Deptford Lives A hyperlinked atlas with stories told through objects and images that are meaningful to us.
Maritime and technical innovation; colonialism and slavery; working-class industry, solidarity and emancipation; cultural diversity and community building: Deptford, once home to Henry VIII's great shipyards, has a “spectacular history” (Dame Joan Ruddock, 2013). Here are some of our stories.
Like Deptford people from the past, our lives today connect with communities all over the world. Outside of the UK and Ireland, these are mainly in the Caribbean, and in Africa. To Objects Map
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A tiny piece of Deptford
Thirty-six years ago on a spring tide I grounded my recently purchased floating (just!) home in an old graving dock on the foreshore of Dreadnaught Wharf. She was in poor condition, relying on pumps to stay afloat on the following tides. Apart from liking her lines, she was in my view the largest restoration project I could take on singlehanded. (I nearly got that wrong!) She was also the right price as I still had funds from the sale of the old cargo narrowboat that my 4-year-old son and I had been living on. The dock was near the mouth of Deptford Creek and overlooked the sweep of the Thames and the Isle of Dogs, though then not a tower in sight. By the time I moved up the creek that race had started. The Deptford waterfront and the creek comprised of old industries, scrapyards, and derelict sites. A few owned by developers waiting for Deptford to come up. Some re-purposed from older industries like a sail loft where designer furniture was made, now itself long gone along with the spare parts dealers, barge-yard recording studios, and car breakers. Some former household names like Merryweathers, Zenith carburettors, and Ferranti’s first power station. Perfect territory when you’re rebuilding a ship on a budget and pretty much inaccessible to outsiders. The plan was to have our ship ready to travel in five years but somehow Deptford drew me in. Quite literally as, after two years I moved my ship far up the creek to a semi-derelict wharf in a branch of the creek called the Theatre Arm. I made my living over the years building and repairing all manner of vessels mainly at South Dock in Rotherhithe. Though from time to time I have travelled with my ship and also worked abroad, eventually tracing the history of my vessel. She was built in Prussia (now Poland) for the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal as a pilot vessel in 1895! Deptford Pocket Watch, made by Henry Hopkins, clock and watch-maker based in Deptford, active 1783-1826.
Deptford probably has one of the most diverse communities in London. I’m told that there are 74 different languages spoken here, something totally unsurprising considering the history of the place. Site of the country’s first royal dockyard, John Evelyn’s experimental gardens, Trinity house, The East India company, and countless private shipyards, it would have been alive with visitors from all over the known world. Some seeking fortune, some hoping to settle, and others against their will. History doesn’t benefit from sanitising! Through its history the Royal Dockyard built over 400 ships, mainly warships. Those ships, through the prize system created by Elizabeth 1st, led to the navy becoming the most powerful on earth for nearly 200 years and Deptford was at the centre of the action. The private yards built merchant ships, slavers, and even warships under contract that then protected our global trading from primarily the Spanish, French, and Dutch navies. Deptford boomed and prospered. Ships for exploration along with cutting edge industries feeding the yards. By the time the dockyard closed Deptford High Street was referred to as the “Regent Street of the South”. The closure would change that. In that bustling high street was a clock and instrument maker, now long forgotten in the decline of the waterfront and the town. In the seismic changes being “done to” Deptford now, that little horological fragment reminds me that the character, creativity, skill, and ingenuity has always come from a diverse community not a developer monoculture. Julian
The Tree of Life
The tree epitomises life itself. It is a symbol of family and relationship. The tree connects us to our past through its roots and the branches speak of our future. The trunk is where we are in the present, bridging the past and the future. It is a symbol of the extended human family to which we all belong. This design was produced by a studio in Cork, Ireland where I was born and spent my childhood. It reminds me of my own journey from my ancestral roots and family in Ireland to my life in Deptford where I have lived for many years. Originally coming to Deptford because I found accommodation here whilst working in central London, making it an easy commute. Significant numbers of Irish people emigrated over time and came to work in the Deptford Naval Dockyard. The tree represents their ancestral connections back home and their new life and aspirations when they lived and worked in Deptford. Whilst we will always be connected to our place of birth, throughout our life we put down new roots forming the foundation of where we are at today. The tree symbolises this ongoing journey. Helen
The Tree of Life, brass backed on wood, from an original design by Joanna Scott-McCarthy, Kinsale, Co Cork, Ireland, 20th century.
Build the bridge
The object is Kigamboni Bridge in Tanzania. Since 2016, it has linked the business area of Dar es Salaam to a less developed part of the city. I feel that it relates to the life I have built in Deptford. I came in the UK in 2001 as an immigrant facing the challenges of adopting a new culture. I joined Positive Place, 52 Deptford Broadway, a server-led organisation supporting people affected and living with HIV. I was looking at this as a pathway to gain knowledge and skills and be part of the community. Through that journey I created local networks of community members. I am now a community advocate working with communities affected by a wide range of health issues mainly around sexual and reproductive health, mental health, female genital mutilation and women experiencing domestic violence. RED RIBBON LIVING WELL was founded in 2009. I am a co-founder and coordinator of this voluntary community-led organisation supporting individuals affected and living with HIV. It is a North Lewisham Consortium organisation based in the Deptford area. The organisation also works in partnership with the Deptford People’s Heritage Museum, with Goldsmiths, University of London’s Department of Visual Cultures, and with Lewisham Council.
Kigamboni Bridge, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
A bridge between people enables the passage of ideas. It connects people who are in different places, it enables help to be connected, it opens up the opportunity for people to be helped, it reduces isolation, it is a more efficient way of getting to another point, it increases the range of options. In my life and work I aim to establish relationships that foster understanding and appreciation of cultural differences. Life in South East London’s Deptford is most commonly known for its rich naval history which includes the Royal Docks. In this area we have been building communities where people can live normal lives. Husseina Objects Map
Door to Door + 254 + SE8
From Leicester where my mum landed off of Kenya Airways, a qualified midwife, came over when the call came for all qualified workers African Caribbean, to Bradford. To Kenya the village of Freetown Kisauni to the traditions learnt from my Nyanya (nan). To Southampton where I spent my school days and my mum being the first black women to own a night club (upstairs). Memories of the African/Caribbean Windrush elders and the West Indian club which changed to African/Caribbean Centre where we all grew up as one community and a family. Then to Fulham (London) where we danced to Lovers Rock and enjoyed Notting Hill carnival of the world. I had my twins. Back to Southampton where my son was born and back to Deptford landing at Deptford Bridge train station. Coming down the stairs the flashback of a scene from Coming to America. As I step into the street I can see all the colours of the rainbow. African batik materials. I feel like I’m in my village in search of my new home, 84 Trundley’s Road, SE8. 2000 where I would then come to work as a community development worker on the Pepys community within communities then to Pepys Community Hub to create Deptford Peoples Heritage Museum all from attending a Voice 4 Deptford forum opening up talk about the present and future histories of the Royal Docks and surrounding areas. Joyce
Home, Trundley’s Road, Deptford.
A portal into the past
I’ve lived and worked in south-east London for several decades (I’m a lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London). But my connection with Deptford deepened in January 2021, when I started holding workshops for local organisations, including the new Deptford People's Heritage Museum at the Pepys Resource Centre on Deptford’s Foreshore. The workshops focus on a simple technique for connecting more deeply with the objects and images that are important to us. For one of the workshops, I photographed these tremendous pillars or gate-posts which frame the modern buildings on the Isle of Dogs on the opposite bank of the Thames. But as I look at and through them, my gaze is drawn to the water itself, and my thoughts go back in time. Perhaps this is prompted by their ornamentation? It is a simple design known as vermiculation which creates the impression of a surface that has been burrowed into and eaten away over time. I recall a family photograph from the 1930s of another river bank: the river Scheldt in The Netherlands where my Dutch grandfather kept his boat. I also remember reading that in the deep past (around 450,000 years ago), before the Ice Age which formed the 'English’ Channel, the Scheldt, with the Meuse and the Rhine, were physically connected to the Thames – or rather, to its ancient precursor, the ‘Ancestral Thames’. The Thames and the Scheldt have more recent connections. The Scheldt flows towards the great seaports of Middelburg and Vlissingen which were key to the success of Dutch empire building, and Dutch involvement in the transatlantic slave trade during the seventeenth and eighteen centuries. (Slavery is part of my story on my father’s side; he came from Trinidad in the West Indies.) The maritime rivalry between the Dutch and the English partly fuelled Deptford’s extensive historical programme of shipbuilding. Jorella
Pillars, Foreshore, Deptford, London. Photo: J Andrews, 2021.
A Model of the Great Michael
The Great Michael was a carrack of the Royal Scottish Navy. A carrack is a large sailing man-o-war with a large square aftercastle and a smaller forecastle - literally a fort at sea. James IV, was ambitious to build a powerful Scottish Navy and the Michael, as it was properly called, was to be the biggest and most heavily armed warship of its age. When launched in 1511, she was the largest warship in Europe, with twice the original displacement of her English contemporary Mary Rose which was launched in the same year. The undertaking was reputed to have used all the best wrights from Scotland and France and other craftsmen from Flanders, Holland and Spain. At that time, there was danger of attack on England by the Scottish Fleet which fought alongside France in the Italian wars. To help to meet the Scottish threat, Henry VIII founded the shipyard at Deptford. The Michael was built at Newhaven, now part of Edinburgh, a ‘New Harbour’ made specially for the purpose. Many of the craftsmen settled and their descendants took up fishing in the North Sea. My maternal grandfather was one of the last in the line of Newhaven deep sea fisherman. Model of the Great Michael, a warship of James IV. Collection: National Museums Scotland.
Now I find myself volunteering with community groups in Deptford based mainly in Pepys Resource Centre. Marion
Scarf – useful global accessory
I am a Deptford resident for decades now. Mother of 3 young adults, I am a mature student attending Goldsmiths College learning about Visual Cultures Curating. I am a renowned community activist for North Lewisham and I have been involved in many local projects promoting equality of opportunity to the diversity of our local area and also celebrating its heritage. Talking about art and artefacts that reminds me of home, Brazil, my mother country, where we have an annual Carnival about our cultural heritage, I thought about a common denominator that makes me feel comfortable wherever I go, and I will share it with you – a scarf. It can vary in size and have different purposes, different patterns and textures, but generally a head scarf is basically just a square of nice fabric. This headscarf does not only remind me of where I come from, Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro, but it emphasises my unconditional love to my multicultural roots and to our Planet. Coming from a Blatino background, it allows me to bring all my roots together, reminding me of Africa, Portugal and the UK. Something very beautiful, light, colourful, cultural that I can feel proud to wear, anywhere in the world. Scarf, Brazil. Photo: Danielle M H, 2022.
The silk fabric containing the amazing colours of black, white, yellow and green, reflecting the colours of the environments that I move in, it is somewhat comforting. It is so versatile; it brings me great amusement just thinking about it. Looking at it closely it reminds me of dressing up, practicing Latin Dance moves, music, drumming, celebrations and funerals. Overall, it brings me great memories of the amazing experiences that I had around the globe. Warm, fashionable, useful. It can be a tablecloth for a picnic, if you forgot to pack one or to sit on, if you do not like to sit on the grass or sand. Something that is so easy to add to your wardrobe and it can speak without words. Not only about fashion, but also beliefs, passion, ways of living, and celebrating one race - the human race that's my personal view on it. I enjoy wearing it and it helps me to make a statement about what I like and celebrate in my personal life. It also represents the feelings of home, the sense of familiarity, and the colours of our environment, the environment I share and create and make it count. I love headscarves. I also make them like a sarong for the beach, which is like a skirt, and it is quite stylish, in the hot weather, thank you. Jorella’s comments: “By taking something as simple as a headscarf we are creating an environment. We're expressing who we are and we're creating a space of colour, joy, life, vibrancy for others. And that's something we all have the power to do. Just a square of beautiful fabric.” Danielle
I love Deptford
I really like going down to SE8 it is a visual utopia. Deptford a point of arrival and a space of industrial change. A melting pot of different cultures and mish mash architecture Dem all come together down by the river side. I enjoy Deptford, because Eric does the best fish and chips I enjoy Deptford because I know the best place to get Curry Goat and White Rice I enjoy Deptford, because of Jollof Rice and my authentic African fufu in Deptford High Street. I enjoy Deptford because of our past like the gravestone of “My Didi” from the Pacific. Kevin Clarke (my nephew): Art and Technology will beam love. My Traditional Art Work I have this object: I got many years ago. It is a batik a traditional (Ashanti) Ghanaian art work. I have had this object since I lived in Deptford and I love it. Ken Contemporary Ashanti Batik Cloth, Ghana.
I ♥ DEPTFORD
I ♥ DEPTFORD Because it has a history that goes back hundreds of years. I ♥ DEPTFORD Because it’s a place of noise and smells. I ♥ DEPTFORD Because it’s a place where people play, meet, learn and love. I ♥ DEPTFORD Because it’s home to people from all over the world, who bring together different foods, languages and cultures
Riverside Youth Club, Grove Street, Deptford, 2021 (where Reverend Barry Carter MBE acted as chair for many years)
I ♥ DEPTFORD Because it’s a special place for very special people who trace their history back into the deep waters of the past. Barry
Additional Image details World Map: A Pacific-centred world map, Wikimedia Commons. Our Objects Map: anti-clockwise from top left: A view of the river bank at low tide, Deptford Strand. Photo J Andrews, 2021. Drakes Steps, Deptford. Photo J Andrews, 2021.. Deptford High Street. Photo J Andrews, 2021. A pigmented portion of Thomas Milton’s Deptford Dockyard Plan, 1753. The original is part of the Royal Museums Greenwich collection. Central Image: A map of Deptford assembled from the pages of the Collins London Street Atlas. Back to Objects Map Back to World Map
With many thanks to our participants
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