The “deep ford” which gave Deptford its name crossed the River
Ravensbourne at what is now Deptford Bridge. It was on the ancient
road from London to Canterbury and Dover, and Deptford is mentioned
in Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’. One part of Deptford grew up
here, beside the ford and the later bridge. The other part was
the fishing village beside the Thames called Deptford Strand.
There were fields between the two settlements until the nineteenth
In 1513 Henry VIII founded a dockyard at Deptford to build
ships for the Royal Navy. In the eighteenth century a Victualling
Yard was established alongside, where ships’ stores and provisions
were assembled. The Dockyard closed in 1869.
After use as a cattle market and in other military and industrial
capacities the area is now being redeveloped for housing. The
Victualling Yard remained until 1961. Its site is now occupied
by the Pepys Estate. Samuel Pepys often visited the Dockyard
when he was Clerk to the Navy Board, and his friend and fellow-diarist
John Evelyn lived here, in the manor house called Sayes Court.
The Royal Dockyard, other shipbuilding yards and maritime industries
made Deptford a prosperous place, particularly in time of war.
Many fine houses were built, of which some survive in Deptford
High Street and Albury Street. But the good times ended when
ship building on the Thames declined after 1815. Although other
industries partially filled the gap Deptford became a place
of overcrowded housing and insufficient employment.
Charities were established to cope with some of the problems.
The Deptford Fund, set up by the Duchess of Albany, was the
biggest. Margaret and Rachel McMillan, the pioneers of nursery
education, established a nursery school in Deptford a century
ago. Margaret later founded a training college for nursery teachers,
named after Rachel. They believed that early years education
could counter some of the effects of poverty.
London’s first railway, from London to Greenwich, was built
through Deptford in 1836.