Deptford [dɛtfəd] is an area on the south bank of the River Thames in south-east London. The area is named after a ford of the River Ravensbourne, and from the mid 16th century to the late 19th was home to Deptford Dockyard, the first of the Royal Dockyards. This was a major shipbuilding dock and attracted Peter the Great to come and study shipbuilding. Deptford and the docks are associated with the knighting of Sir Francis Drake by Queen Elizabeth I aboard the Golden Hind, the legend of Sir Walter Raleigh laying down his cape for Elizabeth,, Captain James Cook's third voyage aboard Resolution, , and the mysterious murder of Christopher Marlowe in a house along Deptford Strand.

The Metropolitan Borough of Deptford (formed in 1900) was split between the London Borough of Lewisham and the London Borough of Greenwich in the mid 1960s.


Deptford began life as a ford of the Ravensbourne near Deptford Bridge station along the route of the Celtic ancient trackway which developed into the modern Watling Street. A second settlement developed as a modest fishing village on the Thames until Henry VIII used that site for a royal dock repairing, building and supplying ships, after which it grew in size and importance - shipbuilding remaining in operation until March 1869. Originally separated by market gardens and fields, the two areas merged together over the years.

The Battle of Deptford Bridge in 1497, had been the most notable event prior to the building of Henry's dock. Rebels from Cornwall, led by Michael An Gof, had marched on London protesting against punitive taxes. Unable to muster support from people in Kent, they were soundly beaten by the King's forces.

Queen Elizabeth I visited the royal dockyard on 4 April 1581 to knight the adventurer Francis Drake. In 1514, Trinity House, the organisation concerned with the safety of navigation around the British Isles, was formed with its first Master Thomas Spert, captain of the Mary Rose, and remained in Deptford, until 1618, then moving to Stepney. The name derives from the local church of Holy Trinity and St Clement, which adjoined the dockyard.

Diarist John Evelyn lived in Deptford at Sayes Court from 1652. Evelyn inherited the house when he married the daughter of Sir Richard Browne in 1652. On his return to England at the Restoration, Evelyn had laid out meticulously planned gardens in the French style of hedges and parterres. In its grounds was a cottage at one time rented by master wood carver Grinling Gibbons. After Evelyn had moved to Surrey in 1694, Russian Tsar Peter the Great studied shipbuilding for three months in 1698. He and some of his fellow Russians stayed at Sayes Court, the manor house of Deptford. Evelyn was angered at the antics of the Tsar, who got drunk with his friends and, using a wheelbarrow with Peter in it succeeded in ramming their way through a fine holly hedge. Sayes Court was demolished in 1728-9 and a workhouse built on its site.

Part of the estates around Sayes Court were purchased in 1742 for the building of the Admiralty Victualling Yard, renamed in 1858 after a visit by Queen Victoria as the Royal Victoria Yard. This massive facility included warehouses, a bakery, a cattleyard/abattoir and sugar stores, and closed in 1960. A place named Sayes Court still remains, accessed from Evelyn Street near Deptford High Street, now a public park.

The Honourable East India Company had their own yard in Deptford from 1607 until late in the 17th century.


Deptford's population has been mainly associated with the docks since the establishment of the Royal Docks by Henry VIII, though there has also been some market gardening and potteries. When the docks were thriving as the main administrative centre of the British Navy, so the area prospered, and fine houses were built for the administrative staff and the skilled ship-builders, and a few grand houses like Sayes Court and Stone House on Lewisham Way were erected. There was a start of a demographic shift downwards when the Royal Navy pulled out of Deptford, and the docks moved into storage and freight. The downward shift continued into the 20th century as the local population's dependency on the docks continued: as the docks themselves declined, so did the economic fortune of the inhabitants until the last dock, Convoy's Wharf, closed in 2000.

Deptford's northern section nearest the old docks contains areas of desolate council housing and deprivation typical of inner city poverty, though the area, along with neighbouring New Cross, has been touted as "the new Shoreditch" by some journalists and estate agents - paying attention to a trendy arts and music scene that is popular with students and artists. To the south where Deptford rolls into the suburban spread of Brockley, the previously multi-occupancy Victorian houses are being gentrified by young city workers and urban professionals.

Deptford plays host to a number of student populations, including those of Goldsmiths College, the University of Greenwich and Laban Dance Centre. The Goldsmiths College Rachel McMillan "Rac Mac" hall of residence in Creek Road was sold in 2001 and was subsequently demolished and replaced with the McMillan Student Village which opened in 2003 and provides accommodation for approximately 970 students of the University of Greenwich, Trinity Laban and Bellerbys colleges.


Areas of Deptford are being gradually re-developed. A large former industrial site by the Thames called Convoy's Wharf is scheduled for redeveloping into mixed use buildings. This will involve the construction of around 3,500 new homes and an extension of the town centre northwards towards the river. Much of the area along Creek Road, close to Greenwich, has also been redeveloped, with the demolition of the old Deptford Power Station and Rose Bruford College buildings.

Deptford Market, a street market in Deptford High Street sells a range of goods, and is considered one of London's liveliest street markets. In February 2005, the High Street was described as “the capital's most diverse and vibrant high street” by Yellow Pages business directory, using a unique mathematical formula.

Culture and community

Deptford has the Albany Theatre, which has a lively community arts programme; while the Laban Dance Centre, opened in February 2003 and designed by Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, is an award-winning new building next to Deptford Creek.

Among musicians who started in the area are Jools Holland and Dire Straits.

The former Deptford Town Hall in New Cross Road, built in 1905 for the Metropolitan Borough of Deptford was purchased by Goldsmiths College in 2000. Lewisham Law Centre (one of the oldest law centres in the country, founded in 1974) is also based in the area.


The name Deptford — anciently written Depeford meaning "deep ford" (Latin vadum profundum) — is derived from the place where the road from London to Dover, the ancient Watling Street crossed the River Ravensbourne at the site of what is now Deptford Bridge (not to be confused with Deptford Creek Bridge near the Thames). The tidal reach of the Ravensbourne is known as Deptford Creek.

Deptford was mostly located in the county of Kent, with the Hatcham part in Surrey. It was regarded as two parts and divided into two parishes. The southern part by the ford was known as Deptford and the northern, riverside area was known as Deptford Strond It was variously known as Deptford Strand, Deptford Stroud and was also referred to as West Greenwich, with the modern town of Greenwich being referred to as East Greenwich until this use declined in the 19th century. The whole of Deptford came within the Metropolitan Police District in 1830 and was included in the area of responsibility of the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1855. It was transferred to the County of London in 1889 and became part of Greater London in 1965.

The southern part, the parish of St Paul Deptford, became the Metropolitan Borough of Deptford in 1900. The northern part, the much smaller parish of St Nicholas Deptford, instead became part of the Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich at this time. In 1965 the Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich became part of the London Borough of Greenwich and the Metropolitan Borough of Deptford became part of the London Borough of Lewisham. In 1994 the former Royal Dockyard area was transferred to Lewisham from Greenwich. Now only the north eastern corner of Deptford lies in Greenwich; the boundary runs along Watergate Street, Creek Road, Deptford Church Street, Bronze Street, Creekside and Copperas Street to Deptford Creek. Deptford Town Hall and many other council buildings still remain, but are used for other purposes.

The pilgrimage route to Canterbury from London, followed by the pilgrims in Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales", crosses the Ravensbourne at Deptford. The town is mentioned in the Prologue to the Reeve's Tale.

As part of the urban sprawl of London, Deptford is contiguous with the neighbourhoods of New Cross to the south, Bermondsey to the west and Rotherhithe to the north west. Deptford Creek divides it from Greenwich to the east and the River Thames separates the area from the Isle of Dogs to the north east.


Deptford railway station is one of the oldest suburban stations in the world, being built (c.1836-38) as part of the first suburban service (the London and Greenwich Railway), between London Bridge and Greenwich. Close to Deptford Creek is a Victorian pumping station built in 1864, part of the massive London sewerage system designed by civil engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette. The former Deptford Power Station, in use from 1891 to 1983, originated as a pioneering plant designed by Sebastian de Ferranti, which when built was the largest station in the world.

Deptford was the location of the foreign cattle markets - the notorious "gutting sheds" in which girls and women worked in squalor gutting animals until the early part of the 20th century. These were the subject of the play "The Gut Girls" by Sarah Daniels.

Lewisham Council recently granted permission for the last remnants of the Deptford Ragged School known as The Princess Louise Institute to be demolished and replaced by flats.

Tanners Hill in the St John's or New Deptford area to the south of New Cross Road, is part of an Area of Archaeological Priority due to the longevity of settlement and early industry, and contains a set of commercial buildings from numbers 21 to 31 which are survivors from a row of 31 which were built in the 1750s on the site of cottages dating from the 17th century. These timber-frame buildings have a Grade II listing from English Heritageand are home to established businesses such as bicycle maker Witcomb Cycles.


St Nicholas' Church, the original parish church, dates back to the 14th century but the current building is 17th century. The entrance to the churchyard features a set of skull-and-bones on top of the posts. A plaque on the north wall commemorates playwright Christopher Marlowe, who was murdered in a nearby house, and buried in an unmarked grave in the churchyard on 1 June 1593.

In the 18th century St. Paul's, Deptford (1712-1730) was built, acclaimed by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England as one of the finest Baroque churches in the country. John Betjeman is attributed as referring to the church as "a pearl at the heart of Deptford". It was designed by the architect Thomas Archer, who was a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren, as part of the Commission for Building Fifty New Churches with the intention of instilling pride in Britain, and encouraging people to stay in London rather than immigrate to the New World. Adjacent to the church yard is Albury Street, which contains some fine 18th century houses which were popular with sea captains and shipbuilders.

Deptford Dockyard

Deptford Dockyard was established in 1513 by Henry VIII as the first Royal Dockyard, building vessels for the Royal Navy. In 1698 Peter the Great of Russia came to Deptford to learn about shipbuilding. It closed as a Dockyard in 1869. From 1871 until World War I it was the City of London Corporation's Foreign Cattle Market. In 1912 The Times reported that over 4 million head of live cattle, and sheep, had been landed.

In 1923 a director of the News of the World bought the site and began to import newsprint. Currently owned by News International, which used it to import newsprint and other paper products from Finland until early 2000 when restrictions on heavy lorries in Greenwich town centre made it uneconomic to continue using the site as a freight wharf. Outline planning approval was granted in May 2005 for mix use buildings including 3,500 new homes mainly in three tall towers, up to 40 storeys high.

Christopher Marlowe's murder

Christopher Marlowe was killed during an alleged drunken brawl in Eleanor Bull's house in Deptford Strand. Various versions of Marlowe's death were current at the time. Francis Meres says Marlowe was "stabbed to death by a bawdy serving-man, a rival of his in his lewd love" as punishment for his "epicurism and atheism". In 1917, in the Dictionary of National Biography, Sir Sidney Lee wrote that Marlowe was killed in a drunken fight. Modern theories are that he was assassinated. It is commonly assumed that the fight took place in a Deptford tavern.

The scholar Leslie Hotson discovered in 1925 the coroner's report on Marlowe's death in the Public Record Office which gave fuller details. Marlowe had spent all day in a house rather than a tavern, owned by the widow Eleanor Bull, along with three men, Ingram Frizer, Nicholas Skeres and Robert Poley. Witnesses testified that Frizer and Marlowe had earlier argued over the bill, exchanging "divers malicious words." Later, while Frizer was sitting at a table between the other two and Marlowe was lying behind him on a couch, Marlowe snatched Frizer's dagger and began attacking him. In the ensuing struggle, according to the coroner's report, Marlowe was accidentally stabbed above the right eye, killing him instantly. The jury concluded that Frizer acted in self-defence, and within a month he was pardoned. Marlowe was buried in an unmarked grave in the churchyard of St Nicholas, Deptford, on 1 June, 1593.


Deptford is served by the Docklands Light Railway with stations at Elverson Road, Deptford Bridge, Greenwich and Cutty Sark, and the East London Line with stations at Surrey Quays, New Cross, New Cross Gate, and Canada Water. The Jubilee Line also has a station at Canada Water.

Deptford has a suburban railway station on the Greenwich Line. Deptford railway station is the oldest passenger only railway station in London. Other stations are at Greenwich, Blackheath, Maze Hill, New Cross, New Cross Gate, and St John's.

Deptford was one of the first areas in south-east London to be served by a 'bendy bus' route. These long, articulated vehicles are superseding some double-decker buses within greater London, offering easier access and faster boarding times due to multiple door sets.


''For education in Deptford see the main London Borough of Lewisham article

Notable residents

Deptford also has some musical connections. Dire Straits, the successful British rock group, shared a council flat in Farrer House on Deptford's Crossfield Estate in the early days of their career. The band Squeeze lived in Deptford in the late 1970s and recorded on the Deptford Fun City label. Chris Difford (of Squeeze) briefly lived on the Crossfield Estate in Congers House. The bands Athlete, Bloc Party and Art Brut originated from 'Deptford Scene'. The Saudis and The Pepys often drink in the Little Crown.




  • Nathan Dews, The History of Deptford (Deptford: J.D. Smith, 1883)
  • Jess Steele, Turning the Tide: The History of Everyday Deptford (New Cross: Deptford Forum Publishing Ltd, 1993), ISBN 1898536007
  • Ellen Chase, Tenant Friends in Old Deptford (London: Williams & Norgate, 1929)
  • Dan Colman, I Never Saw My Father Nude (London: Arthur Barker, 1981), ISBN 0213167912
  • George Glazebrook, Where No Flowers Grow. A child's eye-view of Deptford: 1921-1931 (Rainham: Meresborough Books, 1989), ISBN 0948193379
  • Jim Rice, Deptford Creek (Manchester: Cornerhouse Publications, 1993), ISBN 0948797770

External links



Search another word or see Deptfordon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature