Digging up Deptford’s past

As is common practice with all major construction projects, archaeological ground investigations should be carried out in order to evaluate and identify any historical remains or evidence.

Tideway have already undertaken an archaeological trench evaluation at Deptford Church Street, specifically at the location where the shaft will be located. The site comprises areas of the Crossfield Open Space. Four archaeological evaluation trenches were excavated on the site. The results of the evaluation trenches and assessment revealed no finds of medieval and earlier date. However a number of post-medieval finds were identified.

Archaeological finds_drawing

Deptford Church Street site and heritage find locations marked in brown 


Trench excavation locations marked in green with St. Paul’s in top section


The historical context of this site – St Paul’s Church rectory, once existed on this site but was demolished in the 19th century. The Grade II railway viaduct was added to the south in 1836. Housing appeared from at least mid-18th century. A terrace of 24 houses, including a pub onto Deptford Street were located here and in the 19th century, housing was extended along the northern side of Crossfield. St Joseph’s School was built at this time. These houses suffered bombing damage during the Second World War and in late 20th century were removed.

Here is a nice chronological summary of what has been identified from this archaeological investigation:

Pre-historic period (700,000BC – AD 43)

  • No known remains date to this period within the site or assessment area. Outside the assessment area, a Paleolithic tranchet axe was recovered from the Ravensbourne River at the Century Works, Conington Road. Bronze Age artefacts have also been recovered from the Ravensbourne and its floodplain in Lewisham 1.5km to the south of the site.

Roman period (AD 43 – 410)

  • No known remains within the site or assessment area. Watling Street, a Roman road was a major route and is believed to have crossed Deptford Creek c. 250m east of the site.

Medieval (Saxon) period (AD 410 – `1066)

  • No known remains dated to this period. The site is believed to have been in open fields outside of, and between Saxon settlements of Deptford Green and Deptford Bridge. The name Deptford is thought to be Anglo-Saxon in origin. Saxon pottery was found nearby on the former Deptford Power Station, c. 300m northeast of the site. Two 7th century burials with grave goods of jewelry and personal items were found 410m southwest of the site. At the end of the medieval period, Domesday Book (1086), records, that West Greenwich (or Deptford) comprised two manors (estates held by Early Harold and Beorhtsige).
  • After the Norman conquest the manor (estate of Depford) passed from Gilbert De Magminot (1066-1191), de Say Family, Knights Templar, King John (1223-1487).
  • The main settlement of Deptford was focused on the church of St Nicholas, c. 190m northeast to the site

Post-medieval period (AD 1485 – present)

  • Majority of known archaeological remains date from the 17th – 19th centuries, reflecting the rapid growth of Deptford as a centre of manufacturing and industry centred in the Kings Royal Dockyard.
  • The area was urbanized during the 18th and 19th Remains of 19th century building were recorded.


Star finds on the site include the following:

  • Three ceramic clay tabacco pipes bowls were recovered and dares to 16th – 18th centuries and are typical of London manufacture.
  • A miniature or model cannon, made from cast iron and 118mm long. The cannon appears to a be a replica 18th or early 19th century cannon. If funding allows the recommendation is for a naval historian to accurately plaice it within its historic context.

Copper cannon

  • Three fragments of post-medieval glass were recorded dating to 1680-1740 all coming from wine bottles.
  • Five fragments of inscribed grave markers were recovered and dated to 19th century and are thought to have been brought from St. Paul’s Churchyard when the churchyard was cleared of many tombstones and turned in to a garden in 1912-1913.




Church heritage blog – January update

Full speed ahead for New Year activities at St. Paul’s Church…

Update on Tideway works:

Tideway utility works are currently underway on Crossfield Street and by mid-February the next phase will begin along Coffey Street. The works will take approximately four months and working hours are 8 – 6pm Monday to Friday and 8 – 1pm on Saturday. J Murphys and Sons have been the appointed contractors carrying out these works. For further information or queries contact info@tideway.london

While these works are in place vibration monitoring of the church will be organised in order to safeguard and protect the fabric while works are underway. These utility works will provide us with a good indication and measure for the main works that will commence in 2017.

Fundraising plans:

We are aiming to submit an application for the Listed Places of Worship Roof Repair Fund and are hoping that this will help us to repair and restore damage to the roof.

We attended an informative HLF workshop on the 27 January at Trinity House, London entitled: ‘structural/monument repairs and better community use of churches’. This will allow us to channel the discussions we are now having and would like to progress in order to formulate a strong project.

That’s a wrap for 2015!


It’s always good to stock check and take time to review work completed. So in order to look forward and plan ahead here is a summary of work completed over the past seven months.

In July 2015 an architectural quinquennial report was completed by HMDW. This covered a full detailed report of the church interior, exterior and burial grounds. It also highlighted problematic areas or building repairs and actions to remedy any structural work both long-term and in light of work ahead in connection with Thames Tideway.

We have had a full laser survey carried out of the building, which has produced some highly detailed and informative 3D images of the interior of the church. The scans were then used by Hirst Conservation who, after studying these, carried out a full inspection of the plasterwork and interiors.

Other survey work included that of the organ and also vibration monitoring of the structural fabric of the building, which will take place in the New Year.

Further work that will be required will be a survey of the clock tower and spire as the last report carried out in 2007 and the most recent one in July have highlighted structural issues.

On the 2nd December I attended the annual Historic Buildings Alliance conference. As well as many interesting talks and discussions, Janet Gough, Director of the Cathedral and Church Buildings Division talked about the recent Church of England’s Review of its buildings, a copy of the report can be viewed here:


Similarly it was interesting to hear about the most current fundraising approaches and grant bodies that are relevant to churches such as S. Paul’s. The Listed Places of Worship Roof Repair Fund, is now available to apply for, which is something that we are keen to do. This is a generous one-off grant scheme from the government, which is widely appreciated for its relative ease of application, and focus on the needs of the building.

From current conservation measures and baseline monitoring activities, we will soon begin to consider how to move forward with the benchmarking that has been carried out and report that was produced. In the New Year our aim will be to consult with the parish and community in order to make an informed decision on the approach we will take and the vision that we start to inform the new design and development.

An architectural nutshell

Thomas Allin_St Pauls

Coloured Engraving showing the North West prospect of St. Paul’s Deptford together with the Rector’s House (1731), by Thomas Allin & William Toms. (Image source from Government Art Collection online)

Church buildings tell us so much – the history of the area in which they sit,  the local traditions of craftsmen and the architecture, the social patterns, the economy and the religious activities. Perhaps this is why these buildings are so important to protect and conserve for future generations.

One key part of protecting the building is to know it inside and out, as thoroughly and comprehensively as possible. In order to do so, I have spent a lot of time (happily with my pencil in hand at the British Library!) researching various sources in order to be as fully briefed as possible. One source that I found extremely useful, in order to form an architectural description of the building was from Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner’s The Buildings of England: London 2: South (1983) which on page 403-405 includes the following description.

St Paul, Deptford High Street. One of the most moving c. 18 churches in London: large, somber and viril. The church is ingenious in plan, and equally ingenious in its solution of the eternal English West tower and West portico problem. Archer did not fancy the illogical and aesthetically painful way in which Gibbs at St Martins-in-the-Fields simply let the tower ride on the Greek roof. So he made his tower circular, and let it project in a semicircle at the w end (which in addition corresponded to the semicircular low apse at the e end and thus stressed a centralizing tendency welcome to Archer as it had been to Wren). Around the base of the tower is a semi-circular portico of giant columns crowned by a balustrade round the semicircle of the tower projection. Thus a structurally convincing and at the same time highly original solution was found. The Tuscan columns of the portico is derived from Wren’s transept at St. Paul’s or from the source of that, S. Maria della Pace, which Archer would himself have seen in Rome).

The Tuscan columns of the portico are of majestic girth, contrasted against the slender upper parts of the steeple. A wide staircase fans out from it. The n and s sides of the church also have quite unnecessarily lavish staircases, each of two arms starting at right angles to the fronts and turning to end parallel with them. It is the way Palladio designed staircases for his villas, or Lord Burlington for his villa at Chiswick (and Archer himself at Heythrop, Oxfordshire). Here they lead to projecting pedimented three-bay centres emphasizing a n-s axis, another aspect of the central planning which interested English Baroque architects at this time (Hawksmoor’s St. George Bloomsbury and Christ Church Spitalfields) The walls are articulated by colossal pilasters with cyclopean intermittent rustication. Venetian e window bent round the curve of the apse with a bent pediment above (a very Baroque trait, no doubt indulged in by Archer on the precedent of Vanbrugh’s licenses).

The church, almost but not quite square, is entered through a circular entrance lobby beneath the tower. Inside, the impression is of a square within a square, the outer corners being filled by two-storey chambers (the w spaces also accomomodating staircases). To the broad nave these chambers have chamfered angles, and their upper walls are opened up by large glazed round-headed windows above the projecting private pews. The rhythm of the giant Corinthian engaged columns which flank these pews and the E apse creates the illusion of an oval central space, coming loser to Borromini and the Roman Baroque than any other English church of this date. In an ambiguously Baroque fashion some of these half columns double as responds for the short three-bay n and s aisles. Yet the aisles, and the shallow trapezoidal chancel and apse, concur with the traditionally English emphasis on the e-w direction. Flat ceilings with splendid classical plasterwork by James Hands. The main galleries of wood are not originally part of the architects design. The furnishings cannot compete with the architecture. They were less ambitious than Archer had intended (his designs for pulpit and altarpiece were simplified by John James in 1721), and have been altered and rearranged.

Conserving, protecting and safeguarding

S. Pauls nov15

Our new LED lights illuminating the path to S. Paul’s

November has come and gone in what feels like the blink of an eye! There was a holiday in the midst of this and having also enrolled on a Historic Building Conservation course, this may have also added to the momentum of this month!

A summary of this month’s activity includes a committed approach at safeguarding the fabric of the building and setting a baseline for monitoring works ahead.

The work that has taken place includes a full architectural survey (July 2015) by the appointed church architect HMDW. The report included full details of the interior and exterior of the church building, while highlighting the key priority areas of concern and safeguarding measures to action including: clock tower & spire; bell frame; interior plasterwork and painting. The work has been funded by Tideway as part of the mitigation plan.

Conservation usually means different things to different people and there are many approaches that one can take when conserving buildings. Whether that be restoring a like for like version of the original building, or to alter and make changes based on a case by case approach. Essentially conservation is the management of change.

I will discuss some of these measures that have been taken so far and those that are in review.

Building vibration monitoring –Black box devices will be installed by Goodhand Acoustics for a period of three months to measure and monitor any building movements in order to minimize building vibrations. The device will be installed with alerts for any movement that should exceed the threshold limit.

Plasterwork and painting – Laser scanning has already taken place and which is now common practice in historic buildings. This will establish a detailed dimensional picture, which would be useful if anything arises, as a re-scan could pick up any new deflections in the ceiling. These images will be sent to Hirst Conservators who will then carry out a manual close-up survey with platform over a period of two days, to assess the plasterwork and cracks. This will establish if there is any de-bonding of the plaster from the substrate (something the laser wouldn’t be able to indicate) In the event that this survey highlights the need for further investigation or conservation then this will need to be reviewed.

Structural SurveysMorton Partnership, who carried out a similar survey in 2006, will be required to carry out a number of structural surveys on the church clock tower and spire and bell frame. In the 2006 survey they noted cracking of spire, corrosion of internal metal cramps and erosion/deterioration of the timber bell frame structure. We are hoping that these surveys will be carried out early in the new year.

From current conservation measures, we will soon begin to consider how to move forward with the benchmarking that has been carried out. In the New Year, our aim will be to consult with the parish and community, in order to make an informed decision on the approach we will take and the vision for the new design and development.

Other non-conservation related updates on the project include:

‘Making the case for S. Paul’s Deptford’ – Tideway Presentation

On the 18th November I gave a lunchtime talk entitled Making the case for S. Paul’s Deptford, to team members from Tideway at Dawson House, London. This was a good opportunity to outline the important project at S. Paul’s and set this within the context of the Tideway works. A follow up from this will be to present to another department, with the aim to inform as many people from the team who are connected with or working on the Deptford Church Street site.

Welcoming our new Archival Assistant volunteer!

Aleksandra Kubica has recently started volunteering at S. Paul’s. She is currently a doctoral student at the Department of Culture, Media and Creative Industries at King’s College London, and her project is on cultural memory and mobile museums. She has a background in community projects, research and completed an Archival Fellowship program run by the Centre for Jewish History and Colombia University in New York. We are very happy to welcome her to S. Paul’s and to assist us with our project.


A survey of the William Drake organ

As part of the survey work we are undertaking, we have recently had a full condition report carried out on the organ at S. Paul’s.

The organ was built in 1745 for the church by an unknown maker but supplied by Thomas Griffin. The mahogany case and façade pipes are the only remaining original parts and William Drake restored them in 2004.

William Drake Organ

The aim of the survey is to help establish any difference in the recorded condition from before and after the Thames Tideway works have been completed. For this reason a second condition survey will be required after all works have been completed.

Some of the envisaged threats to the organ during the construction period will be dust and movement. The dust will affect the speech and tone and pitch of the pipes. The movement may cause breakages to case work and vibrations may cause parts of the organ to collapse.

Dust monitoring measures have been added with square cut out black card places in several areas of the instrument. The state of regulation of stop action and keyboard action were also recorded.

William Drake Organ_Musical Motifs

Condition photograph of mahogany carved canopies featuring musical motifs

William Drake Organ_Pipes

Condition photographs of swell pipework

From Deptford to Edinburgh – creative adaption of church buildings

I have recently returned from a trip to Edinburgh where I couldn’t resist doing some further research on church projects. To my delight I found many cases of creative approaches to reusing church buildings and have taken note of some of the most innovative ones that I came across.


Leith School of Art is now in what was once a Norwegian Seaman Church, originally built in 1868. The church was adapted and extended in 2001 in order to provide more multi-functional studio space.

Mansfield Traquair Centre

Mansfield Traquair Centre was once a building at risk and a project to restore the building was carried out between 1988 – 2002. It is now the headquarters of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and includes an open-plan office space with mezzanine gallery. The main space now functions as a venue for public events, corporate entertainment and private functions. The murals were also restored and repaired adding to a visually striking finish.

Eric l Eric L 1

The Eric Liddell Centre in Morningside was perhaps the most innovative of redevelopment projects I discovered. In 1981 the congregation of 4 parishes came together to form a charitable trust and purchased the church building for £20,000 and church was renamed Eric Liddell Centre. Between 1981 – 1987 architect Nicholas Groves-Raines utterly transformed and redesigned the space.. Five new levels added to the interior of the church to provide more facilities and spaces. While at the same time the stained glass windows and architectural features were retained within the new building scheme adding to a dramatic visual effect. New facilities included mezzanine gallery office space for hire to local business’ and charities (counselling services), café and seating area on ground level, lower ground level bookshop/charity shop, exhibition space and studio space, top floors fitness and gym space

All examples display a creative approach to redesign and sensitive use of their sacred spaces by responding to the needs of the local community. The other common link of all these approaches is that they respond to the threat all buildings may have faced which is redundancy and risk of closure. These buildings have now been adapted to add value socially, economically and environmentally to the places in which they are set.

August project update

Bricks and mortar

A lot has been happening on the baseline surveying work! Last week Thames Tideway reported that the ground works were successfully completed and there were no issues in order to proceed with the early works. In the meantime I have had a series of meetings in order to discuss the vibration monitoring process that will be arranged at the church. This counter measure has been taken to ensure that any threat to the building fabric is minimised as a result of building vibration.

The other areas that have been highlighted from the architectural survey report are building conservation concerns including the fragility of the clock tower & spire, bell frame and interior plasterwork and painting. I am now reviewing and getting quotes for this work.

A further meeting onsite at the church was arranged with English Heritage and the archaeological team at Thames Tideway to discuss the wider programme of interpretive planning and development that will be taken across the 24 Thames Tideway construction sites. This is quite an exciting prospect as much of this work will focus on complimenting the historical environment of each site.

For further information on each of the construction sites see the link below:


A churchyard with a history

S. Pauls Deptford_1900s

Photograph of S. Paul’s Churchyard, d. 1900s

Approx 0.9ha in size with 2m high walls surrounding the churchyard is another area that will be taken into account during the redevelopment phases of the project within a wider scheme of plans to make more visible site-lines, improved interpretation and potentially re-landscaping.  Most importantly the idea to provide and create a more direct and attractive route between the estates and High Street, making the churchyard more integral to the life of the area.

Maintained by Lewisham council but managed by the church, it is a deconsecrated space and not used for burials, though an area on the west side is in active use as a memorial garden. Anti-social behaviour has been a major issue, with rough sleeping, damages to the building and drinking but this has been reduced in recent years although there is still a definite need to address this within the redevelopment.

The site, originally chosen for S. Paul’s Church, in the 1700s was owned by Henry Wise, the Royal Gardener, who sold it in 1710 to his brother Richard, a master caulker (a profession involved in making a ship watertight) in Deptford, who then sold it to the Commission for £640. At that time the land was used as a market garden by Samuel Preistman who was compensated £80 for loss of fruit tress, asparagus plants and dung! Five houses along Church street boundary were demolished.

By 1852 the burial ground was closed following the London Burial Acts as it was deemed a health risk due to overcrowding. It reopened again in 1856 but eventually closed in 1858. Some tree planting followed in the 1890s and in 1910 an Act of Parliament converted the burial grounds into public gardens. The headstones were moved to the perimeter and walks laid out with trees planted alongside.

Today the whole churchyard site is walled with railings and gates and features a forecourt at the main entrance adjoining Deptford High street re-landscaped by Alan and Sylvia Blanc in 1973. There are many fine monuments in the churchyard which include: a Roman burial tomb (date to be confirmed) at the main entrance, table-tombs linking to individuals associated with the naval history, such as a grave of Mydiddee, a Tahitian who came to England with Captain Bligh on HMS Providence and who died in Deptford in 1793. There is an obelisk at the east of the churchyard to the Stone family of 1807, along with a charnel house that is no longer in use.

What I find most interesting about the churchyard is that it was the first churchyard to be converted into public gardens in 1912 when the headstones were moved to the perimeter. Additionally there was also a rectory house (1717) belonging to S. Paul’s Church was located next to the church but was demolished and replaced by terraced housing in the 1800s. These buildings were then bombed in The Second World War and in the 1970s the site was cleared and has not been altered since.

Other nearby green spaces include:

  • Crossfield Street Open Space. Approx. 0.6ha in size and categorised as a pocket park and will be subject to a proposed re-landscaping scheme
  • Lawn to the East of St Paul’s Churchyard at junction with Deptford Church St. and Coffey St.
  • Sue Godfrey Local Nature Reserve to east beyong Deptford Church St.
  • Small playground to north of S. Paul’s Church churchyard at Mary Ann Buildings
  • Charlotte Turner Gardens – open space north of Creek Road
  • Grounds of the Trinity Laban Conservatoire

July project update


Over the past couple of weeks the church has had a full architectural survey carried out by HMDW architects in order to set the baseline for the building monitoring that will be carried out over the next 3 and a half years with the Thames Tideway Project. It is a useful piece of work that has been undertaken as it has also highlighted priority areas for the conservation or restoration that will be required.

Damaged wall:

Sadly we had a few setbacks over the past week as there was vandalism caused to the East wall of the church graveyard. Fortunately a member of the Lewisham Parks and Green spaces was onsite for a meeting that day and was able to assist in this matter. Historically the church has had very limited incidents of vandalism in the past so this was quite unusual. Over the past 10 years the Rector of S. Paul’s has maintained all efforts in creating a safe and respectful environment in the surrounding church graveyard. Looking ahead this is another area that will be of focus and we will be in more conversations with Lewisham Council, who are responsible for the church graveyard.

Wall damage1

One of the three damaged east wall sections in church graveyard

Thames Tideway Early Works:

We met with the Thames Tideway team during the week to discuss the first phase of the project which will begin on the 27 July and be carried out over 3 months. This is part of site set up and will involve trial hand dug holes to check below ground level. From mid October/November the next phase will include the utility works, over a 12 month period. This work will include clearing the services (mainly fiber optics) on Church Street, to make space to a build interception chamber. These services will be moved to Crossfield/Coffey St.