Dividing Deptford: How royal Greenwich lost some regal history

Lewisham Council is currently mulling over whether or not it should grant permission for the huge Convoys Wharf scheme in Deptford. It’s one of London’s biggest developments, and will completely change the nature of the riverfront between Deptford and Greenwich. Developers want to build approximately 3,000 new homes, along with a primary school and doctors’ surgery in the development, which will also include three skyscrapers of 40, 32, and 26 storeys in height. The Grade II-listed Olympia warehouse will also be refurbished. Might be a bit busier in the Dog & Bell in future years….

If you’re quick, there’s a drop-in session at St Nicholas’s Church, Deptford Green, between 5pm-8pm this evening. Campaign group Deptford Is…, which isn’t impressed, has some questions about the whole scheme.

It’s a historic site – once News International’s paper yard, it was also the location of Deptford royal dockyard. It’s the biggest redevelopment site in Lewisham borough – but earlier this year its regal history was also cited as a vital part of the background of the forthcoming Royal Borough of Greenwich. There’s still some remnants of the old dockyard there – and there’s thought to be more buried beneath the later developments. Indeed, it has been said that without the dockyard at Deptford, the royal family would not have settled in Greenwich.

The links between the two remained strong, and from Victorian times, until the early 1990s, Convoys – and the old dockyard site – was in the borough of Greenwich. As Lewisham prepares for a huge development alongside its riverside – which could prove to be lucrative in business rates – I wonder if Greenwich is looking across the border in envy?

The change came about in 1994, after a review of the London borough boundaries. If Lewisham had its way, the whole of Deptford would have come under its control. The old border looked like this – Convoys is the large site in the upper-middle of the map:

There were a number of problems with this – the old border darted about in odd directions around the side of the Pepys Estate, sliced through the Sayes Court Estate, and left shops in Evelyn Street and Deptford High Street paying tax to Greenwich but in reality, having very little to do with the borough. The east side of Deptford was dominated by the old power station, on Stowage, demolished in 1992, with new homes yet to be built there or at Creekside. The Laban Centre was still a Lewisham Council refuse yard.

So Lewisham had an idea. It’d simply take over all of Deptford. According to a report from the Local Government Boundary Commission*…

Lewisham had originally suggested realigning the boundary along Deptford Creek, on the grounds that the Creek formed the natural boundary between the two boroughs. It commented that the existing boundary splits an area which has strong links with Deptford, and whose residents use Deptford High Street’s shopping facilities. It also said that the division of Deptford High Street between two authorities creates problems for the coordination of shopping policies.

This would mean almost all of SE8 coming under Lewisham’s control, bringing the boundary right up to Creek Bridge. The Metropolitan police liked the idea, but Greenwich wasn’t impressed.

Greenwich opposed this suggestion, commenting that it had plans to redevelop both banks of the Creek, and that such a realignment would have major electoral consequences for its Council.

Eventually, the two councils hit on a compromise – that the boundary would run down Watergate Street, and Convoys Wharf and the Sayes Court estate would be transferred to Lewisham. That suggestion was adopted, and that’s where the boundary runs now, between Convoys Wharf and the Deptford Green estate. Deptford High Street and historic Albury Street were completely shifted into Lewisham, and a few kinks smoothed out here and there. Deptford remained split between the boroughs, but with an easier-to-follow boundary.

Keen students of street furniture can see the remnants of the old border, most obviously where Greenwich’s black-on-white street signs persist instead of Lewisham’s white-on-blue. But Google Streetview, curiously, still uses the old boundaries – with part of Deptford High Street still appearing as “Greenwich”, and even this new road next to the Pepys Estate, far nearer the Surrey Docks than the Cutty Sark…

So, what would have happened if Convoys had stayed in Greenwich borough? Would Greenwich be more sensitive to the history of the site? Or would it have rushed to have allowed something to go up as soon as possible in the name of regeneration? We do know that Greenwich allowed the adjacent wharves, Borthwick and Paynes, to be gutted a few years ago for a redevelopment that’s since stalled. Greenwich also allowed the hideous “Greenwich Creekside” [sic] development which looms angrily over Creek Road.

But then again – surely a soon-to-be royal borough would be alert to the regal past of this site?

It’s all what-ifs, of course, and surely Lewisham is also alert to the consequences of what’s being proposed here. But its recent past illustrates just what a big and important site this is for a great chunk of south-east London, and not just around a few streets in Deptford.

There’s been precious little discussion about Convoys on this side of the border (Greenwich Council’s weekly “newspaper” has studiously ignored it), but the implications of this development – whether you back it or not – will be too big to ignore for people across both boroughs.

* There’s a wealth of geeky boundary goodness in this document, including confirmation that the border on Blackheath really is set to make cutting grass easier.

2 comments

  1. Slightly off topic, but if you’re interested in current planning and development issues in Greenwich, its worth getting the current edition of Private Eye (the one with “Foxy Foxy” on the front cover). There’s a section on the Cutty Sark renovation and the Sammy Ofer wing of the National Maritime Museum.

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