SE8: I see no ships

SE8 is Deptford which was once famous for its Royal Dockyard. Today it is hard to see much sign of that heritage, but there are some fragments of historic interest amongst the 20th century development.

We start our walk at Deptford Post Office, which is at Number 301 Evelyn Street, SE8, which is rather out of the centre of Deptford. Turn right out of the Post Office and then take the first right which is Grove Street. Keep going along Grove Street past a blocked up entrance, by the corner of Leeway.



We are right where the Royal Dockyard used to be and if we could get through that gate we would enter into a huge site awaiting for redevelopment, more of which anon.

Keep on past a park on your right called Pepys Park. We are now by the Pepys Estate, named as a reminder that Samuel Pepys was a regular visitor here in the late 17th century when he worked for the Navy.


This estate was originally built in the late 1960s and was a showpiece development where people and cars were kept separate.

Here is a link to an interesting article about the estate and its history:

Keeping going along Grove Street, past a street called Longshore. Then soon on your right will be our first proper stop.

Stop 1: Royal Victoria Victualling Yard



And here is a little sign to explain what these buildings were.


Deptford’s Victualling Yard manufactured and stored food, drink, clothing and furniture for the navy. It was upstream of the main dockyard and dates from the 18th century. The two yards became physically merged as the dockyard expanded with both being enclosed by a wall.

The name Royal Victoria Victualling Yard came about in 1858 after a visit by Queen Victoria. Despite the closure of the actual Dockyard in the 19th Century, it carried on providing supplies for the Navy until 1961.

Walk though this little yard and out the other side and turn left. Here is a lovely 18th century terrace of houses.


And this is the view looking the other way, showing how this fragment of Georgian elegance is marooned in the “utopian” vision of a 1960s housing estate.


Anyhow keep walking and you get to the riverside and this.

Stop 2: Deptford Strand

Here we have some old Rum warehouses which were refurbished and converted to flats as part of the Pepys Estate development.


There is a sign at the end of one of the building noting the Dockyard’s connection to Sir Francis Drake. Queen Elizabeth I visited the Royal Dockyard on 4 April 1581 to knight Drake.


And this riverside terrace ends rather abruptly.


This area ahead is called Convoys Wharf and this was where the Old Royal Naval Dockyard was centred. It was also one of the last working wharves on the river, having been acquired by News International in 1986. They used this to import paper. News International sold the site in 2008.

There have been many plans over the last 15 years to develop the site. Finally a plan by the architectural practice of Terry Farrell and Partners for some 3,500 homes together with some commercial development was approved by the then mayor, Boris Johnson in April 2014.

According to the Evening Standard report at the time  the Mayor’s decision “requires the developers to make provision for two local projects: the restoration of Sayes Court garden, where  horticulturist John Evelyn ran a celebrated estate; and a plan to rebuild a 17th Century warship called the Lenox.”

Apparently most of the Tudor, Stuart, Georgian and Victorian structures above ground level that had survived until the 1950s have since been destroyed. But one structure that escaped the demolition is Olympia Warehouse. This was an unusual cast-iron building constructed in the 1840s but it does not seem possible to see this from the street. Apparently this will be refurbished as part of the development. Anyhow things do move slowly and there is no sign of any development three years on from the Mayor’s approval.

One day the river walk will no doubt continue along here but we have go away from the River to continue. You will see Pepys Park ahead of you. The park is in two sections and you need to go right through both parts to get back to Grove Street.

Then do a left at Grove Street and keep going until you pass Barnes Terrace. Just after that you will see a little part park on your left. Go in there.

Stop 3: Sayes Court Park

This little park is a fragment of the estate of diarist John Evelyn who lived in Deptford from 1652 until 1694. He had a house here which was called Sayes Court, and of course Evelyn Street where we started is named after him.


Evelyn had inherited the house when he married the daughter of Sir Richard Browne in 1652. In the 1670s Evelyn laid out French style gardens, so I wonder whether some element of this is what is going to be restored by the developers of Convoys Wharf.

In the grounds was a cottage which was rented by master woodcarver Grinling Gibbons in 1671. It is said that Evelyn introduced Gibbons to Sir Christopher Wren and so Gibbons came to be employed by Wren in particular to work on St Paul’s Cathedral. Gibbons was later appointed as master carver to King George I.

Evelyn moved to the family “seat” in Surrey in 1694 and eventually inherited it in 1699. Sayes Court was let out and its most famous tenant was the Russian Tsar Peter the Great for three months in 1698. We will hear more of him later.

Sayes Court was demolished in the late 1720s and a workhouse built on its site. Part of the estates around Sayes Court were purchased in 1742 for the building of the Victualling Yard, which we saw the remains of just now.

As you walk through the park you will see this old tree.


And there is a modest sign on the railings which explains that this fig tree was planted by Russian King Peter the Great in the spring of 1698 during a three month stay at the invitation of English King William III. He was here to study shipbuilding. The sign goes on to say the tree is under the protection of the Russian Embassy and is under video surveillance.


Now head out of the park into Sayes Court Street and at the end just before you get back to Evelyn Street turn left into Prince Street. Go along this until you reach Watergate Street which crosses Prince street. Take a left here and walk along Watergate Street with the big wall of the Convoys Wharf site on your left. Our next stop is just a little way along on the right.

Stop 4: Twinkle Park

This lovely little green space is a community garden which started as a project in 1993. It is now run on behalf of the local council by a trust.


The story of Twinkle Park and nearby Charlotte Turner Gardens can be found on the Twinkle Park Trust website:

With all the cuts in local government, this is perhaps the only way some of our cherished open spaces can be maintained to a decent standard.

Now just beyond the park and separating it from the river frontage is an old wharf building.



Go down the alley to the left of the building to reach the river.


Stop 5: Payne’s Paper Wharf

This was Payne’s Paper Wharf, now renovated and rebuilt as commercial and residential space, in a development called Paynes and Borthwick.


The latter being next wharf along which was a cold meat store and has been completely redeveloped. Payne’s Wharf was built in 1860 for a company of marine engineers called John Penn and Sons. From 1937 it became Payne’s Paper Wharf


Today only the Italianate facade remains. The rest is modern. From here you can look along the river west towards Convoys Wharf and the site of the Royal Dockyard.



Across the river is the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf.


And east you look towards Greenwich.


Now you have to take the path by the side of Payne’s Wharf building and when you reach the road turn left and follow this round to where you can get back to the river front, which is just by the Ahoy Boating Centre. Once on the river front again you will see our next stop ahead of you. We are now by the way in the Millennium Quay redevelopment.

Stop 6: Statue of Peter the Great

Not only is there the fig tree planted by Peter the Great, but there is also this rather odd statue of him on the river front in Deptford.


There is something wrong about the proportions of Peter the Great – don’t you think his head is too small?


And by his side he has a smallish throne (apparently this was his travelling throne) and a kind of a jester looking character (This was one of the court dwarves).


There are inscriptions in English and Russian.


It was installed here in 1998 to commemorate the tercentenary of Peter the Great’s time studying shipbuilding.

There is much more detail on this link:

The river side walk bends inland here as we have reached Deptford Creek.

Stop 7: Deptford Creek

This is where the River Ravensbourne gets to the Thames.


This waterway is still used and the footbridge here is actually a swing bridge and has to be opened for time to time.


Nice view of Canary Wharf from here


Now head along the creek side and across the Creek you can see Greenwich again. To the left of the Church spire just visible is the Royal Observatory with the famous red ball which drops every day at 1pm.


Keep walking and you will reach Clarence Road, where you turn right. Continue along this and cross Glaisher Street. Heading straight ahead is a street called The Stowage. You will see our next stop ahead on the right. There is an entrance to the churchyard from the side turning.

Stop 8: St Nicholas Church


This is the old parish church of Deptford. According to architectural guru, Pevsner, the tower dates from 1500 but the body of the church was rebuilt in 1697. That is why it looks a bit like many City churches which were rebuilt after the Great Fire. This building was left a ruin by World War II bombing and what we today is a 1958 reconstruction.


And here by the gate is a little sign explaining a bit about the church


Sadly there is no quaint little village to go with this old church. It is surrounded by 20th century housing estates.

Now go as if you had turned left out of the church gate. You will be at the junction of The Stowage and Deptford Green and ahead you will see McMillan Street. Go ahead kind of as if you have gone straight from The Stowage. This will lead you to a main road at the end (Creek Road) and turn right. Go along Creek Road and cross over. Turn left into Deptford High Street.

This was perhaps once a bit more interesting but today it is lined with cheap shops and takeaways. As we pass have a look down Albury Street, the second street on the left..

Stop 9: Albury Street


Pevsner says this street was laid out and developed by Thomas Lucas, a local bricklayer, from 1706 onwards. Only four original houses on the south side remain but the north side has a lovely run of modest Georgian terraced houses, that have somehow survived the “slum clearance” that occurred around here.


And they have lovely porch details.


Stop 10: St Paul’s Church

As you head down this rather depressing High Street you will see a little green to your left. And at the end is this rather magnificent Church.


Pevsner describes St Paul’s, Deptford, as “One of the most moving 18th Century Church in London: large, sombre, and virile.” What an interesting collection of words to describe this lovely church. Pevsner clearly liked this church devoting two whole pages to it.


It was designed by Thomas Archer (who was also responsible for St John’s Smith Square) and one of the new churches built as a result of an Act of Parliament in 1710. This set up a Commission for the building of 50 new churches in London. These churches were funded by a tax on coal which had originally been introduced to pay for the rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral and other City Churches after the Great Fire in 1666.

Returning to the High Street, you will see a railway bridge. Turn right immediately after that and you are at our next stop.

Stop 11: Deptford Station


The station may not look it but is has been a long time in fact since the London and Greenwich Railway opened its first section of line between Spa Road, Bermondsey and Deptford  in February 1836. The line reached west to London Bridge in December 1836 and east to Greenwich in December 1838.

The original station building was demolished by the Southern Railway but what we see today is an even more recent rebuild, dating from 2012.

If you go up to the London bound platform you have a nice view back towards central London. with the Shard and the BT Tower most prominent.


You also can see this rather odd sight – a viaduct running almost at right angles to the station.


Otherwise you can see it from the Deptford Market Yard, by the station entrance. It is rather intriguing as it looks to be at too sharp and angle to the railway to have carried tracks.


The reason is explained in a little plaque on the side of the viaduct.


Well what else could it have been. The line here was entirely on brick viaducts high above the streets so one can understand why the railway decided a carriage ramp might be necessary. Curiously it seems this is the only bit of that original 1835 station to have survived.

Just beyond the carriage ramp is a small square and on one corner of a modern building which houses the Albany Theatre, our final stop.

Stop 12: Albany Theatre

This may be a modern building but the Albany Theatre has a bit of history behind it.


Accroding to the theatre’s website:

“The Albany … was originally established in 1894 as The Deptford Fund by a group of philanthropically minded people. The Fund’s founders wanted to improve the plight of Deptford’s community, many of whom suffered from poverty and deprivation and the adverse effects of unemployment as a result of the closure of the docks in 1869.

The Deptford Fund provided financial support for local charitable enterprises, but within a few years decided to fund its own projects within a purpose built centre. In 1898 the foundation stone of the Albany Institute was laid and in 1899 the building, on the corner of Lamerton Street, Albury Street and Creek Road, was officially opened by its patron, The Duchess of Albany.”

The institute became home to a theatre group in the 1960s but the theatre was burnt down in an arson attack in 1978. The old building was demolished to make way for road widening and in 1982 a new Albany on the current site was officially opened by its new patron, Diana, Princess of Wales.

And today it operates as a community arts resource. Here is a link to their website if you would like to learn more

Well that brings us to the end of our little tour of SE8. Deptford is an interesting but somewhat frustating place. There is little to remind us that this was an important Naval Dockyard for a couple of centuries. Nor is there much to tell us that this was one of the stops on the first passenger railway in London. But it does have a couple of lovely churches and some other interesting older buildings, not to mention the Peter the Great connection, which was somewhat unexpected.

For onward travel, we are now close to Deptford station with its regular trains on the Souteastern route into and out of Cannon Street.