Saturday 9 November 2019

Deptford Dockyard - oldest remains discovered


On 13th May the Times, no less,  announced in an article by Marcus Binney that  ‘Two Deptford  residents with a passion for history have discovered  the foundation stone of one of the first buildings erected by the Royal Navy’ and went on to describe ‘the stone, bearing the date 1513 and the initials of Henry VIII set in an elaborate flame-headed Gothic Arch formed of the finest moulded Tudor brickwork.  This ‘originally stood over the entrance to a magnificent 140ft long storehouse that formed the showpiece of a new Royal shipbuilding yard built by Henry VIII at Deptford just upriver 
from his palace at Greenwich. 

Our readers will know the story of the shipwrights’ palace on the Deptford Dockyard site and how it was taken over and is being restored by Chris Mazeika and William Richards. As part of their researches on the Dockyard they began to look at the naval architect Samuel Bentham, since he had connections with the Shipwrights’ Palace. Samuel’s brother, Jeremy, was the famous economist whose corpse is preserved in a cupboard at University College – not, as it turns out, the only relic kept there. Chris Mazieka was astonished one day, while on his way to lunch, to bump straight into some bits of Deptford Dockyard, itself! 

In the Second World War bombing on the dockyard site had brought to light the old Tudor storehouse within a Georgian storehouse which had been built round it in the 1720s. In 1951 it was decided to clear the whole site for commercial use. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings reported that at least 80% of the Tudor brickwork remained as did several original roof trusses together with a mullioned window, Tudor fireplaces and loophole windows.  The London County Council tried to persuade the Admiralty to preserve these remains and the building inspectors advised that it had ‘an outstanding place in naval history as one of the earliest buildings of its class and as one of the starting points of the growth of the Tudor navy,.’  Deptford Council took a tablet which commemorated Peter the Great's visit to Deptford and 20,000 Tudor bricks went to repair Hampton Court.   Photographs existed of the arch and date stone but – as anyone who has attended local history lectures on the subject in Greenwich will know – they had gone into the care of the LCC and then completely disappeared. Until, of course they were found by Chris Mazeika at University College.

The Times article left the mystery there – but a few days later a letter appeared from Negley Harte, Senior Lecturer in Economic History at University College, who said ‘ I can shed light on how the Deptford Dockyard founding stonework and brickwork of 1513 came to University College’..  The hero who rescued it was Sir Albert Richardson the ‘wonderfully eccentric architect’ who was professor of architecture at UCL.  He was given the pieces by the LCC and they were put in what was then the Bartlett School of Architecture – now the Department of Computer Science.

- The only thing the article doesn’t say is how you get in if you want to see these pieces! UCL is not the most accessible of buildings for the general public

1 comment:

Sarah Crofts said...

I had a rather inconclusive interchange of emails with a member of UCL Special Collections and Archives staff in July 2018 who at first told me that the stone had been returned to Deptford and then said he had no idea where it was!