Friday, April 12, 2013

Goodbye to the anchor!

Apart from a blown up photo of a 1757 painting by John Cleverley the Elder on a wall behind the high street, only seen by those using Frankham Street carpark, the anchor at the top of Deptford High Street has been for the past 23 years the ONLY visible reminder in the town centre of Deptford's immensely rich maritime history. Originally located in Chatham Historic Dockyard, it was installed in 1990 when the high street was last given a makeover, and has become a famous and much loved symbolic landmark for many Deptford people.

There would be no World Heritage site at Greenwich to speak of if it weren't for the shipbuilding and its attendant business that went on at Deptford since King Henry VIII established the King's Yard (now Convoys Wharf) exactly 500 years ago. In fact this year Deptford should be celebrating this history, not demolishing the last visible reminder of it – but it would seem Lewishame couldn't care less. Even the National Maritime Museum cannot bear to acknowledge Deptford as its precurser.

Unfortunately, the anchor has also been linked to the street drinkers who have long been drawn to it as a gathering place. It's not the anchor itself that drew the drinkers (not that they didn't love it as much as the rest of us), but the low wall the anchor was placed on – not only a convenient seating area within spitting distance of the shop selling 80p cans of Tenants Super but also in full view of drivers traversing the A2. A natural theatre for the dispossessed that perhaps made them feel real and visible (all too visible for residents and businesses next to the anchor), this was also the site of a public convenience many years ago that attracted a similar clientele.

In the new £1.5m refurbishment that is taking place in the high street, the anchor was somehow considered part of a problem that perhaps has more to do with the proliferation of betting shops and the above mentioned historical precedent. Why not just get rid of the seating area if you want to make these people invisible? Lewisham did their usual sham consultation back in October, announcing they were moving the anchor, and asking locals "Where do you think it should go?"

Lots of excuses have been made for why the anchor could not be situated elsewhere in the environs of the high street (apparently it's too heavy!), and now it will go into "storage". Firstly we were told it would go back to Chatham Dockyard, but now we hear it will be stored at Convoys Wharf. Fencing went up around the anchor at the beginning of this week, and then today it was unceremoniously removed, leaving a pile of rubble and cobblestones.

There was lots of talk among locals about saving the anchor, but it seems no one managed to get a campaign off the ground that might convince Lewisham to keep it. Not that they would have listened. Local photographer Ben Graville snapped the anchor's removal and has an album of photos of the goings on at the anchor on Facebook. We've also rounded up a couple of anchor memories...

© Ben Graville

Christmas 2012 at the anchor (one of many). See the story on East London Lines  
© Lene Wold

Deptford Anchor Yarn Bombed by Knitzy, September 2010 © Jay Dee. See

Katie Gilman's Pink Anchor, a big favourite at Deptford X 2007 © Katie Gilman

Simon Bee's design for the Deptford Bags Company which emerged last summer. The bags are still available at Deli X for £5. ©Deptford Bags 

Of course, it'll be a while before Google update their Street View, so if you miss the anchor you can always find it on Google Maps (along with the less missed Peacocks!). And here's the only town centre reminder left of Deptford's maritime past...(see our post from March 2010).

Of course there are subtle reminders of Deptford's history everywhere in the form of place names and the like, if you choose to seek them out. Actually, there is one other historical seafaring reminder in the form of Mickhael Chemiakin's bizarre sculpture of Peter the Great that can be found down by the river at Millennium Quay.

© CarolineLD 

Perhaps the anchor may be seen again, with a similar backdrop of luxury housing, at Convoys Wharf? See Caroline's Miscellany for her post on Peter the Great – and also her post about the anchor and its symbolic connection to Deptford's links with industry and slavery.

Update 15th April: The anchor moves round the corner...


  1. The anchor wasn't responsible for the boozers! FOOLS

  2. Agreed. BTW does anyone know where the anchor originated before it came from Chatham, was it from Deptford dockyard? I ask because there is one item that came from the dockyard that was taken away and should return – 'Nelson's clock'. It was saved from demolition, restored at great expense, then 'given' to Thamesmead (shopping centre) despite a local campaign. Let's have it back!

  3. I suggest the anchor goes in the open space at the new Railway Station entrance. It would be wonderful there in that empty space, be a greeting image for all who arrive and without a wall around it would not provide a seat for anyone.
    Who is responsible for making the decision about where is will be sited?

  4. @anon the council is responsible, so lobby your councillor and/or Lewisham's regeneration department.