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St Albans being launched at Deptford Dockyard in 1747. Painting by John Cleveley the Elder

Convoys Wharf, formerly called the King's Yard,[1] is the site of Deptford Dockyard, the first of the Royal Dockyards, built on a riverside site in Deptford, by the River Thames in London. It was first developed in 1513 by Henry VIII to build vessels for the Royal Navy. Convoys Wharf also covers most of the site of Sayes Court manor house and gardens,[2] home of diarist John Evelyn. The site was owned until 2008 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,[3] though it has safeguarded wharf status.[4]



The King's Yard was established in 1513 by Henry VIII as the first Royal Dockyard building vessels for the Royal Navy, and the leading dockyard of the period.[5][6] It brought a large population and prosperity to Deptford.[7]

The docks are also associated with the knighting of Sir Francis Drake by Queen Elizabeth I aboard the Golden Hind,[8] the legend of Sir Walter Raleigh laying down his cape for Elizabeth,[9] Captain James Cook's third voyage aboard Resolution,[10] Frobisher’s and Vancouver’s voyages of discovery, despatching ships against the Spanish Armada,[11] as well as for Nelson’s battles including Trafalgar.[12]

In 1698 Tsar Peter I of Russia aged 25, came to Deptford to learn about shipbuilding and seamanship. He was granted the use of John Evelyn’s Sayes Court, adjoining the Royal Dockyard, by William III. In three months he and his party caused considerable damage to the famous[13][14] gardens, and also to the house, with "much of the furniture broke, lost or destroyed". Sir Christopher Wren was instructed to survey the property and declared it "entirely ruined".[15] At the mouth of Deptford Creek, on the Fairview Housing estate, there is a statue, designed by Mihail Chemiakin and gifted by Russia commemorating Peter's visit.

By the 18th century, due to the silting of the Thames, the dockyard's use was restricted to ship building and distributing stores to other yards and fleets abroad. It was shut down from 1830 to 1844[5] and in 1864 a Parliamentary Committee recommended that the dockyards at Deptford (and Woolwich) should be closed. Their recommendation was accepted and the Deptford dockyard was closed in May 1869,[16] by which time it employed 800 people. It had produced some 450 ships, the last being the wooden screw corvette HMS Druid launched in 1869.[7]

The location of Sayes Court manor house in 2009 (compare this to a photo taken in 1910 from a similar direction.

Before refrigeration cattle had to be imported alive, and the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act 1869 gave the City of London Corporation exclusive local authority for foreign animal imports and processing subject to its opening a market before January 1872. The site at Deptford was acquired and the market opened in 1871, and by 1889 the original site had been extended to 27 acres. In 1907 at its peak, 184,971 cattle and 49,350 sheep were imported through the market but by 1912 these figures had declined to 21,547 cattle and 11,993 sheep.[17]

The butchers in the slaughterhouses along with the girls who processed the joints became local characters. The 'gut girls', in particular, were renowned not only for their crude language and manners including heavy drinking but also for the colourful hats that they wore. Their behaviour at weekends became notorious in London. Girls in service in the West End deserted to this highly paid trade in the market. This fact probably more than their behaviour led to a mission for their 'salvation' to be established. The building, Lady Florence Institute, still stands in Deptford Broadway.[18]

The Foreign Cattle Market was taken over by the War Office in 1914, on a tenancy agreement from the City of London Corporation. On several occasions after the Armistice traders and others urged that the market should be reopened, however in 1924 the War Office exercised their option to buy it.[17][19]

The yard served as an Army Supply Reserve Depot in the First and Second World Wars and also as United States' Advance Amphibious Vehicle base and married quarters during the Second World War.[12][20]

Most of the Tudor, Stuart, Georgian and Victorian structures above ground level that had survived until 1955 have since been destroyed. One structure that escaped the demolition is Olympia Warehouse, a unique cast-iron building constructed in the 1840s.[21] However archaeological surveys carried out by CgMs and Pre-Construct Archaeology in 2000 by Duncan Hawkins, in 2000 by Jon Lowe and in 2001 by David Divers, established that by far the greater part of the dockyard survives as buried structures filled in intact between 1869 and 1950. The structures of the yard proper, the docks, slips, basins, mast ponds, landing places and stairs, constitute a substantial architectural fabric that is currently extant, though largely invisible, being covered by superficial accretion or infill.[12] As yet there has been no archaeological investigation of the garden area of Sayes Court, and only limited trial trenching of part of the manor house.[22]

The site lay unused until being purchased by Convoys (newsprint importers) in 1984.[7][21] Both Convoys Wharf at Deptford and Convoys the company were acquired by News of the World in 1960 and eventually became part of the News International group. Although, at its peak in the mid-1990s, only about 10% of Convoys’ newsprint imports were destined for the parent company.[23] During the early 1990s tonnages steadily increased and there were aspirations of reaching one million tonnes per annum. However in the late 1990s the Greenwich Lorry Ban[24] was introduced which added considerably to the time and cost of delivering paper landed at the wharf and the trade moved to Felixstowe and Chatham.[25]

In 1993 the Greenwich and Lewisham (London Borough Boundaries) Order transferred the site from the London Borough of Greenwich to the London Borough of Lewisham.[26]

Planning application

Convoys Wharf

In 2002 News International applied to the London Borough of Lewisham for outline planning permission to erect 3,500 residential units on the site. Lewisham councillors resolved to approve the application in May 2005. As of July 2008 the application had yet to be referred to Mayor of London Boris Johnson. The Mayor has the power to direct a refusal of planning consent and if the matter is ever referred will probably direct a refusal.[citation needed]

The Thames Path interrupted by Convoys Wharf

If the Mayor allows the application it will then be referred to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Reasons for such a referral would include a Government direction that half the site is safeguarded for freight use. Since freight wharves on the Thames were safeguarded in 1997 by the then Secretary of State for the Environment, John Gummer, only one operational wharf has been lost to residential use without a full public inquiry. This was Delta/Blackwall Wharf, a major aggregates wharf redeveloped as part of the Greenwich Peninsula masterplan.[citation needed]

On 18 May 2005 a 50/50 joint venture company of Cheung Kong Holdings and Hutchison Whampoa entered into an agreement to acquire Convoys Wharf, to develop it as a mixed residential and commercial project.[27]

In 2008 Hutchison Whampoa bought the 16ha site from News International, and in November 2009 resubmitted plans for the £700m 3,500-home Convoys Wharf scheme. The plans incorporated minor amendments to the original 2005 masterplan by Richard Rogers Partnership, though Hutchison Whampoa brought in Aedas to replace Rogers.[28]

The Grade II listed Olympia Warehouse will have to be preserved and refurbished as part of the redevelopment of the site.[21]


In October 2000, 'Creekside Forum' (which had been established in 1997 as a joint sub-committee of Deptford Community Forum and Greenwich Waterfront Community Forum in order to give local people a voice in the Building Bridges Creekside SRB),[25] set up the 'Convoys Opportunity' umbrella group in response to the News International Ltd plan to sell the 40-acre Convoys Wharf site.[29] Convoys Opportunity, comprising of community organisations, churches, businesses and others in Deptford and beyond,[25] campaigned to have the News International scheme refused and the safeguarding order upheld.

London is exceptional amongst major cities with the necessary depth of water in not having a purpose-built Cruise Liner Terminal. If the application gets past Mayor Boris Johnson then Convoys Opportunity will ask Hazel Blears to call-in the application for a ministerial decision (after a public inquiry).[citation needed]


  1. ^ Samuel Pepys diary entry for 22 Aug 1665
  2. ^ Google Earth .kmz file overlaying Evelyn's map of 1653 with the modern street map.
  3. ^ Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners "Convoys Wharf Conception"
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b National Maritime Museum Research guide B5: Royal Naval Dockyards
  6. ^ Deptford and Woolwich: London's Royal Dockyards - The working Thames - Port Cities
  7. ^ a b c Deptford Dockyard
  8. ^ Sir Francis Drake: The Queen's Pirate, pp 218-19, H Kelsey, Yale University Press (1 Sep 2000), ISBN 0-300-08463-3
  9. ^ Sir Walter Ralegh and the Quest for El Dorado, pages 83 & 176, Marc Aronson, Clarion Books (April 17, 2000), ISBN 0-395-84827-X
  10. ^ Captain James Cook, pp 273-294, Richard Hough, W.W.Norton (17 Aug 1996), ISBN 0-393-31519-3
  11. ^ Deptford and the Armada by Thankful Sturdee, The Times, 3 September 1888, p. 10, Col. B
  12. ^ a b c Greenwich Industrial History Proposal to list the remains of the Royal Dockyard at Deptford 6 January 2010
  13. ^ Deptford, St Nicholas, The Environs of London: volume 4: Counties of Herts, Essex & Kent (1796) by Daniel Lysons, pp. 359-385
  14. ^ The Charm of Sayes Court, John Evelyn as Garden Architect by W. G. Hiscock, The Times, 11 August 1952, p.2, col E
  15. ^ Calendar of Treasury Books, 1697–1702, 158–9
  16. ^ Handbook to the Environs of London by James Thorne, John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1876
  17. ^ a b Sale of Deptford Market. Government to Pay £387,000. The Times, 13 March 1926, p.12, col F
  18. ^ Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society, Notes and news — June 2002
  19. ^ Future of Deptford Market. War Office decision to buy. The Times, 6 February 1924, p12, col B
  20. ^ PRO Works 43/614-6
  21. ^ a b c Convoys Wharf London, Richard Rogers Partnership, 2002
  22. ^ CVW00, Convoys Wharf evaluation by CgMs Consulting on behalf of News International PLC by David Divers
  23. ^ Old ones are the best Lloyd's List, 9 June 2009]
  24. ^ Greenwich News Shopper, 15 August 1998
  25. ^ a b c Select Committee on Transport Written Evidence, Memorandum by the Creekside Forum (TT 09) by Bill Ellson, Creekside Forum, July 2004
  26. ^ The Greenwich and Lewisham (London Borough Boundaries) Order 1993
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^ London Snoring at Creekside Forum News 1 August 2007

Further reading

  • An archaeological desk-based assessment, by Duncan Hawkins, CgMs Consulting, April 2000
  • Preliminary Assessment of Surviving Historic Fabric Convoy’s Wharf, Deptford, June, 2000 by Jon Lowe
  • Convoys Wharf, Deptford; TQ 3700 7820; (David Divers); evaluation; 9 October-14 November 2000; CgMs Consulting on behalf of News International PLC; CVW00
  • An archaeological field evaluation (trial trenching) in consultation with English Heritage, by David Divers, CgMs Ltd., January, 2001
  • Our Future Heritage: A Framework for the Management of The Heritage Resource, Convoys Wharf, Deptford, London Borough of Lewisham. ,English Heritage, October 2003
  • London Snoring: A tale of missed opportunity Creekside Forum, Spring 2007

External links

Coordinates: 51°29′10″N 0°01′37″W / 51.486°N 0.027°W / 51.486; -0.027



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