Deptford Dockyard and Sayes Court Garden

World Monuments Watch
London, United Kingdom

2014 World Monuments Watch

Situated along the River Thames in East London, Deptford Dockyard and Sayes Court Garden are steeped in history. Founded in 1513 by Henry VIII, Deptford Dockyard was a significant naval center for close to four centuries and the principle place where London’s ships were built, maintained, and launched across the world. Explorers Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh set out from Deptford, James Cook left it to discover Australia, and in the seventeenth century it became the national headquarters of the naval administration and an internationally renowned center for maritime innovation and education. Adjacent to the historic dockyard is John Evelyn's Sayes Court, famous for its creative and exotic landscaped gardens.

Closed in 1869, the ownership of the land changed in the 1960s and since then much of the site has been paved in concrete. Frozen in time are the perimeter walls, caisson gate, cobbled paths, double dry dock, and seventeenth-century domestic architecture that reveal the rich heritage of Britain and trace the development of London over time. A £1-billion redevelopment scheme that would create 3,500 residential units in 40-story towers was proposed for Deptford Dockyard shortly before the site was included on the 2014 World Monuments Watch. An advocacy campaign was mounted against the plan, making the case that it failed to respect the dockyard's history. Inclusion on the Watch sought to raise awareness about Deptford’s rich heritage and to advocate for sensitive integration of its historic vestiges into redevelopment plans.

Watch Day

In November 2014, the Young Archaeologists Club celebrated Watch Day at Deptford Dockyard and Sayes Court Garden. Participants explored the site with costumed “Tudor Explorer” characters, learning about the history of shipbuilding and trade at Deptford. They also had the opportunity to build Tudor ships from craft materials.

Since the Watch

In October 2013, at the developer’s request, the mayor of London decided to supplant Lewisham Council as the authority that would make the final decision about the proposed redevelopment. At the end of March 2014 the mayor approved the plan against the recommendation of Lewisham Council, while requiring that the developers contribute towards two community heritage projects that were in the planning stage. A year later the Greater London Authority also approved the development project, authorizing the demolition of all non-listed structures at the site.

In April 2014, WMF organized a study day at Deptford during which participants enjoyed a visit to the dockyard as well as a tour and lecture at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. Meanwhile, the stone marking the founding of the Royal Naval Dockyard at Deptford by Henry VIII was rediscovered in early 2014 behind a false wall at University College London (UCL). The stone had been salvaged from the bomb-damaged site after World War II. UCL then pledged to return this historically significant find to Deptford.

Last updated: January 2017.

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