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River Wall to Former Royal Dockyard, Deptford, Lewisham

Description: River Wall to Former Royal Dockyard, Deptford

Grade: II
Date Listed: 1 November 2013
Building ID: 1416575

OS Grid Reference: TQ3707378292
OS Grid Coordinates: 537073, 178292
Latitude/Longitude: 51.4870, -0.0272

Locality: Lewisham
County: Greater London Authority
Postcode: SE8 3JF

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Listing Text


River wall. Early C19, incorporating work by John Rennie dating from 1815-16 with Jolliffe and Bank as contractors, and by George Ledwell Taylor of c1830. Unspecified sections are known to have been rebuilt in the early 1840s. Later rebuilding and repairs at upper levels. The concrete upper section, added in the C20 as a flood defence measure, is not of special interest.

Reason for Listing

The river wall to the former Royal Dockyard, Deptford, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: it retains a significant portion of early-C19 fabric, including well-documented improvements by the great engineer John Rennie, little of whose work in London has survived. Entrances to slips, basins and the canal remain clearly legible;

* Historic interest: it is among the last surviving visible fabric attesting to the presence of the Royal Dockyard, a site of immense importance in Britain’s ascendancy as a naval power;

* Group value: with designated buildings and structures from the Royal Dockyard, most notably the Master Shipwright’s House and Office and the scheduled remains of the Tudor Great Storehouse; and with the adjoining river wall of the former Naval Victualling Yard, also by Rennie.


Deptford was established as a centre for naval shipbuilding by the late C15. The accession of Henry VIII (1509) marked a massive programme of naval expansion: Woolwich Dockyard was established in 1512, and in 1513 the development of Deptford commenced with the erection of a great storehouse; a wet dock was completed by 1520. By the 1540s 'the King's Yard' at Deptford had become by far the most important royal dockyard nationally for the construction and repair of warships, with added responsibility for supplying other royal dockyards with equipment and materials from London’s commercial markets. Sir Francis Drake was knighted here in 1581, and his Golden Hind displayed as a visitor attraction for over 70 years. The supremacy of Deptford and Woolwich in ship building and repair was eclipsed by Chatham during the course of the C17 however, and the shifting of hostilities to France and Spain in the C18 meant that Portsmouth and Plymouth gained overall pre-eminence. Despite this, and navigational difficulties due to the silting up of the Thames which rendered its dockyards incapable of servicing First Rate warships, Deptford saw further expansion in the C18 when it reached an area of some 30 acres; its proximity to the Navy Board Office in the City of London also meant that it was favoured for experimental construction. A number of well-known vessels were fitted out at Deptford, including Captain Cook's Endeavour and Discovery, as well as ships used in Nelson's campaigns. After 1815 however, despite improvements in dredging, the dockyard fell into decline, closing in 1869 when the site was acquired by the Corporation of London for use as London's Foreign Cattle Market. It suffered massive destruction in WWII and was redeveloped as warehousing known as Convoy's Wharf in the 1950s, when the remains of the bomb-damaged Tudor storehouse were demolished.

By 1824 most, if not all of the Tudor wharf wall had been lost in successive C17 and C18 rebuildings, while these in turn were largely swept away in C19 renovations. A distinct portion can be firmly dated to 1815-16 when the Wet Dock or Great Basin was remodelled by John Rennie (1761-1821) This formed part of a phase of naval dockyard improvements which Rennie, with Jolliffe and Bank as contractors, carried out for the Admiralty during and after the Napoleonic Wars, including the rebuilding of the river wall to the adjacent Naval Victualling Yard.


MATERIALS: brown brick laid in English bond with horizontal ashlar bands. There are vertical timber fenders at regular intervals. The upper stone band originally formed the coping; some sections of this have been replaced in engineering brick. Above this level the wall has been raised in concrete as a flood defence measure (this is not of special interest).

DESCRIPTION: the wall runs from the base of the river stairs at the end of Watergate Street, returning north-westwards along the shoreline for some 475m up to the boundary wall of the former Naval Victualling Yard, with which it is contiguous. Described from the south-east to the north-west, the wall survives along the whole length of the dockyard’s former frontage, broadly the lower 10-13ft (3-4m) or so above the level of the foreshore, with areas of late-C19 infill marking the entrances to former docks, slips etc.

The early-C18 great or double dry dock for repairing ships was at the south-east end of the dockyard. Its blocked entrance is framed by granite ashlar quoins, which may survive from a c1806 reconstruction of the dock, but may alternatively date from the 1840s. About 16m further along similar quoins mark the downstream side of a former landing in front of the great storehouse, now infilled. From here, a long stretch continues for about 80m, terminating with the infilled entrances to ship-building Slips Nos. 4 and 5.

The next section dates from Rennie’s 1815-16 remodelling of the Great Basin, and is distinguished by a band of Dundee or Craigleith stone ashlar about 2m above the foreshore. The entrance, placed at an oblique angle to the walls, had quadrant curves where it turned to meet the river wall; these survive but the entrance was blocked c1900 with a wall of engineering bricks. Rennie's work is well documented. Sheeting piles up to 4.5m deep were sunk in front of three rows of bearing piles with Kentish ragstone rammed into the interstices. Drawings indicate that the river walls rise from a 2.5m wide platform in a ‘banana’-section curve, 1.95m deep, with counterforts extending a further 1.37m back. The wide elliptical inverted entrance also has deep counterforts. In form, it followed a precedent set by Rennie and Ralph Walker at the slightly smaller entrance to the East India Docks in 1804–6.

A break and canted setback in the wall north-west of the basin entrance are consistent with the shape of the mouth of No. 1 Slip, also infilled. Further along, the wall may date from the 1840s but may also retain earlier fabric; a section which breaks forward appears somewhat later, probably from the dockyard’s last years. Finally, the canal that connected the river to the dockyard’s large mast pond survives as a broad inlet flanked on the north side by a massive curved pier on the west side, now extending inland only as far as what were the south ends of stone-lined recesses for outer lock gates. At the head of the inlet at its mouth the position of a swing bridge is evident. This work was executed c1830 to the design of George Ledwell Taylor, Navy Architect. A final short section of plain brick walling abuts the former Naval Victualling Yard’s river wall.

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.