Deptford High Street, SE8

Place Name

Literal. Previously called Butt Lane. The name Deptford has changed little since it was first recorded as Depeford in 1293, it comes from the Old English words dēop and ford and literally, the deep river crossing – or ford. In 1313 it was written as Depford and a year later as Deppeford. David Mills in a Dictionary of London Place Names explains: “The medial – t – spelling in the modern form, around from the 15th century, is quite unhistorical, but no doubt reflects a change of pronunciation in the name at that date (still currently ‘Deptford’).” The crossing itself was over the River Ravensbourne at the point where it widens out into Deptford Creek and so on to joining the River Thames. This was more than just some mere general description however, with few bridges and a limited number of watermen working the rivers it was a useful warning for travellers not to cross the river at high tide, especially important since Deptford was part of the pilgrimage route from London to Canterbury used by the pilgrims in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and is mentioned in the prologue to The Reeve’s Tale. Indeed such was the depth of the water that this former fishing village was chosen as the site of Henry VIII’s new royal naval dockyard. The name change to Butt Lane, following a notice on August 13, 1825 reading: “THE PUBLICK are respectfully informed, that by the general Consent of the Inhabitants, the NAME of the STREET hitherto called BUTT LANE is now altered to HIGH STREET, by which Appellation it will in future be designated High Street, Deptford.” Butts usually referred to the site of archery practice.

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