This is an extract from Dr. Christopher Philpotts assessment of Deptford Creek. This section describes industry in the medieval period
The fundamental feature of the history of all the manors and parishes along the banks of the Thames below London in the medieval and early modern periods was the struggle to reclaim or ‘inn’ the marshes from the River. Earthen banks or ‘walls’ were constructed along the Riverside and the land behind was drained by ditches. This was enclosed and drained in a series of parcels divided by cross-walls which were built out from the gravel uplands and ran perpendicularly to the River, advancing the river front over a period of time. The level of each parcel related to the date at which it was first ‘inned’ - the lower the level the earlier the ‘inning’.
The method of constructing the river walls is not known with any certainty, but they are likely to have consisted of simple earthen banks perhaps founded on hurdles. By the 16th century timber groynes probably formed the foundation and the earth may have been mixed with reeds taken from the marshes in front of the wall. The reclaimed land behind the wall was used for meadow and pasture and also for sowing corn. The unenclosed marshes in front of the walls were used for fishing and fowling. The remains of two timber revetments recently recorded on the west and east sides of the Creek bed to the south of the railway bridge may represent the lines of medieval and early modern river walls. By the end of the Middle Ages the River walls had been raised to 2.7mOD as excavated at Limehouse. They were often breached and behind them there was frequent flooding of the fields up to 1.8mOD.
By 1515 there are references to Stowage Marsh and in the late 16th century repeated repairs of the River walls here. The Creek was also mentioned The earliest spelling is the same as the modern street name at in the 16th century the variants ‘Stowedge’. ‘Stoage’ appeared and in the 18th century ‘Stoad’. The location of the house appears to have been between Hoy Inn Stairs and a street called The Stowage. By the 18th a wharf 104 feet long beside the Ravensbourne., dwelling houses, warehouses, sheds and a substantial area belonged to ‘Stowidge House’. The name of the street therefore derived from this property and not from the later storage facilities at the East India company as has often been stated
Interspersed in these strips of arable cultivation and marshlands where the properties of several religious houses including Saint Thomas’s Hospital. The Hospital accumulated much land in the area including a length of the Thames bank called Skinners Place between Deptford Green and Deptford Strand on which stood a dovecote by 1414 and several tenements were built by the early 16th century
The Deptford Strand area along the river walls of the Thames was certainly populated by the 13th century and increasingly so in the later medieval period. It was called the ‘vill of Westgrenewich on the Stronde’. Walter the Archer and his wife Christina were found murdered at their house in ‘West Greenwic’ in 1227. A wharf had recently been made on land of Deptford Strand manor in 1463-4. Medieval pottery has been found on the Thames foreshore between Watergate Street and Deptford Green. At Deptford Bridge another wharf was added shortly before 1471. In 1381 a wharf was mentioned at Deptford where a cargo of 4,000 short faggots of firewood, called ‘ovenfagotes’ was to be delivered, presumably for the bread ovens of the village.
In the Domesday Book survey of 1086 four mills were noted within ‘Grenviz’ and a further 11 in ‘Levesham. In 1157 Walkelin de Haminot granted an annual rent of 10 shillings for the watermill in Deptford town to Bermondsey Abbey probably in compensation for his father’s failed gift of the manor in 1145. The Abbey collected this rent until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s. This mill must have been the tide mill or ‘Flodmell’ known to have been established on the west bank of the Ravensbourne to the north of Deptford Bridge by at least the 14th century. It had a continuous existence until it was closed after a fire in 1970. In 1326 and 1342 the tidal waters to drive it were held back by a ‘Flodmellware’.
Other water mills operated on the Ravensbourne, including one at Brookmill Road on the site of the Kent Water Works established by 1586 and the Armoury Mills at Lewisham. Another tide-mill operated in Pot Mead, later the site of Deptford Wharf/Borthwick Wharf
The initial bass of the economy of the Deptford Strand settlement was probably fishing in the Thames. in 1279 there was a dispute over fishing rights in the pond on the site of the Dockyard and in 1349 Greenwich fishermen were found guilty of using nets with too fine a mesh. There are also have 14th and 15th century references to fishermen and fisheries along the Strand shore.
Indications of wider range trade have been found in Greenwich in the form of an inscribed 13th century brass seal and a bronze steel yard weight of the 13th or 14th century. A Greenwich mariner was licensed to trade in Gascony as early as 1229. In 1326 the men of Greenwich were exempted from military service on land because they had sent ships to serve with ‘The King’s Admiral’.
The shipbuilding industry at Deptford Strand is known to have begun in 1420 with the rebuilding and refitting of royal ships and the digging of the dock for one of them in a former garden belonging to William Ramessy (the precise location has not been traced). There had probably been earlier activity for which the evidence no longer survives. ‘The Thomas’ had been waiting there on the stocks since 1418. The dock was retained to hold the dilapidated Katerine until March 1425 when she was sold for scrap. By the end of 15th century this activity was well established at this settlement.
In the 1460s Sir John Howard, Edward IV’s commander at sea laid up his ships at Deptford. In 1487 William Rose purchased timber from The Bridge House store at Southwark to build a ship at Deptford Strand. Ten years later a tenement was rented by the Bridge House estate there to repair a royal ship called the Anthony Camfere. In 1487 Henry VII rented a storehouse for naval gear at Greenwich (possibly West Greenwich) and sent shipwrights and caulkers from Deptford to rig and repair his ships laid up in the Hampshire ports. A shipwright was buried in St. Nicholas’s church in 1494.
Other late medieval industry is known from the area. On the Bridge House land at Deptford Strand here was tile and brick making for the London market from 1418 onwards for which a Dutch craftsman was hired to test the quality of the local clay. A small dock was dug to assist in the transport of the products. Brick making continued at Deptford which supplied nearly two million bricks to Henry VIII for his new manor house at Dartford.
There was a lime kiln in ‘Lez Brokes’ with a wharf on the east bank of the Ravensbourne by 1481. This was operated by Thomas Waller, limeburner of Deptford, who acquired a cottage and garden nearby in 1488. The plot of land on which the lime kiln stood was at the south end of ‘Lez Brokes’ in the former ‘Flodmede’ on a site now occupied by Mumford’s Mill and the Booker Cash and Carry. The kiln had been removed by 1535. There were other lime kilns to the east at Deptford at the west end of Blackheath near the junction of Greenwich South Street and Blackheath Hill. These existed before 1432 and continued to operate into the 16th and 17th centuries. They probably used raw materials derived from which the chalk quarry at Blackheath Cavern. In the 15th century the Prior of Sheen as Lord of the Manor of Greenwich, leased to John Beleham of West Greenwich ‘le chalkepytte under Blackheth with all the sand there.’
References to gravel pits along the Ravensbourne also occur from 1458 onwards, one immediately to the east of Deptford Bridge next to the road on the north side and others near the Bridge.
By the beginning of the 16th century gravel was probably being dug to provide ballast for ships. In 1515 the river wall of ‘Stowage Marsh’ had been broken down by the ‘transport of ballysse’ in a horse and cart. By the 15th and 16th centuries Deptford increasingly felt the influence of Greenwich Palace on its economy. The site had always been the Abbey of Ghent’s manorial centre and therefore the place to which the east bank of Deptford Creek owed its rents and suit of court. The site was granted to Humphery, Duke of a Gloucester in 1417. He enclosed and laid out Greenwich Park in 1434 and built a tower at its centre. This was later the site of the Royal Observatory. Duke Humpheries' residence passed to the crown in 1447 and was expanded by Henry VII and Henry VIII as Greenwich Palace. With the great expansion in the number of courtiers there, the pastures pf Deptford came to be used for the maintenance of cattle to supply the royal household. Its proximity to Greenwich palace probably explains Henry VIII’s decision to exploit Deptford shipbuilding tradition in expansion in his Royal fleet.
This article was first published in the April 1998 issue of the GIHS Newsletter