Archaeological investigation at Deptford Royal Dockyard

Archaeological investigation at Deptford Royal Dockyard

MOLA team
16.12.2013

The results of archaeological investigation by MOLA archaeologists at Deptford Royal Dockyard (known as Convoys Wharf) have been assessed and the post-excavation assessment report dated November 2013 has been approved by English Heritage and is now available to the public.

The work was commissioned by Convoy’s Investments S.a.r.l, following recommendations from archaeological consultant CgMs and carried out in accordance with a Scheme of Archaeological Resource Management, agreed in advance with the London Borough of Lewisham and English Heritage. In addition, an independent academic advisor was consulted during the archaeological investigations; Jonathan Coad, national expert on Royal Naval Dockyards.
 
Deptford Royal Dockyard was founded in 1513 by Henry VIII and for some 350 years operated as a strategic naval yard, until its closure in 1869. The site also takes in Sayes Court, home to the celebrated diarist and horticulturalist John Evelyn (1620–1706).
 
In 2010 MOLA archaeologists conducted extensive trial excavation (also known as the Stage 1 evaluation), at the site. Fifty-two trenches were excavated and geoarchaeological boreholes monitored to assess the site’s geomorphology. As well as the historically important 19th-century Great Dock, the Grade II listed Olympia building and the 1513 Tudor storehouse (a scheduled ancient monument) a number of other historic dockyard structures were exposed.
 
This was followed by a comprehensive programme of archaeological excavation from May 2011 to April 2012 (also known as the Stage 2 evaluation). During this period fourteen large areas were excavated, the largest of these covering a space of 126m by 100m. The excavation unearthed limited evidence for prehistoric and Roman use of the site. The Tudor dockyard had largely been destroyed by subsequent buildings, although scattered fragments remained. The survival of a narrow building, thought to be the Treasurer of the Navy’s House, which features on a map dating to 1623, was an unexpected discovery. The Wett Dock, or dockyard basin, was built first in timber and later constructed in brick and stone. The basin was flanked by 19th-century slipways of timber, brick and concrete, where ships were built. Mast ponds, used to season masts, were discovered in the west of the site, and a storehouse that was rebuilt in the early Georgian period, a smithy and officers' quarters were uncovered to the east.
 
Traces of early walls were found below an 18th-century building on the site of Sayes Court. Nearby, garden walls could be more confidently reconciled with map evidence of Evelyn’s home, although no trace of his famous gardens was revealed. Overall the excavation provided a fascinating glimpse into the workings and development of this lively and important dockyard, which played a crucial part in the construction both of notable exploration vessels and warships.
 
Full reports of both the evaluation work and excavation can be viewed here.

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