Friday 15 November 2019

Kings Yard Deptford, listing proposals

Proposal to list features of King's Yard, Deptford (1513) –  by Chris Mazeika

Following the proposed development plan for the site of the former King's Yard at Deptford by the Richard Rogers Partnership on behalf of News International, it is desired to put into effect a listing proposal for those architectural and archaeological elements which significantly testify to the history of Royal Naval shipbuilding on the Upper Thames from 1513 to 1869.

Deptford Dockyard was the Cape Canaveral of its day, leading the technology of shipbuilding. The position of Master Shipwright at Deptford was the highest ranking of the yards.1 Deptford is renowned for the laying up of the Golden Hind, putting out ships for the Armada, including the first Ark Royal {Ark Ralegh} as well as ships for Nelson's campaigns. Fitting out Cook's Endeavour and Discovery, and being the favoured yard for constructing the Royal Yachts are a few of its accolades. A commonly held misapprehension is that little survives to commemorate the five hundred years of history. This document intends to correct that perception and calls for a reconsideration of how best to rectify the persistent neglect of the inherent values of this site by bringing into focus the architectural

Initially attention is drawn to the Wharf wall. This element contains many features worthy of consideration. From Upper Watergate, the first significant feature is the entrance to the Double Dry Dock, which is fashioned from massive granite blocks. The dock gates are also believed to be in situ following recent archaeological test sites by English Heritage. A few feet beyond the dock mouth is another granite lining, which is the opening for the Landing Place and Lookout, which was open at least until the 1930's2 and possibly the 1950's.It has been filled in with what look like flettons, and the stone coping of a lighter colour than that around it, suggesting it was reversed at the same time. 

This Landing Place is the most likely location for access during Royal visits, as evidenced by the paintings of John Clevely.3 Several visits by Elizabeth 1, most notably on the 4th April 1581,for the knighting of Francis Drake aboard the Golden Hind, would have occurred within the immediate vicinity. The reinstatement of these steps would also correct a current historical inaccuracy that Sir Francis Drake ascended steps that were part of the Victualling Yard {1742} and are clearly masonry of the late eighteenth century. The foreshore forward of the Landing Place is paved in stone perpendicular to the steps as can be seen in A Plan of Part of the River Thames. Shewing the Harbour Moorings at Deptford, 1774.4

Some timbers from slipways also remain in situ on the foreshore, where repairs and infill to the wall no longer testify to their position. One of the most significant features is the mouth to the Basin. The basin of the Dockyard is mentioned in an Indenture from 1517, 5 where it states there floats the Mary Rose, the Great Galley, the Peter Pomegranite, the Great Bark and the Lesser Bark. The basin is also mentioned much earlier in the time of Edward I, in connection with fishing rights. 6

The extant opening is that designed by the eminent engineer Sir John Rennie,7 a reworking of an earlier proposal by Sir Samuel Bentham, 8 who, amongst several other notable achievements had administered the Navy for Catherine the Great and Prince Potemkin 9 The Wharf walls both left and right which feature stone banding mid-way were constructed to Rennie's designs at the same time. 10  A short distance beyond the basin mouth the walls are constructed in raised panels of brick that is an unusual feature.

Finally the lock to the Mast Pond must be considered since it is the work of George Lewellyn-Taylor, 11 Navy Board architect following Edward Holl, and first president of the Architects and Antiquaries Society. Jonathan Coad, Inspector of Ancient Monuments & Historic Buildings for English Heritage in his book The Royal Dockyards 1690-1850 12 considers Taylor to be one of the finest dockyard architects.

One only has to look across the river to witness the bland monotony of steel sheeting characteristic of so much of the Thames.  the Wharf wall of Deptford Dockyard,  holding the key to a unique and unprecedented history in the Upper Thames, does not deserve the same fate. The sub-structures of the yard proper, the docks, slips, basins, landing places and stairs, constitute a substantial architectural fabric that is currently extant, though largely invisible, being covered by superficial accretion, or infill.12a

The double dry building dock was host to the workings of Henry VIII's master shipwright James Baker and his son Matthew Baker, who became one of the most important Elizabethan shipwrights. The dock was in early use since it is recorded that in  1517 the Great Nicholas was removed from Woolwich to the dock at Deptford at a cost of £14 3s. 5d.13 Among the most famous of the master shipwrights at Deptford were Peter Pert described in his epitaph as " the Noah of his age" 14 one member of that illustrious dynasty of the seventeenth century and Jonas Shish father to another dynastic line, one of his pall-bearers being John Evelyn. The entry in Evelyn's diary 13th may 1680 reads, "I was at the funeral of old Mr Shish Master Shipwrite of the Kings yard here in this Parish, an honest and remarkable man, & his death a publique losse, for his excellent successe in building Ships, (though illiterate altogether) &for the breeding up so many of his children to be Artists: I held up the Pall with three knignts who did him that honour, & he was worthy of it:... T’was the costome of this good man, to rise in the night, and to pray kneeling in his owne cofin; which many yeares he had lying by him: he was borne that famous yeare of the Gunpowder Plot 1605." 15 Documentation exists to testify to the unique history of this ancient structure. Though it has undergone alteration, this in itself holds the story of technological advancement in construction of ships. Its present design, believed to be by Inspector General Of Naval Works, Sir Samuel Bentham was carried out in his absence by John Rennie.16 It must be stated that not only is this one of the earliest features of the yard but it is also the first double dry dock to be built. It is monumental in scale and at some 370ft long, is unsurpassed as a structure to demonstrate the enormous historical significance of this site.

Though this is not the place to fully document the lamentable loss of the earliest naval building in the country to survive to the twentieth century, it being one of the earliest structures on the Thames, the destruction of the Tudor storehouse of 1513 in 1954.17  and the demolition of the remainder of the 1720's storehouse in 1984 18 with the removal of the cupola and clock to Thamesmead acts as a formidable reminder to the vigilance and determination needed to ensure such violations are not repeated.

The foundation stone with its royal cipher, A.X. {anno Christi} Henricus Rex 1513 and flame headed gothic arch entablature was described in 1953 by J.H.W.Haywood as "an extraordinary example of English brickwork of a beautiful design conceived with due regard and respect to the limitation of the medium employed and may eventually be regarded as the work of an artist craftsmen having very few equals."19 The whereabouts of this historic artefact and the four light mullioned window, both removed prior to demolition, has been established.20 The Tudor undercroft of the Long Barn survives as do the several brick vaulted basements of the 1720's storehouse, with their segmental arches.21 Following these recent discoveries it ought to be possible to go someway to put to rights the devastation wrought on this site up until such recent times.

Already listed Grade II, the covered slipways, another Bentham initiative,22 of 1846 by George Baker and Sons23 will remain. However, Roger's proposal fails to marry the Olympia Sheds to the basin and renders the basin a 3ft deep "water feature" in turn severed from the river. This is both intellectually lazy and historically offensive. 

In the early nineteenth century John Rennie was paid £4,500 to widen and deepen the basin.24  When so many docks and inland waterways have been lost, this most ancient and historically rich feature should be re instated to its last incarnation. 

In the scramble for redevelopment account must be taken of the inherent values of this site and care must be taken that the King's Yard at Deptford is not considered as just another brownfield site. The Greater London Authority has already declared its poverty of imagination, current proposals by mayoral candidate Nicky Gavron intend to erect a waste transfer station on the site of Henry VIII's storehouse. With more history than any other stretch of the Thames all efforts must be applied to recognize the group value of the extant features, bookended as they are by the listed buildings of the Royal Victoria Victualling Yard to the west and the listed Master Shipwright's House and John Penn's marine engineers to the east.

The recognition of this site of international significance is intended to resurrect its dormant values and vigorously enhance the sense of place. It takes its lead from the L.S.E's urban report commissioned by Lewisham Borough Council.25 The reinstatement of the elements detailed, whilst contributing to the restitution of meaning aims to promote a potent dialogue with history that carries us beyond the prevalent habit of street naming and erection of statues. The opportunity now exists to raise expectations of what can be delivered on this site considering the extent of development about to happen. The proposals concerning the historic fabric so far are merely cosmetic. They fail abundantly to honour the integrity of scale or resonate with  the vigour of the combined endeavours of exploration, world trade, adventure, empire and the requisite investment in engineering and technological invention. Courage and inspiration is drawn from the precedents set by the preservation of the site of building and launching Brunei's Great Eastern as well as Howland's Great Dock now Greenland Dock, and the remarkable achievements in the Chatham Yard.

1 British Library King's MS 44 d. 1774
la "by far the greater part of the dockyard survives as buried structures." Redevelopment of Convoy's Wharf, Deptford. Environmental Statement, Technical Annexes. Vol.1, p. 19 Archaeological Evaluation of Land at Convoy's Wharf, Deptford, David Divers Jan.2001.
2 Metropolitan Archive MBW2787 Thames Floods South
3 Private Collection H.M.S. Medway John Clevely 1753
4 BL King's MS 44
5 BL MS ADD. CH 6289
6 The Victorian History of the Counties of England, A History of Kent, Maritime History William Page FSA 1926
7 PRO Work 41/594 signed John Rennie
8 NMM ADM Q/ 3320-3323 9 Oct 1802, 23 Aug 1805
9 Potemkin and the Panoptican: Samuel Bentham and the Architecture of Absolutism in Eighteenth Century Russia. Simon Werret. The Bentham Newsletter 1998
10 PRO Work 41/594 see also NMM ADM Y/ D/l 1-D7 16 Nov 1813
11 NMM ADM Y / D / 11 -D8 1828
12 Jonathan Coad, Royal Dockyards 1690-1850 Scholar Press
12a ibid. David Divers. Jan.2001, p. 12 3.5.14. The slips, docks , basins and mastponds shown in the 1868 map were simply filled in intact between c.1869 and c.1955.
13 ibid. Page 1926
14 Leftwitch, The Parish and Church of St. Nicholas Deptford, Ecclesiological Society 1947
15 Guy de la Bedoyere Diary John Evelyn Boydell & Brewer 1995
16 PRO ADM1 /3501-3503 May 18 1815
17 PRO Work 14/1944 see also MA HLG 126/876, MA ACC/3499/EH/07 /01/447
18 MA ACC /3499/EH/02/148 [d. 1985]
19 MA ACC/3499/EH/07/01/447 [d.1950-1970]
20 Times, Register May 13 2002 Marcus Binney
21 MA ACC/3499/EH/09/01/01 [d.April 1977, April 1979]
22 Transactions of the Newcomen Society Vol.60.1988-89 Ship Building and the Long Span Roof, R. J.M.Sutherland p. 110
23 ibid. p. 117
24 PRO ADM 106/3185
25 L.S.E. Urban Planning Report, development of Convoy's Wharf, Deptford 2000
See also Hawkins. D. 2000 Archaeological Desk Based Assessment, Convoy's Wharf, Deptford, S.E.8. -unpublished report, CgMs. Ltd. Hawkins. D. 2000 Proposals for an Archaeological Evaluation Assessment: Convoy's Wharf, Deptford. S.E.8. - unpublished document CgMs. Ltd.
Copyright {C}2002, Chris Mazeika. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents and this copyright notice remain in tact


No comments: