The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland 1868


1868 - The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland

"DEPTFORD, comprises the parishes of St. Paul and St. Nicholas, it is a town and naval arsenal, chiefly in the hundred of Blackheath, lathe of Sutton-at-Hone, in the county of Kent, but partly also in the hundred of East Brixton, in the county of Surrey, 4 miles E. of London. It is situated on the S. bank of the Thames, at the mouth of the Ravensbourne, which is here crossed by two bridges. The one was built by Charles I. in 1628, but has been subsequently widened; the other is a recent structure, over the small estuary called Deptford Creek, and opens a direct communication between the lower part of Deptford and Greenwich, of which borough it forms part, having been united to it for parliamentary purposes by the Act 2 William IV., cap. 45.

The Greenwich railway passes through the centre of the town, crossing High-street and Church-street, and has a station near St. Paul's church. The Croydon railway, after branching off from the Greenwich line, passes through the hamlet of Hatcham, which forms part of the town of Deptford, though situated in the county of Surrey, and has a station at New Cross. Deptford was called Moreton and West Greenwich; also Depeforo Strond, from a deep ford on the river Ravensbourne. It is said to have been given by William the Conqueror to Gilbert de Magnimot, and subsequently came into the possession of the Sayes (who built Sayes Court, the residence of Evelyn), the Mortimers, De la Poles; and St. Johns, when it finally reverted to the crown. Edward III. frequently resided in the Stonehouse, but the town was of little importance till the time of Henry VIII., who established a dockyard, and incorporated the Society of the Trinity House, for the better preservation of the Royal Navy. This guild or fraternity enjoyed the ancient rights and privileges of the Company of Mariners of England, and continued to increase in power and reputation during the reigns of the Tudors and Stuarts, who entrusted to them the administration of admiralty affairs.

In the reigns of James I. and Charles I. the treasurer of the navy resided here, and the remains of the ancient monastery were converted into an arsenal; storehouses were added towards the end of the last century, and in 1837 an Act was obtained for the construction of extensive docks for steam-vessels, which, together with the Royal Dockyard, comprises nearly the whole extent of the parish of St. Nicholas. Here the ships of the royal navy were formerly built and repaired, and the royal yachts generally fitted and laid up. Although the construction of first-class vessels has been transferred to other yards, a vast amount of nautical business is still transacted. The government works consist of a double and single wet-dock, a basin, three slips for building second and third rate ships, two mast ponds and houses, timber-sheds, storehouses, model-loft, a large smithy for making anchors, blacksmith's shop, besides a victualling office, a large apparatus for brewing, biscuit baking, curing meat, &c. The main support and consequence of Deptford arose from its excellent docks, and the whole construction of the town is consequently designed with this view. The houses, however, in the upper part are neat and well built; the streets are paved and lighted with gas, from the extensive works near the Creek bridge.

The population, which in 1861 amounted to 45,973, are chiefly engaged in the shipping trade and the dockyard, though many are employed in the manufacture of earthenware, or in the extensive market gardens which surround the town.

In 1730 the town was divided into the two parishes of St. Nicholas and St. Paul, the former of which is small, including only the old town; while the latter extends into the county of Surrey, and comprises three-fourths of the population. The living of St. Nicholas is a vicarage in the diocese of London, value £557, in the patronage of T. T. Drake, Esq. The church was rebuilt in 1697, but the flint tower is of more ancient date. It contains tombs of Fenton, who sailed with Frobisher in search of the North-West Passage; of Benbow, a son of the celebrated admiral; Pett, who built the first frigate; Shelvock, the circumnavigator; and other celebrities. The living of St. Paul is a rectory, value £400, in the patronage of W. W. Drake, Esq. This was one of Queen Anne's fifty new churches, and has a monument to Admiral Sayer, who took the Island of Tobago. There are besides two district churches, the one dedicated to St. John, the living of which is a perpetual curacy," in the patronage of J. J. S. Lucas, Esq.; and the other, dedicated to St. James, at Hatcham, value £160, in the patronage of the Rev. A. K. B. Granville. There are also several Dissenting chapels.

A hospital for shipmasters and their widows was established at Deptford by Henry VIII.; it is called Trinity Hospital, and was rebuilt in 1788, when Trinity House was removed to Tower-hill. There is also another hospital. Both belong to the Trinity corporation. There are several large schools, including the Royal Naval, Addey's, and Dean Stanhope's or Gransden's, besides National and Sunday schools; also a mechanics' literary institution, the Bent dispensary, a chemical factory, and a savings-bank, besides commodious barracks, and gas and water works. Deptford unites with Greenwich, Woolwich, Charlton, and Plumstead in returning two members to parliament. It was here that Queen Elizabeth visited Drake on board his ship the Pelican, after he had completed his voyage round the world. Purchas says, "the reliques of the shippe, or some bones at least of that glorious carkasse, yet remayne at Deptford, consecrated to fame and posteritie." An arm-chair, made from this vessel, was given to the University of Oxford.

The poorhouse, now down, is said to have been on the site of Sayes Court, once the seat of Evelyn, who lent it as a residence to the czar, Peter the Great, while he was studying ship-building in this country; and there in the garden, "an exemplar of his Sylvia," stood an impregnable holly-hedge, 400 feet long, 9 feet high, and 5 feet thick. The Earl of Winchilsea, who commanded against the Spanish Armada, used to live at the old "Gun" tavern; and Sir Thomas Smith, ambassador to Russia, and Cowley, the poet, were residents.

In 1652 the town was visited with a very severe conflagration, and with the plague in 1665. Wyatt and his followers did considerable injury to the place in 1653. A high tide rose 10 feet in the lowest parts of the town in 1671, on which occasion a prodigious quantity of cattle were destroyed in the marshes. The Thames convict ship is moored in the river. The General Steam Packet Company have their chief depot for repairs in Deptford Creek. A fair is held from Trinity Monday to Wednesday.

[Transcribed from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland 1868 by Colin Hinson ©2010]