Deptford was known as Dirty Deptford in Victorian times: a mixture of docks, muddy creek, mills, livestock and tanneries. Deptford was also the site of the Royal Docks where Francis Drake was knighted aboard the Golden Hinde. It was here that Peter the Great learnt ship building. Ships were built that fought in the Napoleonic wars. On a darker note, ships set sail from Deptford to take slaves from Africa to the Caribbean. In Victorian times the docks were used to import livestock. Up until the 1990’s paper was imported from Scandinavia, most recently for News International.
Now what remains of the docks lie silent, parts have been redeveloped and the remainder soon will be. The currently vacant Convoys Wharf has planning permission for the construction of some 3500 homes, including three over 35 storey high tower blocks.
These photographs were taken along Deptford Beach over the course of several years in front of the proposed new development. It has been said that Deptford has the most history in London with the littlest to show for it. Much of Deptford’s maritime history has been erased – through the extensive bombing during the second world war, to post war slum clearance and the redevelopment of docklands. But this rich heritage stretching back hundreds of years can be found here on atmospheric Deptford beach, in the old rotting timber used on the jetties and walls, later reinforced with bolts and steel, in the ancient slipways and steps, and in all the flotsam exposed at low tide – timber, chains, rope, livestock bones, tobacco pipes, dockers hooks and nuts and bolts.
The collection of images provide a record of this heritage and the passing of time, as the history to be found on this largely neglected beach gradually rots and is washed away by the tide. Once Convoys Wharf is redeveloped in the next few years much of this will be gone for ever, leaving even less evidence of Deptford’s maritime past.