Above: Evelyn Street provides a reminder of the one-time local resident John Evelyn.
‘Reminiscing the Past’
The long straight road called Evelyn Street will always be a reminder of the courtier and diarist who lived for much of his life in a manor house on a large piece of land called Sayes Court. The land extends across much of the northern side of the street that now bears his name. At the fork with Grove Street there was also a pub called the John Evelyn. Sadly that closed a few years back and is now used for other purposes. As well as the street name, the great man is also remembered by a charity which, although Evelyn has been dead for over 300 years, is still providing for the needs of the local people in Deptford.
In 1986, I was visiting the church and, finding the door open, I went inside to take some pictures. I was surprised to see a large group of elderly people sitting at tables in a side room in the church. They engaged me in conversation and, on enquiring why they were there, they said they were waiting for money to be handed out from Sir John Evelyn’s Charity. The money was always distributed on a Friday. John Evelyn, of course, lived at Sayes Court which stood near the church. He had founded a charity which was still being administered 300 years later.
I visited the church again in 2008 and by chance met the new vicar. He had only been there about 18 months. I enquired about the charity and asked if it still continued. He explained that it did but the old people now receive the money in a community hall nearby and that they no longer meet to receive the money in the church.
On my remarking that it was amazing to think that money was still being distributed today, in the 21st century, he said that there was plenty of money in the fund. He added that he was one of the administrators and that it was able to supply about a quarter of a million pounds each year from that fund alone and that there were also other sources of money within the estate of John Evelyn.
Sir John Evelyn (1620-1706) was a church warden of St Nicholas and lived nearby at Sayes Court, formerly Deptford manor.
Born in Wotton, in Surrey, he studied at Balliol College, in Oxford, and travelled on the Continent before returning to the family estate and his passion for gardening. Evelyn married in 1647 and purchased Sayes Court in 1653. The house was partially rebuilt and beautiful gardens were laid out while Evelyn was the owner. Whilst at Deptford he was a stock-holder for the East India Company and a trustee of Addey’s charity (of which Addey and Stanhope’s School in Deptford is an offshoot). He left Deptford in 1694 to return to Wotton but retained an interest in the area until his death. A small remnant of his estate is now in use as Sayes Court Park.
Above: The monument on the wall in St Nicholas to the daughter of John Evelyn.
Sadly there is nothing inside the church which is directly connected with John Evelyn. There is, however, the monument to his daughter Mary which records a family tragedy. It reads (with amended spelling): ‘Eldest daughter of John Evelyn and Mary his wife. Born the last day of September 1665 at Wootton in the County of Surrey. A beautiful young woman endowed with shining qualities, both of body and mind, infinitely pious, the delight of her parents and friends. She died the 17 March 1685 at the age of 19 years, 5 months, 17 days regretted by all persons of worth that knew her value.’ Her death in 1685 was nine years before John Evelyn returned to his estate at Wootton, in Surrey.