THE STORY OF DEPTFORD CREEK - THE 16TH AND 17TH CENTURIES
by CHRISTOPHER PHILPOTTS
In the sixteenth century the requirements of the royal palace at Greenwich continued to be dominant in the pastoral economy of Deptford. The King’s Slaughterhouse was established beside the Ravensbourne on the site of Harold Wharf to supply the Palace with meat from the cattle grazed locally. It measured 160 feet from east to west and was 50 feet wide with a wharf and a pond at the west end. The date of its foundation is unknown, but John Bagley ‘of the Boiling House; who bought the Hermitage Property in 1548 may have been one of its officers. The Browne family of Sayes Court oversaw operations here as Clerks of the Green Cloth in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. They grazed oxen, sheep and other animals for the royal household on their fields at Broomfield, Potmead and elsewhere, and their buildings at Sayes Court included 34 bays of ox-stalls of which eight were reserved for the king’s cattle. These structures were ‘somewhat decayed‘ in 1608 and demolished by 1649.
In the late sixteenth century the Slaughterhouse was constantly in trouble with the Sewer Commissioners for its failure to repair its riverbanks, and the wharf was collapsing in 1608. It also occasionally worked for the Navy in the seventeenth century, at times when the demand on its slaughterhouse at Tower Hill was too great.
The property was leased out in 1649 to Daniel Dunne, and later to Sir Nicholas Crispe. It was sold to John Evelyn in 1663 and assessed for four hearths in the following year. The site of the Slaughterhouse still appeared on the maps of Gwilt in 1774-5 and Duggleby in 1777, when it was a pottery. Any of its remains which still survive below the ground surface can be compared to the excavated structures of the contemporary naval victualling yard at the Royal Mint site in Tower Hamlets.
Another adjunct of Greenwich Palace in Deptford was the Kings Dog Kennel on the west side of Brookmill Lane (formerly called Dog Kennel Row), where Henry VIII kept his buckhounds for hunting. A piece of medieval walling still survived here until the late nineteenth century. The Dog Kennel still housed the Royal buckhounds and was in good repair in 1608, but in 1649 it was also let to Daniel Dunne and was in a bad state. It then had nine rooms and in 1664 it was assessed for three hearths.
The Corporation of Trinity House of Deptford Strond was established by royal charter in 1514 following a petition of 1513. Early as 1515 and later in the sixteenth century the Corporation of Trinity House owned several pieces of marshland in Deptford Marsh and Stowage Marsh. Its initial responsibilities were mainly the superintendence of the pilotage of the Thames and the maintenance of an almshouse at Deptford on the east side of St, Nicholas churchyard. In the Armada campaign of 1588 arms and armour for the land levies of the nearby villages were stored at the Trinity House in Deptford, consisting of 16 corselets, poles and other arms. They were demolished after 1895 and the site eventually passed to the power station.
In the 17th century a second set of almshouses was built on the east side of Church Street. They were demolished in 1877 but the hall was still standing derelict in 1881. In 1929 it was used for the manufacture and storage of canvas sacks. New wharves were built adjacent to Deptford Bridge in the sixteenth century, one of rammed chalk on the west bank between the bridge and the flood gates of the Tide mill, probably utilising a waste product from the nearby lime kilns. Another chalk wharf lay on the east bank opposite by 1522-30. Similar chalk wharves of a late sixteenth century date have been excavated on the Ratcliffe and Limehouse waterfronts. A lease of 1535 required the construction of a house on the wooden wharf on the east bank to the north of the bridge.
Deptford Bridge itself needed reconstruction several times as a result of damage sustained from flood waters coming down the Ravensbourne in 1629, 1652, 1808-09 and 1824. The floods of 1808-9 destroyed the upper part of the bridge and the eastern of its two arches. These were rebuilt and iron girders spanning the river were provided as additional support. The central pier which obstructed the water coming down the Ravensbourne and caused much of the flooding appears in a view of 1840 and still existed in 1853.
this article was first published in the GIHS Newsletter in May 1999