Deptford Wharf, SE8

Place Name

As the name says this was a wharf serving Deadman’s Dock and Wet Dock, it was a small part of Rotherhithe’s far larger Surrey Commercial Docks, which operated in one form or another from 1696 to 1969. Deadman’s Dock is not quite as gruesome as its title might first suggest. The name is a corruption of Dodman’s Dock, which itself was a corruption of another name the shipbuilders Dudman & Company, who operated here at the end of the 18thCentury. The Brighton and South Coast Railway Company bought it from them in 1850. 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. 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. 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.


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