Friday, 1 November 2019

Deptford shipbuilding

Deptford shipbuilding

Sir Francis Drake's ship the Golden Hind was lodged in a specially constructed brick dock in Deptford on his return from his circumnavigation voyage in l581. This was almost certainly on the Dockyard site although some writers have maintained it was in an inlet off the Creek. Benjamin Wright's map of the Thames estuary in 1606 and a contemporary Dutch map both show Captain Dracke's ship to the north of Ditford approximately on the Dockyard site.  Philipott stated the skeleton of the ship was near the Mast Pond. Drake's ship was a tourist attraction for some decades before it fell to pieces in the 1660s. The remains of the ship, complete with its stone-shot ballast, may have been disturbed during the digging of a new dock in the Dockyard in 1667.  An excavation at Deptford Wharf in 1977, designed to find the remains of the ship and its dock, found evidence of seventeenth-century shipbuilding in the form of tar and wood-shavings.

To the north of the Dockyard a naval victualling supply depot developed at the Red House in the seventeenth century  This continued to expand, despite a series of disastrous fires in 1639, 1739, 1749, 1755, 1758 and 1761, and it succeeded Tower Hill as the main victualling yard of the Navy in 1785  It was enlarged in 1833 and renamed as the Royal Victualling Yard in 1858.

The East India Company was formed in 1600 and ran its first voyages to the far east from Deptford. The first Company fleet in l601 was commanded by Sir Thomas Lancaster, a Deptford dock owner. At first it borrowed facilities from the Royal Dockyard to lay its cannon and other stores on the wharf. In 1607 the Company leased the Stone Wharf at the end of Watergate Street in Deptford Strand from the Bridge House estate, and built a timber dock in Deptford the following year.  The lease was extended in 1610.  The Company was building ships at Deptford in 1609

In 1614 the Company leased other Bridge House lands at Church Marsh, on the west part of the Power Station site at the north end of the study area. This followed a protracted series of negotiation with the Mayor and Common Council of London in 1613, and included the sublease of land held by the Sheffield family. There it built a dry dock and slipways for shipbuilding, and various other structures for storage and manufacture of its ships' supplies. These included an iron foundry to make anchors and chains; a spinning house to make cordage; a slaughterhouse for the killing, salting and pickling of pork and beef; storehouses for timber and canvas; and an isolated powder house to store its gunpowder on the east side. On the west side was the house of William Burrell, its shipbuilder. Several of these buildings and two docks are shown on the plan of 1623.  In the decade 1610 to 1620 the Company built over 30 ships at Deptford, employing a workforce of 500 men. The dockyard here built the larger ships, while the oher Company yard at Blackwall undertook repairs.   However, there was little activity at Deptford after l626 and only a few small pinnaces were built up to 1640.
The Company withdrew from its leases in Deptford in 1643, but it continued to have some of its ships built there until the early nineteenth century, contracted out to private dockyards. In 1726 it was leasing part of the Victualling Yard buildings for storage.

The East India Company yard was the origin of the dockyard which operated on this site until the mid-nineteenth century under a succession of shipbuilders, and underwent several phases of expansion of its facilities. Several detailed plans and leases of this property are to be found in the Bridge House Estate archives. The Company leased it to John Tailor before 1636. In 1649 and 1652-3 it was held on lease by Peter Pett, together with some areas of marshland and upland. A view of c.1660 shows a dock and two slipways on the site. In 1692, when it was leased to Robert Castell, it was called the Merchants' Yard and had a dry dock and two slipways, a crane, and various sheds and saw-pits. Free access was to be allowed for carts along Anchor Smith Alley from Deptford Green. The Castell family had been building naval ships in Deptford since the 1660s. The dockyard was leased to Edward. Popley in 1713, to Titus West in 1738, Thomas West in 1759 and 1774, and Joseph Hales in 1776. In each of these leases the Wests agreed to undertake repairs and improvements.  In 1788, when the lease was taken by William Barnard, the dockyard consisted of a dry dock and three slipways, yards, crane-houses, saw pits, carpenters' shops, a rigging house, a pitch house, warehouses and gardens.

Christopher Philipotts

this article was in GIHS Newsletter for January 2000

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