Above: Looking north along the inclined plane towards the new Deptford Station. Perspective in the image means that the inclined plane does not appear to have an ‘incline’ but look at the walkways on the block of flats on the far left and you will see that the top of the plane does ‘slope away’ from the lower walkway. The incline is only slight to enable heavy objects to be hauled up.
Deptford is on the ‘Up’.
– What, Deptford – as in Deptford High Street – that will never happen!
Pardon me, but it has already happened! At least, in some parts of Deptford it has already happened and, as time goes by, more and more of Deptford is becoming ‘gentrified’.
For those of us who have known Deptford over many years we all remember decades of neglect and the badly designed Council estates created after the Second World War. By the 1970s Deptford High Street was as good as dead – with all the larger stores having closed down. Closing shops is a vicious spiral. Closing a few shops means less people go shopping. That means usually that more shops close down and so there are even less people. That is exactly what happened to the High Street. Lewisham Council then had a brilliant idea which only required them to spend money resurfacing the High Street. Having redesigned the road and put in new pavements, the council invited traders to a newly formed street market – held three times each week – and they closed the road on each day to let it happen. Within a very few years the market was buzzing and new life was breathed back into that old run-down High Street, with the result that shops started to open up once more. Today every shop is in use.
All that happened some time in the late 1970s or early 1980s and the area has, in its own quiet way, started to make a come-back. Deptford was once full of factories which over the last 40 years have all gradually closed down. This has left large amounts of derelict land on which developers have constructed many enormous estates of up-market flats. The upwardly-mobile are moving in and Deptford will eventually shed its working-class image for ever. Why do people want to move to Deptford if it had a bad image? Because housing is a little cheaper than other areas and the railway station connects them with Central London in less than 30 minutes.
Deptford Station has been completely rebuilt on the same site over the last decade. The station has two claims to fame in the history of London railways. Firstly, the so-called ‘London and Greenwich Railway’ was initially opened in 1836 by running trains on a brick-built viaduct from London Bridge Station to Deptford. The Greenwich extension came later. This was the first railway line to be built in London and Deptford Station can proudly claim to be London’s oldest station. London Bridge Station could also be a contender but it has been rebuilt and modified so many times that its claim to that title is not really valid.
Above: Map from the 1890s showing the layout of the inclined plane whose plan view is in the form of a letter ‘L’. The position of the camera in the top picture is indicated by the RED arrow.
Secondly, Deptford Station has another interesting claim to railway fame. As has been already mentioned, the railway ran on a brick-built viaduct. The original railway engines were built in a factory just a short distance from Deptford Station. Having built the engines at ground level, they were towed up an inclined plane to reach the viaduct level and be put on the tracks. What is really remarkable about the story is that the inclined plane is still in situ. It has been over 150 years since the railway opened and the inclined plane saw very little use after the first few years. About 10 years ago the brickwork was in a very poor condition. The arches under the slope were being used by garage mechanics to repair motor-cars. The top of the inclined plane was covered by weeds and grass with small trees growing through the brickwork.
A plan, called the Deptford Project, was started to liven up the area around the station. This led to a developer deciding to built up-market apartments near the site. As ‘planning gain’ it was required that the inclined plane be renovated and the arches underneath were redeveloped as small retail units. All that took time – much more time than was anticipated – but at last the grand scheme has become a reality. The apartments were completed during the summer. Work to restore the inclined plane was not finished until September and, towards the end of that month, the shops started to open. All of them have now been taken and the early owners have been in them for about six weeks.
Its all looking rather bare at the moment and because November is a winter month there is not much activity but it is hoped that the whole project is a success. It should all be buzzing by next spring and summer. The land around the station and the inclined plane has been renamed and is now known as ‘Deptford Market Yard’. Once the ‘Yard’ is in full swing, it will contribute yet another amenity to the High Street – along with the Albany Theatre, the large leisure centre called Wavelengths and, of course, the very large new library.