Old and New London: Volume 6. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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"Such place hath Deptford, navy-building town."—Pope.
Derivation of the Name of Deptford—Division of the Parish—The River Ravensbourne—The Royal Dockyard—Sir Francis Drake's Ship, the Golden Hind—References to Deptford in the Diaries of Evelyn and Pepys—Peter the Great as a Shipwright—Captain Cook's Ships, the Resolution and the Discovery—Biography of Samuel Pepys—Closing of the Dockyard—The Foreign Cattle-Market—Saye's Court—John Evelyn, the Author of "Sylva"—Evelyn at Home—Grinling Gibbons—Removal of Evelyn to Wotton—Saye's Court let to Admiral Benbow—Peter the Great as a Tenant—Visit of William Penn, the Quaker—Demolition of Saye's Court—Formation of a Recreation-ground on its Site—The Royal Victoria Victualling Yard—The Corporation of the Trinity House—The Two Hospitals belonging to the Trinity House—St. Nicholas' Church—St. Paul's Church—The Roman Catholic Church of the Assumption—St. Luke's Church—The Grand Surrey Canal—Evelyn's Account of the Capture of a Whale at Deptford—Origin of the Sign of the Black Doll.
The town of Deptford—anciently written Depeord—which lies on the east side of Rotherhithe, and stretches away to Lewisham on the south, and to Greenwich on the east, was, at a very remote period, known as West Greenwich. It derived its present name from being the place of a "deep- ford" over the little river, the Ravensbourne, near its influx into the Thames, where a bridge was many years ago built over it, just before it widens into Deptford Creek.
It is described in the "Ambulator," in 1774, as 'a large and populous town, divided into Upper and Lower Deptford, and containing two churches." The place was of old famous for its naval shipbuilding yard, a fact which is thus noticed in the work above quoted: "Deptford is most remarkable for its noble dock, where the royal navy was formerly built and repaired, till it was found more convenient to build the larger ships at Woolwich, and at other places, where there is a greater depth of water."Notwithstanding this, the yard is enlarged to more than double its former dimensions, and a vast number of hands are constantly employed. It has a wet dock of two acres for hips, and another with an acre and a half, with last quantities of timber and other stores, and extensive buildings as storehouses and offices for he use of the place, besides dwelling-houses for he use of those officers who are obliged to live upon the spot in order to superintend the works. Here the royal yachts of our Tudor and Stuart overeigns were generally kept.
By an Act of Parliament passed in 1730, Dept-ford was divided into two parishes, distinguished by the names of St. Nicholas, and St. Paul. The Parish of St. Nicholas, which includes the old town, lies mainly along the river Thames, and the combined parishes have now a population of about 60,000 souls.
According to the author of "Le Guide de Etranger à Londres," published in 1827, it is the last relaisof the traveller by the posting road from over to London. He states that it is divided into an upper and lower town, and draws attention to its two churches of St. Nicholas and St. Paul, and to its Royal Marine Arsenal, the creation of Henry VIII., where cables, masts, anchors, &c., are manufactured, and the royal state yachts are kept. He mentions also the Red House to the north of Deptford, the "grand depôt of provisions for the fleet," burnt down in 1639, and again in 1761. The town at that time numbered 17,000 inhabitants.
The change of the name of this place from West Greenwich to that which it now bears, and has borne for some hundreds of years, must, as we have intimated above, have been owing to the "deep ford" by which the inhabitants had to cross the river Ravensbourne here, just above its meeting with the Thames. The ford, however, has long since been superseded by a bridge. This bridge, according to Charles Mackay, in his "Thames and its Tributaries," is memorable in history for the total defeat of Lord Audley and his Cornish rebels in the year 1497. Headed by that nobleman and by a lawyer named Flammock, and Joseph, a blacksmith of Bodmin, they had advanced from Taunton with the design of taking possession of London. The Kentish men flocked to their standard, and on their arrival at Blackheath they amounted altogether to about 16,000 men. Lord Daubeny, who had been sent against them by King Henry VII., made a furious attack upon them at Deptford Bridge, and after great slaughter put them to flight. Lord Audley, Flammock, and Joseph were all taken prisoners, and shortly afterwards were executed on Tower Hill, the latter boasting in his hour of death that he died in a just cause, and that he would make a figure in history. Such are the vain and foolish hopes with which low-bred rebels and impostors, from his day to that of the Orton and Tichborne trial, have too often buoyed themselves up.
The little stream of the Ravensbourne, which is here called Deptford Creek, rises upon Keston Heath, near Hayes Common, in Kent, and runs a course of about twelve miles in all, passing Bromley and Lewisham and the southern borders of Blackheath. It was formerly sometimes called the Brome, from Bromley. An old legend is told to account for its romantic name:—"It is said that Julius Cæsar, on his invasion of Britain, was encamped with all his force a few miles distant from its source. The army was suffering a good deal from want of water, and detachments had been sent out in all directions to find a supply, but without any success. Cæsar, however, fortunately observed that a raven frequently alighted near the camp, and conjecturing that it came to drink, he ordered its arrival to be carefully noted. This command was obeyed, and the visits of the raven were found to be to a small clear spring on Keston Heath. The wants of the army were supplied, and the spring, says the legend, and the rivulet of which it is the parent, have ever since been called the "Raven's Well" and the "Ravensbourne." This legend, however, it is to be feared, is more pretty than true. For even if the facts occurred as stated, it is scarcely likely that the Roman legions would have communicated them to the wild and savage tribes whom they were so bent on subduing to the iron rule of Imperial Rome; and if they did teach the Britons so pretty a story, they would not have been likely to use the British or the Saxon tongue in communicating it to them. We may, therefore, safely dismiss it as a mere fable, invented by some poetically-minded individual, in order to account for the name which he found already established by immemorial custom. In some legends we can trace an element of truth; but in this we fail to discover even "the shadow of a shade" of anything except romance.
The Ravensbourne, it may be here stated, is
still, as it is described by some poet quoted in
Hone's "Table Book,"
"A crystal rillet, scarce a palm in width,
Till creeping to a bed, outspread by art,
It shoots itself across, reposing there;
Thence through a thicket sinuous it flows,
And crossing meads and footpaths, gathering tribute
Due to its elder birth from younger branches,
Wanders, by Hayes and Bromley, Beckenham Vale,
And straggling Lewisham, to where Deptford Bridge
Uprises in obeisance to its flood."
But small and insignificant as the stream may now appear, the Ravensbourne is a river which has a name in history. We have recorded above how it witnessed the rout and capture of Lord Audley's rebel forces; but this is not all. "More than one tumultuous multitude," writes Charles Mackay, "has encamped upon its banks, shouting loud defiance to their lawful rulers. Blackheath, its near neighbour, was overrun by Wat Tyler and the angry thousands that followed in his train; and in the Ravensbourne, perchance, many of those worthy artisans stooped down to drink its then limpid waters, when, inflamed by revenge and by the hope of plunder and of absolute power, they prepared to march upon London. Jack Cade and his multitudes in their turn encamped about the self-same spot; and the Ravensbourne, after an interval of eighty years, saw its quiet shores disturbed by men who met there for the same purposes, and threatening bloodshed against the peaceful citizens of London, because, feeling the scourge of oppression, they knew no wiser means of obtaining relief, and were unable to distinguish between law and tyranny on the one hand, and freedom and licentiousness on the other." The same author reminds us that as Perkin Warbeck met his adherents near about the same spot, the same scene must have occurred here again during the reign of Henry VII. It may not be out of place to record here the fact that at Hayes, not far from the sources of the Ravensbourne, was the favourite seat of the great Lord Chatham, whose illustrious son, William Pitt, the "heaven-born" minister of King George III., was born there on the 28th of May, 1759.
There are, and have been for many centuries, corn and other mills situated on the Ravensbourne in its picturesque windings through Deptford and Brockley, and so on to its source. To one of these John Evelyn refers in his "Dairy," where, under date of April 28, 1668, he writes: "To London, about the purchase of the Ravensbourne Mills and land round it (sic) in Upper Deptford."
As shown in the line quoted as a motto at the head of this chapter, Deptford is styled by Pope, in his well-known lines on the Thames, a "navy-building town," and right well in former years did it deserve its name; for the Trinity House here, and also the docks and the once extensive yards for ship-building, all date from the reign of Henry VIII., and were here established by that sovereign, to whom belongs, at all events, the credit of having been the founder of the British navy.
It is a matter of history that Deptford, notwithstanding its contiguity to the main road through Kent, and its nearness to the metropolis, continued little more than a mean fishing village till Henry VIII. first erected a store and made the royal dock there, from which time the town has continued to increase both in size and population.
The Royal Dock, or "King's Yard," as it was locally called in former times, was esteemed one of the most complete repositories for naval stores in Europe. It covered not less than thirty acres of ground, and contained every convenience for building, repairing, and fitting out ships-of-the-line—those veritable "wooden walls of Old England" with which we were familiar before the introduction of armour-plated vessels. Artificers in wood and in iron had here large ranges of workshops and storehouses; and here the hammer and the axe were scarcely ever idle, even in times of peace; but where, during the prevalence of war, they were plied incessantly "in the construction of those floating bulwarks for which England is, or rather was, renowned, and which carry a hundred and twenty guns and a thousand men to guard her shores from the invader, or to bear her fame with her victories to the remotest seas of the ocean."
The yard was occupied by various buildings, such as two wet docks (one double and the other single), three "slips" for men-of-war, a basin, two mast ponds, a model loft, mast houses, a large smith's shop, together with numerous forges for anchors, sheds for timber, &c., besides houses for the officers who superintended the works. The finest machinery in the world is said to have been employed in Deptford Dockyard for spinning hemp and manufacturing ropes and cables for the service of the navy. The large storehouse on the north side of the quadrangle was erected in the year 1513. This may be said to have been the commencement of the works at Deptford, which under successive sovereigns gradually grew up and extended.
The old storehouse, which was a quadrangular pile, appears to have consisted originally only of a range on the north side, where, on what was formerly the front of the building, is the date 1513, together with the initials H R in a cipher, and the letters A X for Anno Christi. The buildings on the east, west, and south sides of the quadrangle were erected at different times; and a double front, towards the north, was added in 1721. Another storehouse, parallel to the above, and of the same length, having sail and rigging lofts, was completed towards the close of the last century; and a long range of smaller storehouses was built under the direction of Sir Charles Middleton, afterwards Lord Barham, about the year 1780.
In Charnock's "History of Marine Architecture" is given "A note how many ships the King's Majesty (Henry VIII.) hath in harbour, on the 18th day of September, in the 13th year of his reign (1521); what portage they be of; what estate they be in the same day; also where they ride and be bestowed." From this we are enabled to see what use was made of Deptford as a naval station at that time:—"The Mary Rose, being of the portage of 600 tons, lying in the pond at Deptford beside the storehouse there, &c. The John Baptist, and Barbara, every of them being of the portage of 400 tons, do ryde together in a creke of Deptford Parish, &c. The Great Nicholas, being of portage 400 tons, lyeth in the east end of Deptford Strond, &c. … The Great Barke, being of portage 250 tons, lyeth in the pond at Deptford, &c. The Less Barke, being of the portage of 180 tons, lyeth in the same pond, &c. The twayne Row Barges, every of them of the portage of 60 tons, lye in the said pond, &c. The Great Galley, being of portage 800 tons, lyeth in the said pond, &c."
Deptford dockyard, in its time, received many royal and distinguished visitors; the earliest of whom we have any record was Edward VI., who thus tells us of the provision made for his reception:—"June 19th, 1549. I went to Deptford, being bedden to supper by the Lord Clinton, where before souper i saw certaine [men] stand upon a bote without hold of anything, and rane one at another til one was cast into the water. At supper Mons. Vieedam and Henadey supped with me. After supper was ober a fort [was] made upon a great lighter on the Temps [Thames] which had three walles and a Watch Towre, in the meddes of wich Mr. Winter was Captain with forty or fifty other soldiours in yellow and blake. To the fort also apperteined a galery of yelow color with men and municion in it for defence of the castel; wherfor ther cam 4 pinesses [pinnaces] with other men in wight ansomely dressed, wich entending to give assault to the castil, first droue away the yelow piness and aftir with clods, scuibs, canes of fire, darts made for the nonce, and bombardes assaunted the castill, beating them of the castel into the second ward, who after issued out and droue away the pinesses, sinking one of them, out of wich al the men in it being more than twenty leaped out and swamme in the Temps. Then came th' Admiral of the nauy with three other pinesses, and wanne the castel by assault, and burst the top of it doune, and toke the captain and under captain. Then the Admiral went forth to take the yelow ship, and at length clasped with her, toke her, and assaulted also her toppe and wane it by compulcion, and so returned home." This royal record of a mimic naval engagement on the Thames appears in the Cotton MSS. in the British Museum, and is quoted by Cruden in his "History of Gravesend."
"On the 4th of April, 1581," writes Lysons in
his "Environs of London," "Queen Elizabeth
visited Captain Drake's ship, called the Golden
Hind. Her Majesty dined on board, and after
dinner conferred the honour of knighthood on the
captain. A prodigious concourse of people assembled on the occasion, and a wooden bridge, on
which were a hundred persons, broke down, but no
lives were lost. Sir Francis Drake's ship, when
it became unfit for service, was laid up in this
yard, where it remained many years, the cabin
being, as it seems, turned into a banqueting-house:
'We'll have our supper,' says Sir Petronel Flash,
in a comedy called Eastward-hoe, written by Ben
Jonson and others, 'on board Sir Francis Drake's
ship, that hath compassed the world!' It was at
length broken up, and a chair made out of it for
John Davis, Esq., who presented it to the University of Oxford." It is recorded that Queen Elizabeth not only partook of a collation on board
Drake's ship, and afterwards knighted him, but
that she also consented to share the golden fruits
of his succeeding adventures. Miss Strickland
observes, with reference to this record, that "as
some of Drake's enterprises were of a decidedly
piratical character, and attended with circumstances
of plunder and cruelty to the infant colonies of
Spain, the policy of Elizabeth, in sanctioning his
deeds, is doubtful." She gave orders that his ship,
the Golden Hind, should be preserved here as a
memorial of the national glory and of her great
captain's enterprise. For long years, accordingly,
in obedience to her royal command, the vessel was
kept in Deptford dockyard until it fell into decay,
when all that remained sound of her was converted
into a chair, which was presented to the University
of Oxford, and is still kept in the Bodleian library.
The chair was thus characteristically apostrophised
"To this great ship, which round the world has run,
And match'd, in race, the chariot of the sun,
This Pythagorean ship (for it may claim,
Without presumption, so deserved a name,
By knowledge once, and transformation now),
In her new shape this sacred port allow.
Drake and his ship could not have wished from fate
A happier station, or more bless'd estate!
For lo! a seat of endless rest is given
To her in Oxford, and to him in heaven."
As might be expected, Deptford dockyard is frequently mentioned in the diaries of Evelyn and Pepys; by the former on account of its nearness to Saye's Court, and by the latter on account of his official connection with the navy.
It was in 1651 that Evelyn first settled in Deptford, as we find from the following entry in his "Diary:"—"I went to Deptford, where I made preparation for my settlement, either in this or some other place, there being now so little appearance of any change for the better, all being entirely in the Rebells' hands, and this particular habitation and the estate contiguous to it (belonging to my fatherin-law) very much suffering for want of some friend to rescue it out of the power of the usurpers; so as to preserve our interest I was advis'd to reside in it, and compound with the souldiers. I had also addresses and cyfers to correspond with his majesty and ministers abroad: upon all which I was persuaded to settle in England, having now run about the world neere ten yeares. I likewise meditated sending over for my wife from Paris." A few days later Evelyn thus writes: "I saw the Diamond and Ruby launch'd in the dock at Deptford, carrying forty-eight brasse cannon each. Cromwell present."
Experiments would appear to have been made from time to time; at all events, here is the record of one of which Evelyn was an eye-witness. On July 19, 1661, he writes: "We tried our Diving-Bell or Engine in the water-dock at Deptford, in which our Curator continu'd half an hour under water; it was made of cast lead, let down with a strong cable."
At or about this time Samuel Pepys was a frequent visitor here, in his official capacity, as "one of the principal officers of the navy" (Clerk of the Acts). Under dates of January 11–12, 1660–1, he thus records in his "Diary" an account of a visit on the occasion of a reported "rising of Fanatiques:"—"This morning we had order to see guards set in all the King's yards: and so Sir William Batten goes to Chatham, Colonel Slingsby and I to Deptford and Woolwich… We fell to choosing four captains to command the guards, and choosing the place where to keep them, and other things in order thereunto. Never till now did I see the great authority of my place, all the captains of the fleete coming cap in hand to us." On the next day, the 13th, he writes: "After sermon to Deptford again; where, at the Commissioner's and the 'Globe,' we staid long. But no sooner in bed, but we had an alarme, and so we rose; and the Comptroller comes into the yard to us; and seamen of all the ships present repair to us, and there we armed every one with a handspike, with which they were as fierce as could be. At last we hear that it was five or six men that did ride through the guard in the towne, without stopping to the guard that was there: and, some say, shot at them. But all being quiet there, we caused the seamen to go on board again."
On January 15, 1660–1, he makes this entry: "The King [Charles II.] hath been this afternoon to Deptford, to see the yacht that Commissioner Pett is building, which will be very pretty; as also that his brother at Woolwich is making."
Pepys, in his "Diary," January, 1662, mentions a certain project of Sir Nicholas Crisp to make a great "sasse," or sluice, in "the king's lands about Deptford," "to be a wett-dock to hold 200 sail of ships." This project is also mentioned by Evelyn and by Lysons.
Pepys writes under date April 28th, 1667:—"To Deptford, and there I walked down the yard, … and discovered about clearing of the wet docke, and heard (which I had before) how, when the docke was made, a ship of nearly 500 tons was there found; a ship supposed of Queen Elizabeth's time, and well wrought, with a great deal of stoneshot in her, of eighteen inches diameter, which was shot then in use; and afterwards meeting with Captain Perryman and Mr. Castle at Half-way Tree, they tell me of stone-shot of thirty-six inches in diameter, which they shot out of mortar pieces."
Again, in the following May:—"By water to Deptford, it being Trinity Monday, when the Master is chosen. And so I down with them; and we had a good dinner of plain meat, and good company at our table; among others my good Mr. Evelyn, with whom, after dinner, I stepped aside and talked upon the present posture of our affairs." Again, when in June, 1667, the alarm was raised that the Dutch fleet was already off the Nore and in the Medway, Samuel Pepys relates another official visit: "So we all down to Deptford, and pitched upon ships, and set men at work; but Lord! to see how backwardly things move at this pinch."
In this same year, as we are told by John Evelyn, a large fire, breaking out in Deptford dockyard, "made such a blaze and caused such an uproar in London, that everybody believed the Dutch fleet had sailed up the river and fired the Tower."
Here were launched many of the "wooden walls of old England," especially during the reigns of the later Stuarts. For example, Evelyn tells us that he stood near the king here in March, 1668, at the launch of "that goodly vessel, The Charles." Pepys, too, was here on this occasion, for under date of March 3, 1668, he writes:—"Down by water to Deptford; where the King, Queene, and Court are to see launched the new ship built by Mr. Shish, called The Charles. God send her better luck than the former!"
Evelyn tells us that many of the dockyard employés rose to independence, and even affluence. Among others he mentions the funeral here of the above-mentioned old Mr. Shish, master shipwright, whose death he styles a public loss, for his excellent success in building ships, though altogether illiterate. "I held the pall," he writes, "with three knights, who did him that honour, and he was worthy of it. … It was the custom of this good man to rise in the night, and to pray kneeling in his own coffin, which he had by him many years."
At the close of the seventeenth century Peter the Great visited the dockyard for the purpose of studying naval architecture, residing during his stay at Evelyn's house, Saye's Court, where we shall again meet with him presently. In the dockyard, it is on record that he did the work of an ordinary shipwright, and that he also paid close attention to the principles of ship-designing. His evenings were mostly spent in a public-house in smoking and drinking with his attendants and one or two chosen companions.
It may be worthy of a note that in the "Life of Captain Cook" we are told that the two ships, the Resolution and the Discovery, in which he made his last voyage to the Pacific, lay here whilst being equipped by the shipwrights for their distant voyage. The Queen Charlotte (120 guns) was launched from this yard in July, 1810.
Samuel Pepys, the author of the "Diary" from which we have culled so many interesting pieces of intelligence during the progress of this work, and whose portrait we present to our readers on page 145, was descended from a family originally seated at Diss, in Norfolk, and who settled at Cottingham, in Cambridgeshire, early in the sixteenth century. His father, John Pepys, at one time followed the trade of a tailor; he had a numerous family. Samuel Pepys was born in 1632, and was educated at St. Paul's School, (fn. 1) London, and afterwards at the University of Cambridge. At the age of about twenty-three he took to himself a wife in the person of one Elizabeth St. Michael, then a beautiful girl fifteen years old. At this time, Pepys' relation, Sir Edward Montagu, afterwards first Earl of Sandwich, proved his friend, and prevented the ill consequences which such an early marriage might have entailed upon him. Sir Edward took young Pepys with him on his expedition to the Sound, in 1658, and upon his return obtained for him a clerkship in the Exchequer. Through the interest of Lord Sandwich, Pepys was nominated "Clerk of the Acts," and this was the commencement of his connection with a great national establishment, to which in the sequel his diligence and acuteness were of the highest service. "From his papers, still extant," writes Lord Braybrooke, "we gather that he never lost sight of the public good; that he spared no pains to check the rapacity of contractors, by whom the naval stores were then supplied; that he studied order and economy in the dockyards, advocated the promotion of the oldestablished officers in the navy; and resisted to the utmost the infamous system of selling places then most unblushingly practised. … He continued in this office till 1673; and during those great events, the plague, the fire of London, and the Dutch war, the care of the navy in a great measure rested upon Pepys alone." He afterwards rose to be Secretary of the Admiralty, an office which he retained till the Revolution. On the accession of William and Mary he retired into private life. He sat in Parliament for Castle Rising, and subsequently represented the borough of Harwich, eventually rising to wealth and eminence as Clerk of the Treasurer to the Commissioners of the affairs of Tangier, and SurveyorGeneral of the Victualling Department, "proving himself to be," it is stated, "a very useful and energetic public servant." He suffered imprisonment for a short time in 1679–80, in the Tower, on a charge of aiding the Popish Plot. In 1684 he was elected President of the Royal Society, and held that honourable office for two years in succession. Pepys had an extensive knowledge of naval affairs; and in 1690 he published some "Memoirs relating to the State of the Royal Navy in England for ten years, determined December, 1688." He died in London in 1703.
In the early part of the present century the dockyard was closed for some years. It was reopened, however, with renewed vigour in 1844, from which time down to the period of its final closing in 1869, several first-rate vessels were built and launched there, including the Hannibal, the Emerald, the Termagant, the Terrible, the Spitfire, the Leopard, the Imperieuse, and many others. But when iron began to supersede wood, and a heavier class of vessels was required for the purposes of war, the shallow water in the river opposite the slips, and other inconveniences of the site, caused the yard to be pretty much restricted to the building of gunboats, and it was finally decided to abandon the dockyard and to transfer the workmen to other establishments. The last vessel launched here was the screw corvette Druid, which took place in the presence of Princess Louise and Prince Arthur, on the 13th of March, 1869. At the end of the same month the yard was finally closed.
Shortly afterwards it became necessary, under the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act, 1869, to provide a place for the sale and slaughter of foreign animals brought into the port of London, and the Corporation of the City of London having undertaken the duty, purchased the greater part of the old dockyard for about £95,000, for the site of the new market. The works necessary for converting the place into a cattle-market amounted to about £140,000; and in December, 1871, it was opened under the title of the Foreign Cattle Market. This market covers an area of about twenty-three acres, and is provided with covered pens, each pen having its water-trough and foodrack, sufficient for sheltering 4,000 cattle and 12,000 sheep; besides this, there is sufficient available open space for accommodating several thousands more. The ship-building slips of the old dockyard, with their immense roofs, were adapted as pen-sheds, and connected by ranges of substantial and well-ventilated buildings. The old workshops were converted into slaughter-houses for oxen, the boat-houses for sheep, and fitted with travelling pulleys, cranes, and various mechanical appliances for saving labour and facilitating the slaughter of the animals. The market has a river frontage of about 360 yards; and three jetties, with a connected low-water platform, provide ample means for landing animals at all states of the tide.
In 1872, by order of the City officials, a board was put up in the Foreign Cattle Market, bearing the following inscription:—"Here worked as a ship-carpenter Peter, Czar of all the Russias, afterwards Peter the Great, 1698." The Czar's sojourn here is likewise commemorated by his name being given to a street in Deptford—a very wretched and woe-begone street, by the way, and quite unworthy of so illustrious a name.
The Dockyard, though so important, was small, when compared with the others, as we learn from the following statement which appeared in a Kentish newspaper in 1839:—"The English dockyards extend over nearly 500 acres. Deptford covers 30 acres; Woolwich, 36; Chatham, 90; Sheerness, 50; Portsmouth, 100; Plymouth, 96; and Pembroke, 60,"
Near the docks was the seat of John Evelyn, called Say's or Saye's Court, where, as stated above, Peter the Great, Czar of Muscovy, resided for some time whilst completing in the dockyard his knowledge and skill in the practical part of naval architecture. The mansion was originally the manor-house of the manor of West Greenwich, which had been presented by the Conqueror to Gilbert de Magnimot, who made it the head of his barony, and erected, it is said, a castle on the site, every vestige of which has long been swept away. After passing through the hands of numerous possessors, the manor was resumed by the Crown at the Restoration. The manor-house with its surrounding estate, which had obtained the name of Saye's Court from its having been long held by the family of Says or Sayes, became in 1651 the property of John Evelyn, the celebrated author of "Sylva." It would appear that Evelyn's claim to Saye's Court was not based on a very secure footing, for he tells us in 1660–1 that he had repeated visits from his Majesty's surveyor "to take an account of what grounds I challeng'd at Saye's Court." In 1663 Charles II. granted a new lease at a reserved annual rental of 22s.
The property, it appears, had been leased by the Crown to the family of the Brownes, one of whom, Sir Richard Browne, in 1613, purchased the greater portion of the manor. "A 'representative of that ancient house,'" writes Mr. James Thorne, in his "Environs of London," "Sir Richard Browne, a follower of the Earl of Leicester, was a privy councillor and clerk of the Green Cloth, under Elizabeth and James I., and died at Saye's Court in 1604. He it must have been, and not an Evelyn, as Sir Walter Scott wrote, by a not unnatural slip of the pen, who, taking a 'deep interest in the Earl of Sussex, willingly accommodated both him and his numerous retinue in his hospitable mansion,' the 'ancient house, called Saye's Court, near Deptford;' and which hospitable service led to the events recorded in chapters xiii.—xv. of 'Kenilworth,' among others the luckless visit which Queen Elizabeth paid her sick servant at Saye's Court; 'having brought confusion thither along with her, and leaving doubt and apprehension behind.'" Here, as we have already stated, "Master Tresillian" visited the Earl of Sussex. The last Sir Richard Browne, who died in 1683, was Clerk of the Council to Charles I., and his ambassador to the Court of France from 1641. His death is thus recorded by Evelyn in his "Diary," under date, February, 1683:—
"This morning I received the newes of the death of my father-in-law, Sir Richard Browne, Knt. and Bart., who died at my house at Saye's Court this day at ten in the morning, after he had labour'd under the gowt and dropsie for neere six moneths, in the 78th yeare of his age. His grandfather, Sir Richard Browne, was the greate instrument under the greate Earl of Leicester (favourite to Queene Eliz.) in his government of the Netherlands. He was Master of the Household to King James, and Cofferer; I think was the first who regulated the compositions thro' England for the King's household provisions, progresses, &c."
John Evelyn, whom Southey styles a "perfect model of an English gentleman," and "whose 'Sylva,'" as Scott writes, "is still the manual of British planters," married in 1647 the only daughter and heir of the above-mentioned Sir Richard Browne; and Sir Richard being resident in Paris, gave up Saye's Court to his son-in-law. That Evelyn was located here soon after his marriage seems pretty certain, for in 1648 we find an entry in his "Diary" to the effect that he "went through a course of chemistrie at Saye's Court."
The estate had been seized by the Parliamentary commissioners; but Evelyn succeeded in buying out, towards the close of 1652, those who had purchased it of the Trustees of Forfeited Estates. Thenceforth he made Saye's Court his permanent residence, and at once set about the accomplishment of those works which helped so much to make the place classic ground. Under date 17th of January, 1653, he writes: "I began to set out the ovall Garden at Saye's Court, which was before a rude orchard, and all the rest one intire field of 100 acres, without any hedge, except the hither holly hedge joyning to the bank of the mount walk. This was the beginning of all the succeeding gardens, walks, groves, enclosures, and plantations there."
The chatty old diarist tells us all the secrets of his domestic life: how he "set apart in preparation for the B. Sacrament, which Mr. Owen administered" to him and all his family in Saye's Court; how he entertained royalty and some of the highest of the nobility; how he planted the orchard, "the moon being new, and the wind westerly;" and how he kept bees in his garden in a "transparent apiary," &c. &c.
Evelyn resided chiefly at Saye's Court for the next forty years of his life, carrying out there, as far as the site allowed, the views of gardening set forth in his "Sylva," to the "great admiration" of his contemporaries. Occasionally royalty would "drop in" to pay him a visit, or to see how his work was progressing—facts which we find duly recorded in his "Diary." For instance, Henrietta Maria, the widow of Charles I.—the "Queen Mother," as she was called—landed at Deptford, on her return to England, July 28th, 1662, and was waited upon by John Evelyn, who entertained her, the Earl of St. Alban's, and the rest of her retinue, at Saye's Court.
On the 30th of April, in the following year, "came his Majesty to honour my poore villa with his presence, viewing the gardens and even every roome of the house, and was pleas'd to take a small refreshment."
He had, of course, many other visitors, Lord Clarendon and the Duke of York among them. One entry in his "Diary" about this time is as follows:—"Came my Lord Chancellor (the Earle of Clarendon) and his lady, his purse and mace borne before him, to visit me. They had all ben our old acquaintance in exile, and indeed this greate person had ever ben my friend. His sonn, Lord Cornbury, was here too."
But it was not only royal and political celebrities who visited Evelyn here; there was a welcome also for men of letters and science. His "Diary" for 1673 bears testimony to this fact. "June 27. Mr. Dryden, the famous poet, and now laureate, came to give me a visite. It was the anniversary of my marriage," he adds, "and the first day that I went into my new little cell and cabinet, which I built below, towards the South Court, at the east end of the parlor."
All this while his garden, we may be sure, was not neglected. "I planted," he writes in his "Diary," "all the out-limites of the garden and long walks with holly." In 1663, on the 4th of March, occurs this entry: "This Spring I planted the Home and West-field at Saye's Court with elmes, the same yeare they were planted in Greenewich Park."
Two years later our genial friend Pepys takes a quiet stroll through the grounds of Saye's Court, as he informs us in his "Diary," under date of 5th of May, 1665: "After dinner to Mr. Evelyn's; he being abroad, we walked in his garden, and a lovely noble ground he hath indeed. And among other rarities, a hive of bees, so as being hived in glass, you may see the bees making their honey and combs mighty pleasantly." This was the transparent apiary already mentioned. It was not merely in gardening that Evelyn was so proficient, for he appears to have been something of a poet, and to have cultivated a taste for the fine arts, if we may form any conclusion from the following entry in Pepys' "Diary:"—"5 Nov., 1665. By water to Deptford, and there made a visit to Mr. Evelyn, who, among other things, showed me most excellent paintings in little, in distemper, Indian-incke, water-colours, graveing, and, above all, the whole secret of mezzo-tinto, and the manner of it, which is very pretty, and good things done with it. He read to me very much also of his discourse, he hath been many years and now is about, about Gardenage; which will be a most noble and pleasant piece. He read me part of a play or two of his making, very good, but not as he conceits them, I think, to be. He showed me his Hortus Hyemalis: leaves laid up in a book of several plants kept dry, which preserve colour, however, and look very finely, better than an herball. In fine, a most excellent person he is, and must be allowed a little for a little conceitedness; but he may well be so, being a man so much above others. He read me, though with too much gusto, some little poems of his own, that were not transcendant, yet one or two very pretty epigrams; among others, of a lady looking in at a grate, and being pecked at by an eagle that was there." It is amusing to see one of the two rival diarists of Charles II.'s reign portrayed by the other, and that must be our excuse for quoting the above sketch.
Evelyn was, moreover, apparently a collector of "autographs," or, at all events, he seems to have possessed a few treasures in this way; for a few days later we find Pepys paying him another visit, the entry of which records the fact that "among other things he showed me a lieger [ledger] of a treasurer of the navy, his great grandfather, just one hundred years old, which I seemed mighty fond of; and he did present me with it, which I take as a great rarity, and he hopes to find me more older than it. He also showed me several letters of the old Lord of Leicester's, in Queen Elizabeth's time, under the very hand-writing of Queen Elizabeth, and Queen Mary, Queen of Scots, and others, very venerable names. But, Lord! how poorly, methinks, they wrote in those days, and in what plain uncut paper."
Evelyn stayed at Saye's Court during the plague, for he writes in 1665: "There died in our parish this year 406 of the pestilence," and he afterwards tells us that his wife and family returned to him from Wotton, the ancient family seat near Dorking, in Surrey, when it was at an end. In the MSS. preserved at Wotton, and quoted in the appendix to his "Memoirs," Evelyn has left a pretty full account of what he did at Saye's Court: "The hithermost grove I planted about 1656; the other beyond it, 1660; the lower grove, 1662; the holly hedge, even with the mount hedge below, 1670. I planted every hedge and tree not onely in the garden, groves, &c., but about all the fields and house since 1653, except those large, old, and hollow Elms in the Stable Court, and next the Sewer; for it was before all one pasture field to the very garden of the house, which was but small; from which time also I repaired the ruined house, and built the whole end of the kitchen, the chapel, buttry, my study (above and below), cellars, and all the outhouses and walls, still-house, Orangerie, and made the gardens, &c., to my great cost, and better I had don to have pulled all down at first; but it was don at several times."
It was in the neighbourhood of Saye's Court, in 1671, that Evelyn first met with the celebrated sculptor, Grinling Gibbons, whom he afterwards befriended. On the 18th of January in that year he writes: "This day I first acquainted his Majesty with that incomparable young man Gibbons, whom I had lately met with in an obscure place by meere accident as I was walking neere a poore solitary thatched house in a field in our parish, neere Saye's Court. I found him shut in; but looking in at the window I perceiv'd him carving that large cartoon or crucifix of Tintoret, a copy of which I had myselfe brought from Venice. I asked if I might enter; he open'd the door civilly to me, and I saw him about such a work as for the curiosity of handling, drawing, and studious exactnesse, I never had before seene in all my travells. I questioned him why he worked in such an obscure place; he told me it was that he might apply himselfe to his profession without interruption. I asked if he was unwilling to be made knowne to some greate man, for that I believed it might turn to his profit; he answer'd he was yet but a beginner, but would not be sorry to sell off that piece; the price he said £100. The very frame was worth the money, there being nothing in nature so tender and delicate as the flowers and festoons about it, and yet the work was very strong; in the piece were more than 100 figures of men. I found he was likewise musical, and very civil, sober, and discreete in his discourse."
The lease of the pastures adjacent to Saye's Court, as Evelyn tells us, was renewed to him by the king in January, 1672, though, "according to his solemn promise, it ought to have passed to us in fee farm." The king's engagement to this effect, under his own hand, is among the treasures of the Evelyns still preserved at Wotton.
In the summer of 1693, Evelyn transferred himself, after so many years, from his old home at Saye's Court to Wotton. On the 4th of May of that year he writes:—"I went this day with my wife and four servants from Saye's Court, removing much furniture of all sorts, books, pictures, hangings, bedding, &c., to furnish the apartment my brother assign'd me, and now, after more than forty years, to spend the rest of my dayes with him at Wotton, where I was born; leaving my house at Deptford full furnish'd, and three servants, to my son-in-law Draper, to pass the summer in, and such longer time as he should think fit to make use of it."
Two or three years afterwards, having succeeded to Wotton by his brother's death, he let Saye's Court, for a term of years, to the gallant Admiral Benbow, "with condition to keep up the garden;" and afterwards, as we learn from Evelyn's "Diary," April, 1698, "The Czar of Muscovy, being come to England, and having a mind to see the building of ships, hir'd my house at Saye's Court, and made it his Court and Palace, new furnished for him by the king."
John Evelyn was one of the most excellent persons in public and private life. His career was one of usefulness and benevolence. Horace Walpole bears a high testimony to his personal worth when, on account of having designed with his own hand some illustrations of his tour in Italy, he reckons him among those English artists whose lives afford materials for his "Anecdotes of Painting."
The following account of the life led by Peter the Great (fn. 2) at Saye's Court we extract from a Memoir of his Life, in the "Family Library:"—"One month's residence having satisfied Peter as to what was to be seen in London, and the monarch having expressed a strong desire to be near some of the king's dock-yards, it was arranged that a suitable residence should be found near one of the river establishments; and the house of the celebrated Mr. Evelyn, close to Deptford Dockyard, being about to become vacant by the removal of Admiral Benbow, who was then its tenant, it was immediately taken for the residence of the czar and his suite; and a doorway was broken through the boundary wall of the dockyard, to afford a direct communication between it and the dwelling-house. This place had then the name of Saye's Court; it was the delight of Evelyn, and the wonder and admiration of all men of taste at that time. The grounds are described, in the 'Life of the Lord Keeper Guildford,' as 'most boscaresque,' being, as it were, an exemplary of his (Evelyn's) 'Book of Forest Trees.' Admiral Benbow had given great dissatisfaction to the proprietor as a tenant, for the latter observes in his 'Diary:' 'I have the mortification of seeing every day much of my labour and expense there impairing for want of a more polite tenant.' It appears, however, that the princely occupier was not a more 'polite tenant' than the rough sailor had been, for Mr. Evelyn's servant thus writes to him:—'There is a house full of people, and right nasty. The czar lies next your library, and dines in the parlour next your study. He dines at ten o'clock, and six at night, is very seldom at home a whole day, very often in the King's Yard, or by water, dressed in several dresses. The king is expected here this day; the best parlour is pretty clean for him to be entertained in. The king pays for all he has.' But this was not all: Mr. Evelyn had a favourite holly hedge, through which, it is said, the czar, by way of exercise, used to be in the habit of trundling a wheel-barrow every morning with his own royal hands. Mr. Evelyn probably alludes to this in the following passage in his 'Sylva,' wherein he asks, 'Is there under the heavens a more glorious and refreshing object, of the kind, than an impregnable hedge, of about four hundred feet in length, nine feet high, and five in diameter, which I can still show in my ruined garden at Saye's Court (thanks to the Czar of Muscovy) at any time of the year, glittering with its armed and variegated leaves; the taller standards, at orderly distances, blushing with their natural coral? It mocks the rudest assaults of the weather, beasts, or hedge-breakers et illum nemo impune lacessit!'"
"While at Saye's Court," writes Dr. Mackay, in his "Thames and its Tributaries," "the czar received a visit from the great William Penn, who came over from Stoke Pogis to see him, accompanied by several other members of the Quaker body. Penn and he conversed together in the Dutch language; and the czar conceived from his manners and conversation such favourable notions of that peaceful sect, that during his residence at Deptford he very often attended the Quaker meetings, conducting himself—if we may trust his biographers—'with great decorum and condescension, changing seats, and sitting down, and standing up, as he could best accommodate others, although he could not understand a word of what was said.'" If this be true, the czar was not so uncivilised a being after all.
We have but little evidence, except tradition, that the czar, during his residence here, ever actually worked with his hands as a shipwright; it would seem he was employed rather in acquiring information on matters connected with naval architecture from the commissioner and surveyor of the navy, Sir Anthony Deane, who, next after the Marquis of Carmarthen, was his most intimate English acquaintance. His fondness for sailing and managing boats, however, was as eager here as in Holland, where he had studied some time before coming to England; and these gentlemen were almost daily with him on the Thames, sometimes in a sailingyacht, and at other times rowing in boats—an exercise in which both the czar and the marquis are said to have excelled. The Navy Board received directions from the Admiralty to hire two vessels, to be at the command of the czar whenever he should think proper to sail on the Thames, in order to improve himself in seamanship. In addition to these, the king made him a present of the Royal Transport, with orders to have such alterations made in her as his majesty might desire, and also to change her masts, riggings, sails, &c., in any such way as he might think proper for improving her sailing qualities. But his great delight was to get into a small decked boat belonging to the dockyard, and, taking only Menzikoff and three or four others of his suite, to work the vessel with them, he being the helmsman; by this practice he said he should be able to teach them how to command ships when they got home. Having finished their day's work (as stated by us previously (fn. 3) ), they used to resort to a public-house in Great Tower Street, close to Tower Hill, to smoke their pipes, and drink their beer and brandy. The landlord had the Czar of Muscovy's head painted and put up for his sign, which continued till the year 1808, when a person of the name of Waxel took a fancy to the old sign, and offered the then occupier of the house to paint him a new one for it. A copy was accordingly made from the original, which remained in its position till the house was rebuilt, when the sign was not replaced, and the name only remains; it is now called the "Czar's Head."
The czar, in passing up and down the river, was much struck with the magnificent building of Greenwich Hospital, which, until he had visited it and seen the old pensioners, he had thought to be a royal palace; but one day when King William asked how he liked his hospital for decayed seamen, the czar answered, "If I were the adviser of your majesty, I should counsel you to remove your court to Greenwich, and convert St. James's into a hospital." He little knew that St. James's also was a hospital (fn. 4) in its origin.
While residing at Deptford, the czar frequently invited Flamsteed from the Royal Observatory at Greenwich to come over and dine with him, in order that he might obtain his opinion and advice, especially upon his plan of building a fleet. It is stated in Chambers's "Book of Days," that the king promised Peter that there should be no impediment to his engaging and taking back with him to Russia a number of English artificers and scientific men; accordingly, when he returned to Holland, there went with him captains of ships, pilots, surgeons, gunners, mast-makers, boatbuilders, sail-makers, compass-makers, carvers, anchor-smiths, and copper-smiths; in all nearly 500 persons. At his departure he presented to the king a ruby valued at £10,000, which he brought in his waistcoat pocket, and placed in William's hand wrapped up in a piece of brown paper.
Evelyn seems to have sustained a considerable loss by Peter's tenancy; for he writes in his "Diary" under date 5th of June, 1698: "I went to Deptford to see how miserably the czar had left my house after three months' making it his court. I got Sir Christopher Wren, the king's surveyor, and Mr. Loudon, his gardener, to go and estimate the repairs, for which they allowed £150 in their report to the Lords of the Treasury." It appears, however, that in spite of having had such bad tenants in admirals and in royalty, Evelyn again let his house at Deptford to Lord Carmarthen, Peter's boon companion.
Alas! for the glory of the glittering hollies, trimmed hedges, and long avenues of Saye's Court. Time, that great innovator, has demolished them all, and Evelyn's favourite haunts and enchanting grounds became in the end transformed into cabbage gardens and overrun with weeds.
After Evelyn's death Saye's Court was neglected, and at the end of the last century Lysons writes, "There is not the least trace now either of the house or the gardens at Saye's Court; a part of the garden walls only with some brick piers are [is] remaining. The house was pulled down in 1728 or 1729, and the workhouse built on its site." That portion of the victualling yard where till recently oxen and hogs were slaughtered and salted for the use of the navy, now occupies the place of the shady walks and trimmed hedges in which the good old Evelyn so much delighted. On another part rows of mean cottages were built; and the only portion unappropriated was that left for the workhouse garden; this still remains. The private entrance through which Peter the Great passed into the dockyard from Saye's Court was in the wall close by, but is now bricked up.
When Mr. Serjeant Burke was preparing for the press his "Celebrated Naval and Military Trials," he visited Deptford. "But," he writes, "to look at Saye's Court now! The free-and-easy way of living, common to the rough seaman and the rude northern potentate, could not, in wildest mood, have contemplated such a condition. It has gradually sunk from bad to worse; it has been a workhouse, and has become too decayed and confined even for that. It is now attached to the dockyard, as a kind of police-station and place for paying off the men. The large hall, used for the latter purpose, was no doubt the scene of many a jovial night spent by the admiral and his successor, the czar. What remains of Evelyn's garden is now a wilderness of weeds and rank grass, hemmed in by a dingy wall which shuts out some of the filthiest dwellings imaginable. The avenue of hovels through which we passed from the abode of former greatness bore the name of Czar Street, a last lingering memento of the imperial sojourn. The illustrious czar was so great a man that he could nowhere set his foot without leaving an imprint behind. A monument to him is not needed; but it would be pleasing to have found in Deptford some memorial carved in brass or stone of our gallant Benbow. Yet, after all, it matters not much while the British public, ever mindful of greatness in the British navy, permits no oblivion to rest on his personal worth, his achievements, and his fame."
The workhouse mentioned above is still standing, though it has long since ceased to be used as such. It is a large brick-built house of two storeys, oblong in shape, and with a tiled roof. The rooms are low-pitched, and about a dozen in number; some of them are about thirty feet long, and those on the ground floor are paved with brick. There is nothing in the building to show that it was ever occupied by persons of affluence; but, in spite of this fact, there is in Deptford and its neighbourhood a general and fondly-cherished impression that it is Saye's Court, and the identical house in which the Czar lived. Mr. Thorne, in his "Environs of London," considers that the house "looks more like an adaptation of a part of the old house than a building of the year 1729." It may, perhaps, have been one of the offices or outbuildings of the original mansion.
In 1869, on the closing of the dockyard, Mr. W. J. Evelyn, of Wotton—the present representative of the family of the author of "Sylva," and the owner of some considerable part of the parish of Deptford—determined to purchase back from the Government as much of the site of Saye's Court as was available, to restore it to something like its original condition, and to throw it open to the inhabitants as a recreation-ground. The transformation is now (1877) nearly effected. There are about fourteen acres of open ground; but four of these remain attached to the old house above mentioned, which has been made to serve as the residence of one of the labourers on the estate. The public garden and playground is therefore about ten acres in extent. It has been carefully laid out in grass plats, hedged with flowers and shrubs, in part planted with trees, and intersected by broad and level walks. All the shrubs, flowers, and trees, together with the sod which forms the lawn and borders the walks, are said to have been brought from Wotton. In the centre of the ground is a covered stage for a band; and in one corner has been erected a large building which is eventually to serve as a museum and library. It is a pity that the name of the author of "Sylva" is not identified with this recreation-ground, which might well be called Evelyn Park.
We are told that in former times the king's household used to be supplied with corn and cattle from the different counties; and oxen being sent up to London, pasture grounds in the various suburbs were assigned for their maintenance. Among these were lands near Tottenham Court, and others at Deptford, which were under the direction of the Lord Steward and the Board of Green Cloth. A certain Sir Richard Browne had the superintendence of those at Deptford; and this fact may explain the entry in Evelyn's "Diary" already mentioned, where he records the visit of the Comptroller of that Board "to survey the land at Saye's Court, to which I had pretence, and to make his report."
To the north-west of Deptford was the "Red House," "so called as being a collection of warehouses and storehouses built of red bricks." This place was burnt down in July, 1639, it being then filled with hemp, flax, pitch, tar, and other commodities. The Victualling Office, in former times called the "Red House," from its occupying the site of the above-mentioned storehouses, is now an immense pile, erected at different times, and consisting of many ranges of buildings, appropriated to the various establishments necessary in the important concern of victualling the navy. The full official title of the place is now the "Royal Victoria Victualling Yard." On the old "Red House" being rebuilt, it was included in the grant of Saye's Court to Sir John Evelyn, in 1726, and was then described as 870 feet in length, thirtyfive feet wide, and containing 100 warehouses. The whole of the land comprised in the present yard has been purchased from time to time from the Evelyn family, the last addition being made to it in 1869, when some portion of the gardens formerly attached to old Saye's Court was purchased from Mr. W. J. Evelyn. The premises were for some time rented by the East India Company; but on their being re-purchased of the Evelyns by the Crown, a new victualling house was built on the spot in 1745, to replace the old victualling office on Tower Hill. This new building was also accidentally burnt down in 1749, with great quantities of stores and provisions. It was, however, subsequently rebuilt, and now comprises extensive ranges of stores, workshops, and sheds, with river-side wharf, and all the necessary machinery and appliances for loading and unloading vessels and carrying on the requisite work in the yard. This place is the depôt from which the two other victualling yards—those at Devonport and Gosport—are furnished, and is considerably the largest of the three. From it the navy is supplied with provisions, clothing, bedding, medicines, and medical comforts, &c. In former times, and down to a comparatively recent date, cattle were slaughtered here; but this has been abandoned. At the proper season, however, beef and pork are received in very large quantities, and salted and packed in barrels; meat boiled and preserved in tin canisters, on Hogarth's system of preserving; wheat ground; biscuits made; and the barrels in which all are stored manufactured in a large steam cooperage. The stock of medicine constantly kept in store is sufficient for 5,000 men for six months; but the demand for it is so great and regular that supplies arrive and leave almost daily. The general direction of the yard rests with a resident superintending storekeeper, and in all about 500 persons are employed on the establishment.
On the west side of the Royal Victualling Yard is a goods depôt of the Brighton and South-Coast Railway. It occupies the site of what was formerly Dudman's Dock, and comprises a basin and quay for the landing of goods from vessels coming up the Thames, and also extensive ranges of storehouses, &c. It is connected with the abovementioned railway by a branch line from New Cross, which passes over the Deptford Lower Road.
"Besides its dock and victualling yard," writes Dr. Mackay, in his "Thames and its Tributaries," "Deptford is noted for two hospitals, belonging to the Corporation of the Trinity House, or the pilots of London. A grand procession comes (1840) from London to these hospitals annually on Trinity Monday, accompanied by music and banners, and is welcomed by the firing of cannon." Trinity Monday, we need scarcely say, was a "red-letter day" in Deptford down to the time when these visits of the Corporation of the Trinity House ceased, which was in 1852, on the death of the Duke of Wellington, who had for many years held the office of Master. We have in a previous volume (fn. 5) given an account of the foundation of the above-mentioned corporation, and also of the duties appertaining to the society; we may, however, remark here that Lambarde, in his "Perambulations of Kent" (1570), writes concerning Deptford—or, as he spells it, Depeforde—"This towne, being a frontier betweene Kent and Surrey, was of none estimation at all, untill that King Henry the VIII. advised (for the better preservation of the royall fleete) to erect a storehouse, and to create certaine officers there; these he incorporated by the name of the Maister and Wardeins of the Holie Trinitie, for the building, keeping, and conducting of the Navie Royall." It would appear from this that Henry VIII. established the Trinity House about the same time that he constituted the Admiralty and the Navy Office. Charles Knight, in his "London," however, says that "some expressions in the earliest charters of the corporation that have been preserved, and the general analogy of the history of English corporations, lead us to believe that Henry merely gave a new charter, and entrusted the discharge of important duties to a guild or incorporation of seamen which had existed long before. When there was no permanent royal navy, and even after one had been created, so long as vessels continued to be pressed in war time as well as men, the King of England had to repose much more confidence in the wealthier masters of the merchant-service than now. They were at sea what his feudal chiefs were on shore. Their guild, or brotherhood, of the Holy Trinity of Deptford Strond was probably tolerated at first in the assumption of a power to regulate the entry and training of apprentices, the licensing of journeymen, and the promotion to the rank of master in their craft, in the same way as learned and mechanical corporations did on shore. To a body which counted among its members the best mariners of Britain, came not unusually to be entrusted the ballastage and pilotage of the river. By degrees its jurisdiction came to be extended to such other English ports as had not, like the Cinque Ports, privileges and charters of their own; and in course of time the jurisdiction of the Trinity House became permanent in these matters, with the exception of the harbours we have named, over the whole coast of England from a little way north of Yarmouth on the east to the frontiers of Scotland on the west. Elizabeth, always ready to avail herself of the costless service of her citizens, confided to this corporation the charge of English sea-marks. When lighthouses were introduced, the judges pronounced them comprehended in the terms of Elizabeth's charter, although a right of chartering private lighthouses was reserved to the Crown. When the navigation laws were introduced by Cromwell, and re-enacted by the government at the Restoration, the Trinity House presented itself as an already organised machinery for enforcing the regulations respecting the number of aliens admissible as mariners on board a British vessel. James II., when he ascended the throne, was well aware of the use that could be made of the Trinity House, and he gave it a new charter, and the constitution it still retains, nominating as the first master of the reconstructed corporation his invaluable Pepys."
The establishment of the Corporation of the Trinity House here is a proof that Deptford was already a rendezvous for shipping and the resort of seamen. The ancient hall in Deptford, at which the meetings of this society were formerly held, was taken down about the beginning of the present century, and the building erected on Tower Hill, which we have already noticed in the volume above referred to. Evelyn, in his "Diary," under date of 1662, writes: "I dined with the Trinity Company at their house, that corporation being by charter fixed at Deptford." Evelyn's wife, as it appears from his "Diary," gave to the Trinity House Corporation the site for their college, or almshouses.
Notwithstanding that the Corporation of the Trinity House ceased to hold their meetings here after the building of their new hall, their connection with Deptford was till very recently marked by their two hospitals for decayed master mariners and pilots and their widows. In the "Ambulator" (1774) we thus read: "In this town are two hospitals, of which one was incorporated by King Henry VIII., in the form of a college for the use of the seamen, and is commonly called 'Trinity House of Deptford Strond.' This contains twenty-one houses, and is situated near the church. The other, called Trinity Hospital, has thirty-eight houses fronting the street. This is a very handsome edifice, and has large gardens, well kept, belonging to it. Though this lastnamed is the finest structure of the two, yet the other has the preference, on account of its antiquity; and as the Brethren of the Trinity hold their corporation by that house, they are obliged at certain times to meet there for business. Both these houses are for decayed pilots, or masters of ships, or their widows, the men being allowed twenty and the women sixteen shillings a month."
Both these buildings have within the last few years been "disestablished," so far as their use as almshouses is concerned. One of them, a triangular block of houses, comprising about twenty dwellings standing on the green at the back of St. Nicholas' Church, a short distance eastward from the Foreign Cattle Market, is at present let out in weekly tenements; the other, known as the "Trinity House, Deptford," was a large and noteworthy old red-brick quadrangular pile, fronting Church Street, and overlooking the burial-ground of St. Paul's Church. It was rebuilt in 1664–5, and was demolished, with the exception of the hall, in the early part of the year 1877, to make room for a new street, and a row of private houses in Church Street. In the great hall at the back of the building, which has been left standing, the Master and Elder Brethren of the Trinity House used, down to the period above mentioned, to assemble on Trinity Monday, and, after transacting the formal business, walk in state to the parish church of St. Nicholas, where there was a special service and sermon. On the conclusion of the ceremony in Deptford the company returned to London in their state barges, the shipping and wharves on the Thames being gaily decked with bunting in honour of the occasion, and the proceedings of the day closed with a grand banquet at the Trinity House. Both the meeting and the banquet are now held at the new Trinity House on Tower Hill, and the sermon is preached in Pepys' favourite church of St. Olave, Hart Street, near the Custom House and Corn Exchange.
The town of Deptford contains, as we have stated above, two parish churches, dedicated respectively to St. Nicholas and St. Paul, besides which there are the churches of four recentlyformed ecclesiastical districts, together with several chapels of all denominations. The old church of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of seafaring men, occupies the site of a much older edifice, and, with the exception of the tower, dates from the end of the seventeenth century. John Evelyn, in his "Diary" for 1699, records the building of "a pretty new church" here. The ancient church, it appears, was pulled down in 1697, in consequence of its being found inadequate to the wants of the increasing population. Whatever beauty the new church may have possessed in Evelyn's eyes, it does not seem to have been very substantially built, for it underwent a "thorough restoration" before twenty years had passed away. The body of the church is a plain dull red-brick structure, consisting of nave, aisles, and chancel. At the western end is an embattled tower of stone and flint, somewhat patched; this tower is of the Perpendicular period, or early part of the fifteenth century, and the only relic of the old church. The interior contains a few monuments of some former Deptford worthies, among them one of Captain Edward Fenton, who accompanied Sir Martin Frobisher in his second and third voyages, and had himself the command of an expedition for the discovery of a north-west passage; another of Captain George Shelvocke, who was bred to the sea-service under Admiral Benbow, and who, "in the years of Our Lord 1719, '20, '21, and '22, performed a voyage round the globe of the world, which he most wonderfully, and to the great loss of the Spaniards, compleated, though in the midst of it he had the misfortune to suffer shipwreck upon the Island of Juan Fernandez, on the coast of the kingdom of Chili." He died in 1742. Another monument records the death, in 1652, of Peter Pett, a "master shipwright in the King's Yard," whose family were long distinguished for their superior talents in ship-building, and who was himself the inventor of that once useful ship of war, the frigate. The register of this church records also the burial here of Christopher Marlowe, or Marlow, the dramatist. He was born in 1563–4. The son of a shoemaker at Canterbury, and having been educated in the King's School of that city, he took his degree in due course at Cambridge. On quitting college he became connected with the stage, and was one of the most celebrated of Shakespeare's immediate predecessors. He is styled by Heywood the "best of poets;" and this may possibly have been true, for no great dramatist preceded him, whilst his fiery imagination and strokes of passion communicated a peculiar impulse to those who came after him. He was the author of six tragedies, and joined with Nash and Day in the production of two others. The plots of his pieces assumed a more regular character than those of previous dramatists, and no doubt he would have become even more celebrated if he had not been cut off in a strange affray. The entry in the parish register runs simply thus:—"1st June, 1593. Christopher Marlow, slaine by Francis Archer."
In this church lie the two sons of John Evelyn, whose early deaths he records in his "Diary" for 1658, in the most touching phrases. Sir Richard Browne, Evelyn's father-in-law, the owner of Saye's Court, died there in 1683, and was buried at his own desire outside this church, under the southeast window—not in the interior, considering that interments in churches were unwholesome. He was evidently in advance of his age.
Before passing on to St. Paul's Church, we may remark that Dr. Lloyd, curate of Deptford in Evelyn's day, was promoted to the see of Llandaff, and that the register of the old church contains records of the following instances of longevity:—Maudlin Augur, buried in December, 1672, aged 106; Catherine Perry, buried in December, 1676, "by her own report, 110 years old;" Sarah Mayo, buried in August, 1705, aged 102; and Elizabeth Wiborn, buried in December, 1714, in her 101st year.
The church of St. Paul, a good example of the
Romanesque style, is situated between the High
Street and Church Street, near the railway station.
It was built in 1730, on the division of Deptford
into two parishes, as above stated; and was one
of the churches "erected under the provisions of
certain acts passed in the reign of Queen Anne,
for the building of fifty new churches in and near
London." It is a solid-looking stone building,
with a semi-circular flight of steps and a portico of
Corinthian columns at the western end, above which
rises a tapering spire; the body of the fabric consists of nave, aisles, and a shallow chancel, the
roof being supported by two rows of Corinthian
columns. The heavy galleries, old-fashioned pews,
carved pulpit, and dark oak fittings of the chancel,
impart to the interior a somewhat sombre effect.
Among the monuments in this church is one by
Nollekens, in memory of Admiral Sayer, who
"first planted the British flag in the island of
Tobago," and who died in 1760. In the churchyard is the tomb of Margaret Hawtree, who died
in 1734; it is inscribed as follows:—
"She was an indulgent mother, and the best of wives;
She brought into this world more than three thousand
The explanation of this, as Lysons informs us, is, that she was an "eminent midwife," and that she evinced the interest she took in her calling by giving a silver basin for christenings to this parish, and another to that of St. Nicholas. Dr. Charles Burney, the Greek scholar and critic, whose large classical library was purchased after his death, in 1817, for the British Museum, was for some time rector of St. Paul's. The rectory-house, on the south side of the churchyard, is a singular-looking red-brick structure, said to have been built from the designs of Vanbrugh.
Close by the station on the London and Greenwich Railway, which here crosses the High Street, is the Roman Catholic Church of the Assumption. It is a plain brick-built structure, with lancet windows and an open roof, and was commenced in 1844. A temporary chapel, which had been provided in the previous year, was, on the opening of the church, made to do duty as a school. Adjoining the church is a presbytery, which was built in 1855. The Roman Catholics are somewhat numerous in Deptford, a fact which may perhaps be attributed to the large number of Irish formerly employed in the dockyard and on the wharves in the neighbourhood. Close by, are St. Vincent's Industrial School (Roman Catholic) and the Deptford Industrial Home and Refuge for Destitute Boys.
In Evelyn Street, as the thoroughfare connecting the High Street with the Deptford Lower Road is called, stands St. Luke's Church, a substantial and well-built Gothic edifice, erected in 1872, mainly at the cost of the present head of the Evelyn family, Mr. William J. Evelyn, of Wotton.
Near St. Luke's Church the Grand Surrey Canal passes under the roadway at the end of Evelyn Street, on its way towards Camberwell and Peckham. Apropos of canals, we may state that in the Monthly Register for 1803, it is announced, with becoming gravity, that "Another canal of great national importance is about to be constructed from Deptford to Portsmouth and Southampton, passing by Guildford, Godalming, and Winchester." After giving the estimate, the editor remarks in a manner which, with our subsequent experience of half a century and more, will cause a smile: "A canal, in this instance, is to be preferred to an iron railway road, because the expense of carriage by a canal is much cheaper than that of carriage by a railway. It has been found, for instance, that sixty tons of corn could not be carried from Portsmouth to London for less than £125 10s.; but that by a canal the same quantity of grain may be conveyed the same distance for an expense not exceeding £49 5s." We need scarcely add that this canal was never carried out.
Among the most famous residents of Deptford, besides the Czar Peter and John Evelyn, Dr. Mackay enumerates Cowley, the poet, and the Earl of Nottingham, Lord High Admiral of England, who played so leading a part in the defeat of the Spanish Armada. "The house which he inhabited," writes Dr. Mackay, "was afterwards converted into a tavern and named the 'Gun;' and his armorial bearings, sculptured over the chimney-piece of the principal apartment, were long shown to curious visitors."
The name of John Evelyn is so closely associated with the past history of Deptford, that we may be pardoned for closing this chapter with one or two amusing scraps of information concerning the place, culled from his "Diary." Under date June 3, 1658, he writes:—"A large whale was taken betwixt my land butting on the Thames and Greenwich, which drew an infinite concourse to see it, by water, coach, and on foote, from London and all parts. It appeared first below Greenwich at low water, for at high water it would have destroyed all the boats; but lying now in shallow water, incompassed with boats, after a long conflict it was killed with a harping yron, struck in the head, out of which it spouted blood and water by two tunnells, and after a horrid grone it ran quite on shore and died. Its length was fifty-eight foote, height sixteen, black skin'd like coach-leather, very small eyes, greate taile, and onely two small finns, a picked snout, and a mouth so wide that divers men might have stood upright in it; on teeth, but suck'd the slime onely as thro' a grate of that bone which we call whale-bone; the throate yet so narrow as would not have admitted the least of fishes. The extremes of the cetaceous bones hang downwards from the upper jaw; and was hairy towards the ends and bottom within-side; all of it prodigious; but in nothing more wonderful than that an animal of so greate a bulk should be nourished onely by slime through those grates." Again, under date March 26, 1699: "After an extraordinary storm there came up the Thames a whale fifty-six feet long. Such, and a larger one of the spout kind, was killed there forty years ago, June, 1658; that year died Cromwell." Whether Evelyn regarded the appearance of a whale in the Thames as an omen it would be difficult to say.
At another time Evelyn gravely tells us how he dined with the Archbishop of Canterbury, at Lambeth, and stayed late, "and yet returned to Deptford at night." What would he have said now, in these days of tram-cars and railways?
Deptford has the honour of having been the birthplace of the rag and bottle, or "marine store," trade in this great metropolis; and, as might be expected, the side streets of the town swarm with second-hand shops, some of which, it is to be feared, are made repositories for stolen goods. One of these shops, with its sign of a huge black doll, is graphically described by M Alphonse Esquiros, in the second series of his "English at Home." He enters into the traditional origin of the black doll as a sign, as first adopted by a woman who, travelling abroad, brought back with her a black baby as a speculation, but finding that such an article had no value in England, wrapped it up in a bundle of rags and sold it to one of the founders of the trade. The little nigger was reared at the expense of the parish—so goes the story—grew up and married, opened a shop in this same line of business, made a fortune, and is said to have been the ancestress of all the dealers from that day to this. In order to account for this fact, it is said that she and her children started fifty shops, at each of which a black doll was hung out as a sign. Some of these dolls have three heads, and, if we may believe M. Esquiros, this is a symbol of the trade extending through the three kingdoms. It is only fair, however, to add that he remarks, "I am afraid that the explanation given by the owners of these shops will not satisfy antiquaries, who have adopted a far more probable opinion, namely, that these repositories are the successors of the old shops where Indian and Chinese curiosities were sold, and which had a 'joss'—a sort of Chinese idol—for their sign."
The rag and bottle shops are the places whence rags are supplied to the wholesale dealer, who sells them to the owners of the paper-mills which abound near Dartford. It is not a little singular, however, that many of the rags have crossed the seas, and have found their way to England from Germany and even from India and Australia. Charles Dickens, in his "Sketches by Boz," mentions the marine store shops of Lambeth, and also those of the neighbourhood of the King's Bench prison. Is it possible that he could have been ignorant of their connection with Deptford, or of the romantic story above mentioned?