Tuesday, March 27, 2012

History Corner: Convoys Wharf Archaeology

Last Saturday there was a lot of interest in the public consultation on the future of  the Convoys Wharf site in Deptford (Deptford Dame , Deptford Misc and Deptford Is all include thorough reports of the issues raised). For me, the archaeological tour of the area was particularly interesting.

Of course I knew all about the Royal Dockyard which stood there from 1513 until 1869, and the later Foreign Cattle Market where animals were imported into London. But the major archaeological dig over the last year has made this history much more tangible by exposing its reasonably well preserved remains beneath the concrete.  The features of the yard, including the basin, slips and river wall, can now be readily seen with brick foundations and timbers surviving for hundreds of years (though they will shortly be covered up again to prevent weather damage).

Some of the timbers that have been found date back to the Tudor period when the King's Yard was first created - and as timbers were frequently recycled from broken up ships it is likely that some of them came from earlier, medieval boats.

But while the investigation has largely been focused on the dockyard remains, it has also found evidence of human occupation dating back 10,000 years. It seems that much of the site was originally marshland, with a gravel headland into the marshes alongside a river channel that flowed into the Thames. Mesolithic remains have been uncovered, iron age burials and a later substantial Roman building 

The Olympia warehouse, first built in the 1840s, is a listed building and will survive demolition of rest of site
It was good too to get a sense of the vastness of the site, which is hard to appreciate from the limited area visible from the entrance near the Dog and Bell pub. It covers a big expanse of the riverfront that has been fenced off from the rest of Deptford for many years. I don't think many of the people who saw all this at the weekend are going to be content with some Isle of Dogs style combination of luxury flats, offices and a shopping centre at Convoys Wharf.

The riverfront at Convoys Wharf with the Aragon Tower on Pepys Estate
beyond the edge of the site

A cormorant on the river

1 comment:

Unknown said...

What a grand discovery. My great grandfather worked there as an artificer and this dig is an epic success for maritime historians. Thanks for posting this important discovery.