Thames Water propose to undertake works on a public green in Deptford’s town centre which lies between Deptford Church Street, Coffey Street and Crossfield Street. It is one of the few leafy open spaces in Deptford’s urban environment forming part of the “Green Corridor” running from New Cross to Deptford Creek whereby wildlife such as birds, bees, butterflies and plants are supported in the city. As such it is important for biodiversity in the area. It also provides a tranquil haven for residents and visitors alike and serves as much needed lung in a densly populated area where many people don’t have gardens. For this reason we urge Thames Water not to use green space for their works on London’s sewer system. Read about the importance of green space for well being HERE.
The Church Street site is central to community life in Deptford. It is right next to St Joseph’s primary school and is close to Tidemill school, too. Proposed works on this land will seriously disturb the educational environment of Deptford’s children for over three years- half a primary school life. The site is close to the local library and leisure centre and borders Deptford High Street with its many businesses and amenities. The site is adjacent to St Paul’s and is very close to many other important places of worship for local people. Furthermore, the site is in the middle of a residential area. This site is CENTRAL to Deptford as a community the same cannot be said of the Borthwick Wharf site.
The Deptford Church Street site is both historic and architecturally important. It lies between two memorials to London’s past: the church of St. Paul, built by Thomas Archer in the early eighteenth century and the railway viaduct constructed in the early nineteenth century which transported the first passenger railway in London, one of the earliest major achievements of railway engineering in Britain. St Paul’s is a manifestation of the Church of England ascendant in the reigns of Queen Anne and George I, while, by contrast, the railway viaduct seems the very embodiment of the Industrial Revolution. These are national monuments to God and mammon, respectively, separated by this small piece of green that has remained accessible to the public for three-hundred years.
The importance of St Paul’s is marked by the Grade I listing awarded to it by English Heritage and, as a result, it is given – or should be given – the same protection as other national monuments such as St Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey, for example, that are considered of the utmost significance for our heritage. This was recognized in July 1997 when the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £2,277,000 for the restoration of St. Paul’s, Deptford, then the largest sum given by it to a church. It would be more than a shame if all that good work was undone by excavation and tunneling only a few metres away.
St Paul’s, Deptford, was built in the early eighteenth century as one of a group known as the Fifty ‘New Churches’. They were needed because London was expanding at a tremendous pace and churches were required to minister to the godly. At the time, Deptford – then a satellite of London – was a larger city than Bristol, so no wonder it needed a new church for its expanding congregation. The entire project for the New Churches has recently been described by Terry Friedman as ‘perhaps the single greatest architectural enterprise of the [eighteenth] century’.
One of the most striking things about Archer’s St Paul’s is its central plan and the geometric dynamism of its design. This was also true of the Rectory that Archer designed alongside the church and at the edge of the Crossfield meadow, but which, sadly, was pulled down in the nineteenth century. This had an extraordinary triangular plan with octagonal rooms at its corners and a centrally-placed triangular staircase. You can see what it looked like in an engraving by William Henry Toms that was published in 1731:
If Thames Water decide to tunnel north-west from the site than the archaeological evidence of this astonishing building may be lost.
Archer was very conscious of how his church would fit into its setting, and how it would dominate the skyline for miles around. To achieve this sense of the church inspiring and sheltering its community, Archer deliberately placed it on a grand stepped and balustraded platform so that it would be seen from afar and from all viewpoints. The building itself seems to invite one to walk around it and Archer would surely be horrified at the idea of inserting a new, utilitarian structure, such as a sewer shaft in close proximity to a holy building and on what he surely regarded as holy ground. You don’t need to be religious to appreciate the meaning and symbolism of this building and its setting.
The viaduct is a handsome work of architecture with a massive length of 5,150 metres, almost Imperial Roman in scale. Each arch is 20 feet from centre to centre and 22 feet high. Most of the thirty-two arches from Deptford Creek to Deptford Church Street remain open and are described, rather charmingly, as the ‘most attractive part of the line’ by English Heritage. Other sections have been extensively rebuilt, but the overall effect remains monumental.
The proposal currently put forward by Thames Water threatens what is called the curtilage of both St Paul’s and the railway viaduct. This is a matter of how the setting works with the main building or buildings, the ownership of the land, the historic use of the land, and its relationship to physical boundaries such as the churchyard walls. The siting of the works will not only be visible to the residents whose homes are nearby but to all those people who live in and walk through this part of Deptford on a daily basis. The walk along Crossfield Street is the only place – apart from nearby Albury Street – that gives us a sense of what Deptford once was like, and it is also one of few places where it’s possible to see a blade of grass. The siting of a shaft accessing the sewers (with its associated vents and kiosk) on this site, next to two such key monuments in the history of London, will surely be disastrous in every respect.