Above: A view taken in 1999 showing a large ‘roll-on roll-off’ or ‘Ro-Ro’ cargo ship being unloaded at Convoys Wharf.
Deptford is about to see considerable change on its riverfront. The little village of Deptford started as a fishing village beside the Thames, with houses clustered around the old parish church of St Nicholas. The church of St Paul, in Deptford High Street, was built to provide a place of worship for the expanding village in the 18th century.
One of the biggest changes to Deptford came in the 16th century when a Dockyard was founded there by Henry VIII. The dockyard built ships for the British navy, including some of the ships that fought against the Spanish Armada in 1588. The dockyard continued in use until the 1860s when, due the increasing size of ships being launched on the Thames, the cramped conditions of Deptford and the relatively narrow river necessitated the relocation of ship-building to places like Chatham and then to Plymouth.
Some of Deptford Dockyard was used for the import of live animals for meat from abroad, along with the adjacent land of the Royal Victualling Yard which had supplied materials for the building of naval ships. The slaughter of animals at Deptford ended around the time of the Second World War.
In the 1960s the Victualling Yard was redeveloped for housing as the Pepys Estate. Deptford Dockyard was then being used as the Royal Naval Yard, handling goods being brought into and out of England for the Royal Navy. These activities continued until about 1980 when the land was acquired for the import of news-print, mainly from Finland, for use by the newspaper presses which were then located in Fleet Street. The land was known as Convoy’s Wharf and large rolls of paper were unloaded from cargo ships, put onto lorries and driven the relatively short distance to Fleet Street.
Gradually the newspapers relocated their presses to Wapping, Surrey Quays and the Isle of Dogs and the delivery of paper became more complicated. By 2008 Convoys Wharf was closed down and the operation continued but by using Tilbury Docks.
Convoy’s Wharf is extensive and, as is usual with large riverside sites, developers have had their eye on the main chance – that of building endless housing for the rich. However, there was considerable campaigning by locals and those interested in London’s well-being from across the capital. The result has been that the land is still empty nearly ten years later.
The whole area will be affected by the impact of hundreds of homes being built on the site and it is therefore a good time to ‘take stock’ of what went before.
If you are a subscriber to Know Your London, you will be able to access a special edition of ‘Deptford Dockyard’ in ‘Bugle’ format. A special link will be sent out to those members.