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Convoys Wharf facts for kids

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Deptford Dockyard - Joseph Farington
Landscape view of Deptford Dockyard; Oil on canvas by Joseph Farington (late 18th century to early 19th century); from Collections of the National Maritime Museum

Convoys Wharf, formerly called the King's Yard, is the site of Deptford Dockyard, the first of the Royal Dockyards, built on a riverside site in Deptford, by the River Thames in London, England. It was first developed in 1513 by Henry VIII to build vessels for the Royal Navy. Convoys Wharf also covers most of the site of Sayes Court manor house and gardens, home of diarist John Evelyn.

The site was owned until 2008 by News International, which used it to import newsprint and other paper products from Finland until early 2000. It is now owned by Hutchison Whampoa Limited and is subject to a planning application to convert it into residential units, although a large part of the site has safeguarded wharf status.

The eastern area adjoining Watergate Street was Palmers Wharf.


Royal Dockyard

The King's Yard was established in 1513 by Henry VIII as the first Royal Dockyard building vessels for the Royal Navy, and the leading dockyard of the period. It brought a large population and prosperity to Deptford.

The docks are also associated with the knighting of Sir Francis Drake by Queen Elizabeth I aboard the Golden Hind, the legend of Sir Walter Raleigh laying down his cape for Elizabeth, Captain James Cook's third voyage aboard Resolution, Frobisher's and Vancouver's voyages of discovery, despatching ships against the Spanish Armada, as well as for Nelson's battles including Trafalgar.

In 1698 Tsar Peter I of Russia aged 25, came to Deptford to learn about shipbuilding and seamanship. He was granted the use of John Evelyn's Sayes Court, adjoining the Royal Dockyard, by William III. In three months he and his party caused considerable damage to the famous gardens, and also to the house, with "much of the furniture broke, lost or destroyed". Sir Christopher Wren was instructed to survey the property and declared it "entirely ruined". At the mouth of Deptford Creek, on the Fairview Housing estate, there is a statue, designed by Mihail Chemiakin and gifted by Russia commemorating Peter's visit.

18th century and closure

By the 18th century, due to the silting of the Thames, the dockyard's use was restricted to ship building and distributing stores to other yards and fleets abroad. It was shut down from 1830 to 1844 and in 1864 a Parliamentary Committee recommended that the dockyards at Deptford (and Woolwich) should be closed. Their recommendation was accepted and the Deptford dockyard was closed in May 1869, by which time it employed 800 people. It had produced some 450 ships, the last being the wooden screw corvette HMS Druid launched in 1869.

The site of Sayes Court manor house in 2009
The location of Sayes Court almshouses in 2009

Foreign Cattle Market

Before refrigeration cattle had to be imported alive, and the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act 1869 gave the City of London Corporation exclusive local authority for foreign animal imports and processing subject to its opening a market before January 1872.

The complete site at Deptford, including a lease on the LB&SCR docks, was acquired and the market opened in 1871, By 1889 the site had been extended to 27 acres (11 ha). In 1907 at its peak, 184,971 cattle and 49,350 sheep were imported through the market but by 1912 these figures had declined to 21,547 cattle and 11,993 sheep.

During the War years

The Foreign Cattle Market was taken over by the War Department in 1914, on a tenancy agreement from the City of London Corporation, for use as the Royal Army Service Corps Supply Reserve Depot. On several occasions after the Armistice traders and others urged that the market should be reopened; however, in 1924 the War Office exercised their option to buy it along with the adjacent the Sayes Court property for £400,500 (equivalent to £16,660,000 in 2021) under deeds dated 25 March 1926, 18 March 1927 & 25 July 1927 including the railway, tramway, wharfage and jetty rights and easements.

The Royal Naval Victualling Depot operated here which included a rum store. During the Second World War a bomb destroyed one of the storehouses and killed a number of men, a plaque was visible in the early 1970s commemorating this tragedy. During the war, because of the Blitz some of the stores were dispersed to various locations including Park Royal.

The yard also served as a United States' Advance Amphibious Vehicle base and married quarters during the Second World War.

Latter part of 20th century

On the closure of the Victualling Depot in the 1960s the establishment was renamed The Royal Naval Stores Depot and moved to a new building within Convoys Wharf. The Depot was the main Air Freight hub for the RN and was particularly busy during the Falklands War. It also continued as the central RN Stationery Store and Joint Services Baggage operations. The Depot closed in 1981.

The site purchased by News International from the UK Ministry of Defence for £1,600,000 (equivalent to £4,940,000 in 2021), and a remainder in 1986, for £340,000 (equivalent to £720,000 in 2021). In 1993 the Greenwich and Lewisham (London Borough Boundaries) Order transferred the site from the London Borough of Greenwich to the London Borough of Lewisham.


Most of the Tudor, Stuart, Georgian and Victorian structures above ground level that had survived until 1955 have since been destroyed. One structure that escaped the demolition is Olympia Warehouse, a unique cast-iron building constructed in the 1840s. However, archaeological surveys carried out by CgMs and Pre-Construct Archaeology in 2000 by Duncan Hawkins, in 2000 by Jon Lowe and in 2001 by David Divers, established that by far the greater part of the dockyard survives as buried structures filled in intact between 1869 and 1950. The structures of the yard proper, the docks, slips, basins, mast ponds, landing places and stairs, constitute a substantial architectural fabric that is currently extant, though largely invisible, being covered by superficial accretion or infill. As yet there has been no archaeological investigation of the garden area of Sayes Court, and only limited trial trenching of part of the manor house.

International recognition

In October 2013 Deptford Dockyard and Sayes Court garden were added to the World Monuments Fund's 2014 watch list.

Sayes Court

The War Department hired the Sayes Court area and almshouses, from the City of London Corporation from 19 September 1914 to use as a Horse Transport Reserve Depot at a rental of £90 per annum (equivalent to £6,200 in 2021), to enlarge its Supply Reserve Depot at the Foreign Cattle Market.

The fee simple of the Foreign Cattle Market and of the Sayes Court property were purchased by the War Department, for £400,500 (equivalent to £16,660,000 in 2021), under deeds dated 25 March 1926, 18 March 1927 and 25 July 1927 including the railway, tramway, wharfage and jetty rights and easements.

Dockyard railways

From 15 December 1900 there was tramway access via Grove Street, to the Foreign Cattle Market, using their own Maudslay petrol locomotive. When the docks became an army depot the junction was relaid to standard gauge for direct connection to the LB&SCR. There was as well, an internal narrow-gauge tramway system. When the War Department took over, they introduced steam locomotives to work the tramways, purchasing between 1915 and 1917, twelve oil-fired Warril type 18 in (457 mm) gauge locomotives from the Hunslet Engine Company. In December 1920 the Government announced the sale of the equipment from the railway at the Deptford Meat Depot. In 1921 Sir Robert Walker purchased three locos and 75 wagons for the Sand Hutton Light Railway, and purchased a fourth 1927. By January 1938 of the remaining eight locos, seven were apparently still in existence at Deptford, but out of use.

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