Thames Pathway

Journal of a Walk Down the River Thames

by Keith Pauling


I pass the boundary stone marking the border between Rotherhithe and Deptford. If I thought that some earlier stretches of the Thames Path were depressing it is only because I had not yet visited Deptford.

Rather than going on about how grim it all is, let us look at some brighter things about the place.

Deptford was once a small fishing village. Then along came Henry VIII who turned it into a naval dockyard. It was the first Royal Dockyard and became famed throughout the world for its shipbuilding prowess. So famous, in fact, that in 1698 Peter the Great stayed here for three months to study shipbuilding. To commemorate the visit there is a statue of Peter the Great stands at Deptford Creek.

Trinity House, the organisation that ensures safe navigation around Britain’s shores was founded here in 1514. A group of mariners called “The Guild of the Most Glorious Trinity of Deptford” were granted a royal charter by Henry VIII. The name is derived from the church next to the original dockyard, the Holy Trinity of St Clement. The first Master of Trinity House was Sir Thomas Spurt, who at that time was also captain of the King’s flagship, the “Mary Rose”.

The Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe (1564 – 1593) came to Deptford, and probably wished he hadn’t, because he was murdered in a house in Deptford Strand on 30th May 1593. There are several different versions of how exactly he died, and why. It is all very mysterious, and involves plots about religion, heresy and all sorts of jiggery-pokery. Some say it happened at an inn with a dispute over a bill, others say it happened in a house where he was meeting some royal spies. Others say it was an Elizabethan “hit-man” who was disposing of Marlowe before he could testify against others. Whatever reason, he was stabbed and he died, and is now buried in the churchyard of St Nicholas Church.

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