Monday, 7 November 2011

Notes on visit to Deptford Dockyard

Notes on visit to Deptford Dockyard: Deptford Dockyard Excavations – Notes of site visit Saturday 8 Oct 2011

On 8 October 2011, I was able to join a site visit to see some of the archaeological excavations that Museum of London Archaeology have been undertaking since August at Convoys Wharf. I was accompanying Ann Coats, the Secretary of the Naval Dockyards Society. With a party of local people, we were conducted round by Duncan Hawkins of the consultant archaeologists CgMs. The site has been cleared of most standing buildings and there was a large mound of excavated soil which will be filled back into the excavations, and a not quite so large pile of crushed concrete from the ground slabs and modern building foundations that had overlain them. The excavations we saw open were very impressive.

At the southeast edge of the site, trenches had been dug at the inner end of the Great Dock, which was rebuilt at some time before 1808. One trench had extended right across the dock while some pits were more localised, but all had been filled in again. We learnt that the masonry walls in this part of the dry dock had been truncated for the foundations of a large cold store to a depth of 4 metres below ground. This is most disappointing, considering the almost intact masonry walls found in the 2010 evaluation trench at the river end of the dock. The intervening length, including the location of the gates that (unusually for such a date) divided this dock into two, is under a standing warehouse so may not be explored for some time.

North west of that, the site of the Storehouse, part Tudor and part early eighteenth century and scheduled as an Ancient Monument, had been almost completely laid bare, excavated down to natural soil (mostly gravel) beneath the basement floors, but leaving the structures upstanding. The result was an expanse of more than 1 1/2 acres of red brick walls, all truncated to about 1 metre below ground level in the mid 20th century. Some silt-filled depressions marked the sites of earlier small creeks.

Beyond there, near the riverside, two slipways rebuilt in the19th century had been excavated, revealing yellow stock brick walls and planked floors of reused ships' timbers. In No. 5 Slip, the walls had a brick facing backed by lime concrete, and brick counterforts projecting behind. The stumps of the posts for the wooden roof could be seen. The local researcher Chris Mazeika has found this slipway was rebuilt circa 1855. Following disuse as slipways, presumably after the Dockyard closed in 1869, level timber floors had been inserted for other use, for which the supporting timber piles remained.

A large trench had exposed a section of the wall of the Dockyard Basin, about midway along its eastern side. Its nineteenth-century rebuilding was revealed as a substantial stock-brick wall, as I had expected. Chris Mazeika has found that the engineer John Rennie was involved in this from 1814 onwards. The wall had been truncated about 2 metres below ground, at which level it was perhaps 1.2 metres thick. The depth of the Basin and its walls will be proved by further digging. Behind the 19th-century basin wall, the tie-back timbers of earlier basin walls had been found and taken away for dendro dating. Descriptions in earlier archaeological appraisals, based on very limited evaluation trenches, had suggested a 'lining', in poor condition, which is not borne out, but this excavation well demonstrated the considerable truncation of the remains, at a level that matched the underside of a reinforced-concrete foundation beam from a recent warehouse.

The area of the entrance to the Basin has yet to be excavated. We must await news shortly of whether walls survive to near ground level there, as at the entrance to the Great Dock, although I fear the destructive warehouse extended over the site of Rennie's caisson gate of 1814.

We visited the interior of the 'Olympia' building, the grade-2-listed 1840s shipbuilding shed where the evaluation in 2010 of Slipways 2 and 3 had found them largely intact (now backfilled).
We finished on the site of Sayes Court, where recent excavations (now backfilled) had revealed the foundations of the post-mediaeval manor house. The 'archaeological update' issued by the intending developer, Hutchison Whampoa, following the 2010 evaluation had implied they no longer existed.

These large-scale excavations have revealed much more than the restricted evaluation trenches had previously done. They ought to dispel the impression given in the 2010 'archaeological update' that the archaeological remains were limited. There is some further info. on the MOLA website at

We may note that the Scheme of Archaeological Resource Management, which has been agreed between Hutchison Whampoa, English Heritage and the London Borough of Lewisham, contains sensible measures to protect the archaeology of this exceptional site – I have copied an extract from Section 7.0, entitled 'Preliminary advice on avoiding archaeological impacts through design' :-

7.1.1 It is proposed that the position and extent of the archaeological remains will be fixed through supplementary evaluation (following appropriate Scheduled Monument Consent), followed by mapping/surveying to both archaeological and engineering standards.
7.1.2 As the supplementary evaluation proceeds the significance of the archaeological remains encountered should be kept under review by the LBL, EH, consultant and clients representative.
7.1.3 Where significant archaeological remains have been identified on the preliminary evaluation or are identified in the supplementary evaluation, a design review will then be undertaken of the proposed development layout and design. Preservation in situ will be achieved by the reuse of modern foundations, or by utilising areas of partial archaeological absence (through truncation) for new foundation locations.
7.1.4 Where isolated (or highly fragmentary) and low value archaeological remains are identified there may be arguments for preserving such remains by record rather than in situ. Such preservation by record will be agreed in advance between the LBL, EH, consultant and clients representative.
7.1.5 Where archaeological remains are identified to be wholly absent, a review of the supplementary evaluation results will be implemented and the need for further archaeological mitigation or otherwise agreed between the LBL, EH, consultant and clients representative.
7.1.6 The objective will be to use historic assets to inform the design process and preserve in situ the archaeological remains.
7.1.7 At this stage a number of measures to avoid archaeological impacts can be identified.

The supplementary evaluation comprises the programme of excavations now in progress and others which will take place in the future. Undertaking these excavations is a significant investment on the part of the developer. The measures recommended to avoid archaeological impacts include the 'encapsulation' of remains underlying buildings wherever possible. 'The possibility should not be excluded that certain remains may be encountered that are of such quality and significance as to justify display within the context of the new development', but dependent on their suitability in terms of condition.
New basements and undercrofts should be wholly avoided except where archaeological remains are found to be absent. Other measures include the designing of pile positions to avoid remains, the raising of ground levels to provide space for services and footings and the use of existing service runs and areas of disturbed ground for the routing of services. The full recommendations are to be found at

Malcolm Tucker
9 October 2011, rev. 26 Oct 2011

Appendix of Heritage Assests
(with thanks to Chris Mazeika

Heritage Assets of the former King’s Yard, the Royal Naval Dockyard 1513-1869, the Metropolitan Foreign Cattle Market 1871-1914, His Majesty’s Supply Reserve Depot 1914-1950 and Convoy’s Wharf 1922-2002

Officers’ Residence and Offices
Master Shipwright’s House
Dockyard Officers’ Offices
Office of the Timber Master
Office Clerk of the Survey
Offices for drawing
Model making rooms
Master Shipwright’s Repository
Master Shipwright’s office for drawing
Officers’ Gardens fountains/paths/parterres c.1774

Great Georgian Dry Dock
Stone built Head dock and timber gates c.1800
Capstan and penstock housings
Timber built Stern dock and timber gates c. 1780
Stone built entrance to dry docks c.1800
Saw pits

Storehouse Complex
Four light Tudor mullioned window with original iron work
Tudor Foundation stone and flame headed gothic arch 1513, bearing Henry VIII cypher
Undercroft Tudor Store House
Undercroft 1720 storehouse complex
Landing Place and Lookout stairs and Causeway c.1720

Ariadne Slipway No.5 c1420-1855
Two further slipways No.4/No.1

Basin Complex
Basin Slipway Covers George Baker & Sons 1846 (Olympia Building)
Basin Slipways c.1845 Capt. Sir Willliam Denison R.E.
Basin c.1517-1814 John Rennie includes inverted stone arch, caisson gate groove, Basin entrance and river walls
Basin walls with coping stones removed
Basin gate c.1720
Capstan housings/penstocks/Saw Pits

Pepys Era Mast Pond
Mast Pond c.1650 and mast pond gates to river

Greater Mast Pond
Mast Pond c.1756
Mast Pond Canal By George Ledwell Taylor
Infrastructure for two swing bridges

River Wall
River wall demonstrates the final series of openings into the dockyard which are known to have been commenced as early as 1420. The openings to the dry dock, slipways, basin and mast ponds are extant. There is evidence on the foreshore of timber slipways and stone causeway.

Sayes Court House and Garden Complex
Remains of Sayes Court House
Remains of Sayes Court Alms Houses and Emigration Depot
Sayes Court Garden c.1600-1890

ps - pictures attached to Malcolm's article are on their way when I get the technology sorted out.

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