Coordinates: 51°28′41″N 0°01′35″W / 51.4780°N 0.0265°W / 51.4780; -0.0265

Deptford Market.jpg
An anchor in Deptford High Street links Deptford to its Dockyard history
Deptford is located in Greater London

 Deptford shown within Greater London
OS grid reference TQ365775
    - Charing Cross 4.7 mi (7.6 km)  WNW
London borough Lewisham
Ceremonial county Greater London
Region London
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town LONDON
Postcode district SE8
Dialling code 020
Police Metropolitan
Fire London
Ambulance London
EU Parliament London
UK Parliament Lewisham Deptford
Greenwich and Woolwich
London Assembly Greenwich and Lewisham
List of places: UK • England • London

Deptford (play /ˈdɛtfəd/) is a district of south London, England, located on the south bank of the River Thames. It is named after a ford of the River Ravensbourne, and from the mid 16th century to the late 19th was home to Deptford Dockyard, the first of the Royal Navy Dockyards.

Deptford and the docks are associated with the knighting of Sir Francis Drake by Queen Elizabeth I aboard the Golden Hind,[1] the legend of Sir Walter Raleigh laying down his cape for Elizabeth,[2] Captain James Cook's third voyage aboard Resolution,[3] and the mysterious murder of Christopher Marlowe in a house along Deptford Strand.[4]

Though Deptford began as two small communities, one at the ford, and the other a fishing village on The Thames, Deptford's history and population has been mainly associated with the docks established by Henry VIII.

The two communities grew together and flourished while the docks were the main administrative centre of the British Navy, and a few grand houses like Sayes Court, home to diarist John Evelyn, and Stone House on Lewisham Way were erected. The area declined as first the Royal Navy moved out, and then the commercial docks themselves declined until the last dock, Convoys Wharf, closed in 2000.

A Metropolitan Borough of Deptford was formed in 1900;[5] then, in 1965, the area became part of the newly created London Borough of Lewisham to which it still belongs.



Deptford began life as a ford of the Ravensbourne (near what is now Deptford Bridge station) along the route of the Celtic ancient trackway which developed into the medieval Watling Street; it was part of the pilgrimage route to Canterbury from London used by the pilgrims in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and is mentioned in the Prologue to the "Reeve's Tale".[6] The ford developed into first a wooden, then a stone bridge, and in 1497 became the scene for the Battle of Deptford Bridge, in which rebels from Cornwall, led by Michael An Gof, marched on London protesting against punitive taxes, but were soundly beaten by the King's forces.[7]

Copy of a 1623 map of Deptford Strond with annotations by John Evelyn showing Sayes Court in the bottom left corner and Deptford Green as "The Common Greene" just above centre-left (click for larger version)

A second settlement developed as a modest fishing village on the Thames until Henry VIII used that site for a royal dock repairing, building and supplying ships; after which it grew in size and importance — shipbuilding remaining in operation until March 1869.[8] Trinity House, the organisation concerned with the safety of navigation around the British Isles, was formed in Deptford in 1514, with its first Master Thomas Spert, captain of the Mary Rose; and remained until 1618, then moving to Stepney. The name "Trinity House" derives from the church of Holy Trinity and St Clement, which adjoined the dockyard.[9]

Originally separated by market gardens and fields, the two areas merged together over the years,[10] with the docks becoming an important part of the Elizabethan exploration.[11] Queen Elizabeth I visited the royal dockyard on 4 April 1581 to knight the adventurer Francis Drake.[12] As well as exploration, Deptford was important for trade - the Honourable East India Company set up their own yard in Deptford from 1607 until late in the 17th century.[13] It was also connected with the slave trade, John Hawkins using it as a base for his operations,[14] and Olaudah Equiano, the slave who would later became an important part of the abolition of the slave trade, was sold from one ship's captain to another in Deptford around 1760.[15][16]

Diarist John Evelyn lived in Deptford at Sayes Court from 1652. Evelyn inherited the house when he married the daughter of Sir Richard Browne in 1652. On his return to England at the Restoration, Evelyn had laid out meticulously planned gardens in the French style of hedges and parterres. In its grounds was a cottage at one time rented by master wood carver Grinling Gibbons. After Evelyn had moved to Surrey in 1694, Russian Tsar Peter the Great studied shipbuilding for three months in 1698.[12] He and some of his fellow Russians stayed at Sayes Court, the manor house of Deptford. Evelyn was angered at the antics of the Tsar, who got drunk with his friends and, using a wheelbarrow with Peter in it succeeded in ramming their way through a fine holly hedge. Sayes Court was demolished in 1728-9 and a workhouse built on its site.[17] Part of the estates around Sayes Court were purchased in 1742 for the building of the Admiralty Victualling Yard, renamed in 1858 after a visit by Queen Victoria as the Royal Victoria Yard.[18] This massive facility included warehouses, a bakery, a cattleyard/abattoir and sugar stores, and closed in 1960. All that remains is the name in a public park called Sayes Court Park, accessed from Sayes Court Street off Evelyn Street, not far from Deptford High Street. Today, the Pepys Estate, opened on 13 July 1966, stands on the former grounds of the Royal Victoria Dockyard.[19]

A cobbled street in a Deptford slum, around 1900.

The Docks had been gradually declining from the 18th century; the larger ships being built found The Thames difficult to navigate, and Deptford was under competition from the new docks at Plymouth, Portsmouth and Chatham.[20] When the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815 the need for a Docks to build and repair warships declined; the Docks shifted from shipbuilding to concentrate more on victualling at the Royal Victoria Victualling Yard, and the Royal Dock finally closed in 1869.[21] From 1871 until the First World War the shipyard site was the City of London Corporation's Foreign Cattle Market,[22] in which girls and women butchered sheep and cattle until the early part of the 20th century.[23][nb 1] At its peak, around 1907, over 234,000 animals were imported annually through the market, but by 1912 these figures had declined to less than 40,000 a year.[24] The yard was taken over by the War Office in 1914,[24][25] and served as an Army Supply Reserve Depot in the First and Second World Wars.[26][27] The site lay unused until being purchased by Convoys (newsprint importers) in 1984, and eventually came into the ownership of News International.[28][29] In the mid 1990s, although significant investment was made on the site, it became uneconomic to continue using the site as a freight wharf.[30] In 2008 Hutchison Whampoa bought the 16ha site from News International with plans for a £700m 3,500-home development scheme.[31] The Grade II listed Olympia Warehouse will refurbished as part of the redevelopment of the site.[29]

Deptford experienced economic decline in the 20th century with the closing of the docks, and the damage caused by the bombing during the Second World War - one V-2 rocket alone destroyed a Woolworths store outside Deptford Town Hall, killing 160 people.[32][33] High unemployment caused some of the population to move away as the riverside industries closed down in the late 1960s and early 1970s.[34] The local council have developed plans with private companies to regenerate the riverside area,[35] and the town centre.[36]


The Manor of Deptford or West Greenwich was bestowed by William the Conqueror upon Gilbert de Magminot or Maminot, bishop of Lisieux,[37] one of the eight barons associated with John de Fiennes for the defense of Dover Castle. Maminot held the head of his barony at Deptford[38][39] and according to John Lyon writing in 1814, he built himself a castle, or castellated mansion at Deptford, of which all traces had by then long since been buried in their ruins, but from the remains of some ancient foundations which had been discovered the site was probably on the brow of Broomfield, near the Mast Dock and adjacent to Sayes Court.[38][39][40]

Originally under the governance of the ancient parishes of St Paul and St Nicholas, in 1900, a Metropolitan Borough of Deptford was formed out of the southern parish of St Paul, with St Nicholas and the area around the Royal Dockyard coming under the governance of the Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich.[5] Under the London Government Act 1963, the Metropolitan Borough of Deptford was absorbed in 1965 into the newly created London Borough of Lewisham,[41] with the area around the Royal Dockyard being transferred to Lewisham in a 1994 boundary adjustment of about 40 hectares (99 acres).[42] The electoral wards consist of Evelyn in the north and part of New Cross to the south.[43]


View of Pepys Park, Convoys Wharf, Sayes Court, and over Deptford towards Lewisham

Deptford borders the areas of Brockley and Lewisham to the south, New Cross to the west and Rotherhithe to the north west; Deptford Creek divides it from Greenwich to the east, and the River Thames separates the area from the Isle of Dogs to the north east; it is contained within the London SE8 post code area.[44]

The name Deptford — anciently written Depeford meaning "deep ford" —[17] is derived from the place where the road from London to Dover, the ancient Watling Street (now the A2), crosses the River Ravensbourne at the site of what became Deptford Bridge at Deptford Broadway. The Ravensbourne crosses under the A2 at roughly the same spot as the DLR crosses over; and at the point where it becomes tidal, just after Lewisham College, it is known as Deptford Creek, and flows into the River Thames at Greenwich Reach.[45]

Deptford was mostly located in the Blackheath Hundred of the county of Kent, with the Hatcham part in Surrey.[46] It was regarded as two parts and in 1730 was divided into the two parishes of St Nicholas in the north and St Paul in the south.[17] The southern part by the ford was known as Deptford and the northern, riverside area was known as Deptford Strand.[47] It was also referred to as West Greenwich, with the modern town of Greenwich being referred to as East Greenwich until this use declined in the 19th century.[48] The whole of Deptford came within the Metropolitan Police District in 1830 and was included in the area of responsibility of the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1855. It was transferred to the County of London in 1889 and became part of Greater London in 1965.

The area was split in 1900: the southern part, the parish of St Paul Deptford, became the Metropolitan Borough of Deptford;[49] while the northern part, the parish of St Nicholas Deptford, became part of the Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich.[50] In 1965 the Metropolitan Borough of Deptford was absorbed into the London Borough of Lewisham, then in 1994 the bulk of the northern part, including the former Royal Dockyard area, was transferred to Lewisham Borough from Greenwich Borough, leaving only the north eastern area, around St Nicholas's church, in Greenwich.[42]


McMillan Student Village from the junction of Creek Road and Deptford Church Street

Deptford's population has been mainly associated with the docks since the establishment of the Royal Docks by Henry VIII, though there has also been some market gardening and potteries.[51] When the docks were thriving as the main administrative centre of the British Navy, so the area prospered, and fine houses were built for the administrative staff and the skilled shipbuilders, and a few grand houses like Sayes Court and Stone House on Lewisham Way were erected.[52] There was a start of a demographic shift downwards when the Royal Navy pulled out of Deptford, and the docks moved into storage and freight.[53] The downward shift continued into the 20th century as the local population's dependency on the docks continued: as the docks themselves declined, so did the economic fortune of the inhabitants until the last dock, Convoys Wharf, closed in 2000.[54]

Deptford's northern section nearest the old docks contains areas of desolate council housing and deprivation typical of inner city poverty, though the area, along with neighbouring New Cross, has been touted as "the new Shoreditch"[55] by some journalists and estate agents [56] paying attention to a trendy arts and music scene that is popular with students and artists. To the south where Deptford rolls into the suburban spread of Brockley, the previously multi-occupancy Victorian houses are being gentrified by young city workers and urban professionals.[57]

Deptford contains a number of student populations, including those of Goldsmiths College, the University of Greenwich and Laban Dance Centre. Goldsmiths College's hall of residence, Rachel McMillan, in Creek Road was sold in 2001 for £79 million,[58] and was subsequently demolished and replaced with the McMillan Student Village which opened in 2003 and provides accommodation for approximately 970 students of the University of Greenwich, Trinity Laban and Bellerbys colleges.[59]


Clothes stalls in Deptford Market

Deptford's economic history has been strongly connected to the Dockyard - when the Dockyard was thriving, so Deptford thrived; with the docks now all closed, Deptford has declined economically.[21][34] However, areas of Deptford are being gradually re-developed and gentrified - and the local council has plans to regenerate the riverside and the town centre.[36] A large former industrial site by the Thames called Convoys Wharf is scheduled for redeveloping into mixed use buildings. This will involve the construction of around 3,500 new homes and an extension of the town centre northwards towards the river.[35]

Much of the area along Creek Road, close to Greenwich, has also been redeveloped, with the demolition of the old Deptford Power Station and Rose Bruford College buildings. Aragon Tower on the Pepys Estate was sold by Lewisham Borough to fund regeneration plans for the estate; the award winning refurbishment into privately owned accommodation was featured in the BBC1 documentary, "The Tower".[60][61]

Deptford Market, a street market in Deptford High Street sells a range of goods, and is considered one of London's liveliest street markets.[62] In February 2005, the High Street was described as “the capital's most diverse and vibrant high street” by Yellow Pages business directory, using a unique mathematical formula.[63]


The Laban Dance Centre

The Albany Theatre, a community arts centre with a tradition of "radical community arts and music" including holding 15 "Rock Against Racism" concerts,[64] has its roots in a charity established in 1894 to improve the social life of Deptford's deprived community.[65] The original building, the Albany Institute, was opened in 1899 on Creek Road, changing its name in the 1960s to the Albany Empire. It was burnt down in 1978, but rebuilt on Douglas Way, with Prince Charles laying the foundation stone, and Diana, Princess of Wales opening it in 1982.[65] Creekside, a regeneration area beside Deptford Creek,[66] is used for educational and artistic purposes,[67][68] such as the Laban Dance Centre, which was designed by Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, and opened in February 2003; and the Art in Perpetuity Trust (APT) gallery and studio space.[69] A record label, Deptford Fun City Records was set up by Miles Copeland III, brother of Stewart Copeland, in the late 1970s as an outlet for Deptford bands such as Alternative TV[70] and Squeeze.[71][72]

The area has several pubs, including the Dog & Bell which has a reputation for serving a range of cask ales;[73][74] and The Bird's Nest which has live music, film and art performances from local bands and artists.[75][76] The Town Hall of the former Metropolitan Borough of Deptford, built in 1905 with decorative sculpture by Henry Poole RA,[77] lies just outside Deptford, on the New Cross Road in New Cross. It was purchased by Goldsmiths College in 2000.[78]

There are several green spaces in the area, the largest being Brookmill Park, Deptford Park, Ferranti Park, Pepys Park and Sayes Court Park.[79] In 1884 W.J. Evelyn, a descendant of John Evelyn, sold ground then being used as market gardens in Deptford, to the London County Council for less than its market value, as well as paying toward the cost of its purchase. It was officially opened to the public as Deptford Park on 7 June 1897.[80][81] In 1886 he dedicated an acre and a half of the Sayes Court recreation ground in perpetuity to the public and a permanent provision was made for the Evelyn estate to cover the expense of maintenance and caretaking, this was opened on the 20 July 1886.[82][83]


Grade II listed 18th century buildings on Tanners Hill

Deptford railway station is one of the oldest suburban stations in the world,[84] being built (c.1836-38) as part of the first suburban service (the London and Greenwich Railway), between London Bridge and Greenwich. Close to Deptford Creek is a Victorian pumping station built in 1864, part of the massive London sewerage system designed by civil engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette.[85] The former Deptford Power Station, in use from 1891 to 1983, originated as a pioneering plant designed by Sebastian de Ferranti, which when built was the largest station in the world.[86] Lewisham Council recently granted permission for the last remnants of the Deptford Ragged School known as The Princess Louise Institute to be demolished and replaced by flats.[87] Albury Street (previously Union Street) contains a fine row of early urban houses largely dating from 1705-1717 which were once popular with naval captains and shipwrights.[88] Tanners Hill in the St John's or New Deptford area to the south of New Cross Road,[89] is part of an Area of Archaeological Priority due to the longevity of settlement and early industry,[90] and contains a set of commercial buildings from numbers 21 to 31 which are survivors from a row of 31 which were built in the 1750s on the site of cottages dating from the 17th century.[91] These timber-frame buildings have a Grade II listing from English Heritage[92] and are home to established businesses such as bicycle maker Witcomb Cycles.[93] Of Deptford's two important houses, Sayes Court no longer exists, but the Stone House in St Johns, built around 1772 by the architect George Gibson the Younger, and described by Pevsner as "the one individual house of interest in this area", still stands by Lewisham Way.[94]

Deptford Dockyard

Painting of Deptford Dockyard in 1747 by John Cleveley the Elder

Deptford Dockyard was established in 1513 by Henry VIII as the first Royal Dockyard, building vessels for the Royal Navy,[95] and was at one time known as the King's Yard.[96] It was shut down from 1830 to 1844 before being closed as a dockyard in 1869,[97] and is currently known as Convoys Wharf. From 1871 until the First World War it was the City of London Corporation's Foreign Cattle Market. In 1912 The Times reported that over 4 million head of live cattle, and sheep, had been landed.

From 1932 until 2008 the site was owned by News International, which used it to import newsprint and other paper products from Finland until early 2000. It is now owned by Hutchison Whampoa Limited and is subject to a planning application to convert it into residential units,[98] though it has safeguarded wharf status.[99]

Other notable shipyards in Deptford were, Charles Lungley's and the General Steam Navigation Company's yards at Deptford Green and Dudman's Dock, also sometimes referred to as Deadmans Dock at Deptford Wharf.


St. Paul's, Deptford, one of the finest Baroque churches in the country

St Nicholas' Church, the original parish church, dates back to the 14th century but the current building is 17th century. The entrance to the churchyard features a set of skull-and-bones on top of the posts. A plaque on the north wall commemorates playwright Christopher Marlowe, who was murdered in a nearby house, and buried in an unmarked grave in the churchyard on 1 June 1593.[100][101]

There is also St. Luke's, another historic circular church, dating from 1870. It is the daughter church of the parish of St Nicholas'.

In the 18th century St. Paul's, Deptford (1712–1730) was built,[102] acclaimed by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England as one of the finest Baroque churches in the country.[103] John Betjeman is attributed as referring to the church as "a pearl at the heart of Deptford".[104] It was designed by the architect Thomas Archer, who was a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren, as part of the Commission for Building Fifty New Churches with the intention of instilling pride in Britain, and encouraging people to stay in London rather than emmigrate to the New World.[105]

Adjacent to the church yard is Albury Street, which contains some fine 18th century houses which were popular with sea captains and shipbuilders.[106]

Murder of Christopher Marlowe

The Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe was killed during an alleged drunken brawl in Eleanor Bull's house in Deptford Strand in May of 1593. Various versions of Marlowe's death were current at the time. Francis Meres says Marlowe was "stabbed to death by a bawdy serving-man, a rival of his in his lewd love" as punishment for his "epicurism and atheism".[107] In 1917, in the Dictionary of National Biography, Sir Sidney Lee wrote that Marlowe was killed in a drunken fight. Modern theories are that he was assassinated.[108] It is commonly assumed that the fight took place in a Deptford tavern.[109]

The scholar Leslie Hotson discovered in 1925 the coroner's report on Marlowe's death in the Public Record Office which gave fuller details.[110] Marlowe had spent all day in a house owned by the widow Eleanor Bull, along with three men, Ingram Frizer, Nicholas Skeres and Robert Poley.[111] Witnesses testified that Frizer and Marlowe had earlier argued over the bill, exchanging "divers malicious words." Later, while Frizer was sitting at a table between the other two and Marlowe was lying behind him on a couch, Marlowe snatched Frizer's dagger and began attacking him. In the ensuing struggle, according to the coroner's report, Marlowe was accidentally stabbed above the right eye, killing him instantly.[110] The jury concluded that Frizer acted in self-defence, and within a month he was pardoned. Marlowe was buried in an unmarked grave in the churchyard of St Nicholas, Deptford, on 1 June 1593.[112]


Deptford Station

Deptford is served by National Rail and Docklands Light Railway services. The National Rail service is operated by Southeastern on the suburban Greenwich Line at Deptford railway station,[113] the oldest passenger only railway station in London,[114][115] and St Johns, as well as nearby New Cross. The DLR stations are at Deptford Bridge and Elverson Road.[116][117] Deptford station has been approved for redevelopment. Building work will start in 2010, with a planned finish date in late 2011.[118] Since May 2010, New Cross station has also been served by London Overground services to Dalston Junction, after the East London Line reopened as part of the National Rail network. Nearby New Cross Gate railway station is also served by London Overground trains northbound to Highbury and Islington, and southbound to Crystal Palace and West Croydon.

The two main road routes through Deptford are the A200 which runs along Evelyn Street and Creek Road,[119] and the A2 which runs along New Cross Road.[120] The A20 marks the southern boundary of the area, along Lewisham Way and Loampit Vale.[121]


There are several primary schools scattered around the area,[122] and one secondary school, Deptford Green, which has capacity for 1,100 students; the school is regarded by Ofsted as "good overall", and academically is in the top 2% nationally.[123] A branch of the further education college, Lewisham College, is located on Deptford Church Street; the college was regarded as outstanding in the 2006 Ofsted inspection.[124]

Notable people

Among people associated with Deptford are Christopher Marlowe, who was murdered at Deptford Strand;[125] diarist John Evelyn (1620–1706) who lived at Sayes Court,[126] and had Peter the Great (1672–1725) as a guest for about three months in 1698;[127] and Sir Francis Drake who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I aboard the Golden Hind in Deptford Docks.[128]

Other people who have lived in Deptford, range from the First Governor of the Honourable East India Company, and Ambassador to the court of Russia, Sir Thomas Smith, whose magnificent house was destroyed by fire in 1618;[17] to early members of the Chartist movement, John Gast[129] and George Julian Harney;[130] and the Cleveleys, John Cleveley the Elder and his sons John and Robert, a family of marine artists who also worked as tradesmen in the Dockyard.[131] Another artist born in Deptford is Henry Courtney Selous,[132] who is known for The Opening of The Great Exhibition, painted in 1851.[133]

Members of rock groups Squeeze and Dire Straits lived on the Crossfield Estate in Deptford in the late 1970s,[134][135] along with Mark Perry, founder of the punk fanzine Sniffin Glue and punk rock band Alternative TV.[136] The DJ and music journalist Danny Baker also lived near the Crossfield Estate, where he was born and brought up.[137] Leading British jazz and session guitarist Denny Wright was born in Deptford in 1924.

Politician Bob Mellish was born at 63 Giffin Street (now demolished).

Star of the children's TV programme 'Horrible Histories', Ben Willbond, lives in Deptford.


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  • Nathan Dews, The History of Deptford (Deptford: J.D. Smith, 1883) ISBN 1241340641 or ISBN 0-85177-041-x
  • Jess Steele, Turning the Tide: The History of Everyday Deptford (New Cross: Deptford Forum Publishing Ltd, 1993), ISBN 1-898536-00-7
  • Ellen Chase, Tenant Friends in Old Deptford (London: Williams & Norgate, 1929)
  • Dan Colman, I Never Saw My Father Nude (London: Arthur Barker, 1981), ISBN 0-213-16791-2
  • George Glazebrook, Where No Flowers Grow. A child's eye-view of Deptford: 1921-1931 (Rainham: Meresborough Books, 1989), ISBN 0-948193-37-9
  • Jim Rice, Deptford Creek (Manchester: Cornerhouse Publications, 1993), ISBN 0-948797-77-0


  1. ^ These "gutting sheds" were the subject of the play "The Gut Girls" by Sarah Daniels

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