Convoys Wharf - the Dockyard Basin

MOLA team

MOLA is continuing its work at the site of the Deptford Royal Dockyard, which is now known as Convoys Wharf. The excavations, which are being undertaken on behalf of Convoy's Investments S.a.r.l, have unearthed several phases of the Dockyard Basin. This large pool probably began as a natural pond at the confluence of the River Thames with the small stream identified earlier in the excavation. Historical sources suggest that the basin was adapted to moor several of the King’s ships in the early 16th century and later used to season masts. By 1688, the Dockyard Basin (or ‘Wett Dock’) was hexagonal in plan, with slipways on the west side and a canal connecting it to the river. Once the ships were largely complete, they were launched into the basin to be fitted out.

The excavations have identified a timber revetment wall that probably dates to the 18th century when the basin was remodelled. The revetment was held in place by large horizontal timber beams, called land ties, on the landward side.

Most of the timber revetment wall was replaced in red brick, probably in the second half of the 18th century. A map of 1808 shows the basin around this period. The red brick wall was itself replaced by a wall faced in yellow stock brick and stone in the 19th century. The lower surviving parts of both walls have enabled a better understanding of how the basin was constructed and used, although the archaeological remains of the walls were in poor condition. The northwest corner of the basin illustrates the relationship between the walls particularly well. In the centre of the image, the timber revetment runs east-west and is replaced by the diagonal red brick wall which itself is truncated by the corner of the 19th century wall in the top left hand corner of the image. In each successive phase, the basin became smaller.

The early 19th century saw a dramatic increase in the size of warships and the four slipways at the edge of the basin shown in the 1808 map had been replaced by two much larger stone slips by 1868. These stone slipways were protected from the weather by an open-sided cover building, now known as the Olympia building (listed Grade II). The cover building is one of only two structures visible above ground that date to the Dockyard period (the other being the Shipwright’s House outside the boundary of the site).

The excavation has revealed the evidence for two phases of canal walls linking the basin with the river. The later phase, built in brick and stone in 1814 to a design by John Rennie, is shown in the first of these images with the earlier timber version, just beyond, to the east. Depth gauges were identified in both phases of walls – Roman numerals cut out of copper plate and nailed to the timber wall and carved into stone in the later phase.

Historic sources suggest that the basin was deepened in the early 19th century and comparison of the depth gauges bears this out, the later depth gauge showing that the basin canal was c 1m deeper in 1814.

The second photo of the canal wall shows the distinctive curve of the masonry as it thickens at the entrance of the basin, but also shows the damage the wall has suffered since the basin went out of use.

Read previous blogs about MOLA's  work, Convoys Wharf:The Storehouse and slipway, Convoys Wharf: Sayes Court, and Convoys Wharf.

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