed its trenches, no.s 7 and 9, outside of the final Rennie works to the Basin, thereby determining that no upstanding remains could be found. (See Buro Happold, Summary of the Main Dock Features and Archaeological Trench Results 001.) The photograph, Plate 9, printed in the archaeological survey of 2000 (Hawkins), said to depict the Basin mouth, is also incorrect as it shows instead a blocked slipway. These errors are critical to the forming of an accurate assessment in line with URB20 point A. To properly assess..”
The Basin contributed to the earliest period of the dockyard and remained open until the advent of the twentieth century. Its final layout is commensurate with works proposed by Samuel Bentham as Inspector General of Naval Works and carried out by Joliffe and Banks under the direction of John Rennie. Listing of the Basin as a Group Value consideration even, offers the opportunity for further archaeological investigations in order to re-assess the outline of the Rennie, Joliffe and Banks works.

3. River wall
There was some discrepancy between the archaeological surveys regarding the age of the river wall, with one archaeological survey of 2000 stating that the river wall is post the life of the dockyard. Statement 0.6.4 “The bulk of the river wall appears to have been constructed in the period 1869 to 1916.” This claim has been subjected to a further detailed site and archive-based assessment. It can now be stated that Lowe (2000) was correct in stating, “The bulk of the river wall thought to date to the final re-modelling of the Dockyard during the 1830’s.” Lowe (2000:/3.2.4)
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) Knight’s Mechanical Encyclopaedia of the nineteenth century states that cast-iron piling has been successfully used in quay walls at Deptford. accessed 22/12/09.

4. Small seventeenth century mast pond
The early small mast pond, c.1660, does not form part of the archaeological survey carried out in 2000. The mast pond featured in the surveys and referred to is that from the 1760’s only. This is a serious omission as the early small mast pond expresses the first departure from the extent of the Tudor and Stuart dockyard and marks a expansion of the dockyard into the Hanoverian period. This mast pond may be the earliest extant mast pond in a Royal Dockyard and was constructed in the seventeenth century on land purchased from Sir Denis Gauden, Victualler to the Navy. An early draught design of the mast pond is held in the Evelyn Papers at the British Library. It was in this early mast pond, during the tenure of Master Shipwright Joseph Allin, in the early eighteenth century, that the boat used to bring Charles II back from exile was discovered, refurbished and renamed the Royal Escape, eventually finding its way to Heligoland.

“by far the greater part of the dockyard survives as buried structures”

The scope of Lowe’s preliminary archeological assessment in 2000 of surviving historic fabric only covered the following; standing buildings, river wall, perimeter walls and ground surface sections. However, given the evidence established in the surveys carried out by Hawkins and Divers, and further newly uncovered evidence from archive and site based surveys, the comprehensive indication of the majority survival of the dockyard’s distinctive characteristics merits a comprehensive listing to ensure that Deptford’s historic cultural assets of local, national and international significance are not excluded from the statutory protection applied in all other cases of listing of the Royal Dockyards.

Extracts from the recent archaeological surveys carried out at Deptford Dockyard affirm, that “major dockyard features survive across much of the site and that later activities on the site have had relatively little impact on these remains.” (Divers 2001:69/9.1.4)
“The large features targeted by the evaluation trenches have been found in their anticipated locations, often at relatively shallow depths beyond the present ground surface.” (Divers 2001:70/9.1.6)
“The N.E wall of the Georgian Mast Pond was found to survive immediately below the modern concrete ground slab.” (Divers 2001:26/7.2 Trench 2, fig.9)
“The N.W. wall of the Georgian Dock was found just immediately below the modern tarmac surface.” (Divers 2001:58/7.17.1)
Divers concludes, “the evaluation has established that the major features of the dockyard have survived in their predicted locations with little evidence for widespread truncation by later activities on the site.” (Divers 2001:71/9.4.2)

Deptford was the Cape Canaveral of its day, leading the technology of shipbuilding. The position of Master Shipwright at Deptford was the highest and therefore most sought after of the Royal Dockyards. Deptford’s proximity to the Navy Board and Admiralty ensured that advancements in the technology of shipbuilding tended to be carried out there. Due to its closure in 1869 Deptford was not subject to the later remodelling that occurred in other Royal Dockyards. As such, The King’s Yard at Deptford, expresses the early Tudor plan comprising, Master Shipwright’s House and Offices (Grade II), Double Dry Building Dock (proposed) Storehouse (Undercroft, Scheduled Ancient Monument) Great Basin (proposed).
Following the guideline statement in the Maritime and Naval Buildings Selection Guide 2007:05, it is requested that “A holistic approach should 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.” Statutory recognition of these early manifestations of works by Bentham and Rennie, perhaps expressing some of their earliest works in Royal Dockyards further enhances the Group Value listing of the Master Shipwright’s House and Offices (overlooking the Double Dry Building Dock), the listed perimeter walls and the covered slipways of 1846 (Olympia Sheds).
This early Tudor Dockyard plan, expressed in Evelyn’s annotated map of Deptford of 1623, is altered little by the expansion and developments of the Hanoverian period. The King’s Yard at Deptford remains the sole Royal Dockyard to express its original Tudor and its subsequent expansion into the Hanoverian period. The earliest Master Shipwright’s House and the earliest purpose built naval office building in the country, with additions expressing Bentham’s centric organisational Panopticon principles (Pro Work 41585-6, NMM ADM/ Q 3323 28th Feb 1805), would be further enhanced by statutory protection of the Double Dry Building Dock, The Great Basin and Harbour Wall, mast ponds and slipways, thus bringing Deptford’s historic maritime heritage in alignment with every other Royal Dockyard in the country.

The Royal Dockyards are amongst the most long-lived, extensive and coherent monuments to the history of the United Kingdom. Many of the industrial, technological, military and social changes that occurred in the post-modern and modern periods are embedded within their surviving fabric. Anthony Firth, Wessex Archaeology 2004.

“The Royal Dock, or "King's Yard," as it was locally called in former times, was esteemed one of the most complete repositories for naval stores in Europe. It covered not less than thirty acres of ground, and contained every convenience for building, repairing, and fitting out ships-of-the-line—those veritable "wooden walls of Old England" with which we were familiar before the introduction of armour-plated vessels. Artificers in wood and in iron had here large ranges of workshops and storehouses; and here the hammer and the axe were scarcely ever idle, even in times of peace; but where, during the prevalence of war, they were plied incessantly "in the construction of those floating bulwarks for which England is, or rather was, renowned, and which carry a hundred and twenty guns and a thousand men to guard her shores from the invader, or to bear her fame with her victories to the remotest seas of the ocean”

Royal Dockyard at Deptford circa 1739 showing the Great Basin in the foreground. accessed 22/12/09

Publications Consulted
Hawkins, Duncan. BA MIFA. April 2000. CgMs Consulting. Archaeological Desk Based Assessment
Convoy’s Wharf, Deptford SE8
Divers, David. January 2001. CgMs Ltd.Archaeological Evaluation of Land at Convoy’s Wharf, Deptford.
Lowe, Jon. BA. June 2000. Preliminary Assessment of Surviving Historic Fabric Convoy’s Wharf, Deptford.

Archives Consulted
National Archives
National Maritime Museum
British Library
Metropolitan Archives Corporation of London

(and posted with the author's consent)


Julian said...

As a committee member of "Friends of Deptford Creek" and one of the last boatbuilders working on this area of the Thames this makes fantastic reading. It reinforces the arguments that have long been postulated by the local community that The Kings Yard should not be the subject of the usual developer feeding frenzy aided and abetted by a lacklustre council planning dept.Instead it should be a maritime enterprise zone allowing history to repeat itself,albeit in a modern framework. It is already a protected wharf (waterfront 20 acres) though the protection is somewhat limited and open to "cherry picking". Encouragingly the Port Of London Authority recently took a legal stand against a developer over a similarly protected wharf (Peruvian) and won. The river is crying out for more maintenance facilities and without them all the platitudes and buzzwords spouted by politicians about sustainable transport on the river will remain meaningless. Correctly planned this site could provide long-term employment for thousands with the historic facilities brought back to use on the one hand and cutting edge infrastructure to carry the maritime heritage into the future.
Julian Kingston.

c said...

Launched last night at the Shell Building by Andrew Gilligan et al, Policy Exchange's document 'A Rate of Knots' proposing greater use of the river for transportation. It is important that the opportunity of the site at Deptford to be integrated into this proposal
is not missed and the PLA and locally sponsored proposal for a cruise liner terminal leads the agenda for this historic maritime site.

Michael Stringer said...

Do we know who submitted this application?

caterpillar touchup said...

What ramifications came with the demolition of the river wall? Couldn't that wall have been spared?