On the 3rd of February 2018 the anchor was re-installed in its original location on the south end of Deptford High Street where it was removed from in 2013 as part of regeneration works. Anybody new coming into Deptford won’t be able to guess the story and battles fought over the newly polished anchor sitting on a new piece of contrasting paving; to a newcomer it might appear just like any other maritime monument symbolising some distant sea-faring history; they may not even notice it’s there. But to locals, and particularly those dedicated to preserving the much-neglected maritime history of Deptford, the anchor’s return not only symbolises Deptford’s heritage but also the struggle with the council to have it reinstated. And sadly, it is also a reminder of a problem the removal of the anchor was meant to have removed too: the street drinkers causing anti-social behaviour on the High Street. Needless to say, street drinking is underpinned by larger issues the government fails to look at, and the anchor’s removal did not solve that problem but instead moved it further up the road.
It took 4 years of persistent campaigning by Deptford Is Forever, which is run by the most dedicated local activists/artists (or bloody-minded and tenacious as the Deptford Dame calls them: deptforddame.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/the-anchor-cometh.html) such as Sue Lawes, David Aylward and members of the Deptford Society to have the anchor re-installed. Seeing it back in its original location, albeit without the plinth where street drinkers used to sit, must feel like a huge victory of people power, particularly in times when battle after battle is fought to save Deptford from further capital-led partnerships between councils and property developers which tend to paper over Deptford’s heritage and its local residents. And the joy is visible in the photos and videos made when celebrating the anchor’s return which included a procession along the High Street with music, baptising the anchor with rum and the singing of the sea shanty written by Liam Geary-Baulch and the Deptford Shanty Crew.
© 2018 Sue Lawes and Deptford Is Forever
I’ve been in contact with Fred Aylward, David Aylward’s brother, who was involved in helping with the Give Us Back Our Bloomin’ Anchor campaign and led the procession in top hat and tails (see image above) which some spectators thought alluded to Brunel the famous ship builder, and Sue Lawes who documented Deptford Is Forever’s work and is incredibly clued up on local issues and writes for another local blog (crossfields.blogspot.co.uk). They tell me that Deptford Is Forever was borne out of Deptford Is, a campaign group that ran workshops to help local residents object to the redevelopment plans for Convoy’s Wharf (formerly Deptford Royal Dockyard), which features 3,500 mostly luxury homes without a single one for social rent. Ironically, the anchor was stored on the site throughout the four years of the campaign. It is also four years since planning permission was granted by Boris Johnson for Convoys, yet not a single building is yet under construction. Deptford Is also came up with alternative proposals to preserve the legacy of the site’s heritage in the form of the Lenox Project led by Julian Kingston (www.buildthelenox.org), and the Sayes Court Garden project led by Bob Bagley and Roo Angell (www.sayescourt.org.uk), which is why they featured in the Anchor campaign. And the sea shanty performed during some of the rituals beautifully sums up the campaigners’ plight (see full sea shanty below; you can also listen to a recording of the original shanty here: liamgb.co.uk/deptford-shanty-crew).
At the start of the campaign in 2013, little graffitied anchors had already appeared on the high street anonymously (we still don’t know who) and then the newly formed Deptford Is Forever carried a giant cardboard anchor built by local artist Laura X Carlé down the High Street during a noisy procession. 1000 paper bags with the campaign logo were given to market traders and shop keepers to use for their customers’ purchases and free anchor tattoos were offered in Kids Love Ink. Anchors made using red tape and chalk began appearing in the high street in 2016 while a petition initiated by the Deptford Society gathered over 4000 signatures. The supportive comments made on the petition were plastered all over the High Street by Deptford Is Forever. For anyone regularly walking down the High Street, it would have been impossible not to notice the campaign and its interventions, and the images and videos on the dedicated website are testimony to the fun, positive and creative side of the campaign (www.deptfordisforever.net).
© Photos by Deptford Is Forever and Laura X Carle
“This DIY approach comes out of a generation of punks which we were part of in the 1980s”, Fred tells me. “We used to run club and pub nights, and we also used to put on comedy nights and music events at the Albany. The Albany provided the venue and we provided the audience, so we were helping each other out. Now, the Albany hires out the venue, but the ethos of DIY came out of the punk thing. And this is still happening today – rather than waiting for someone to approve an action, we do things ourselves using the skills we have. And David, who is a drummer, always incorporates music into his campaigns.”
© 2018 Sue Lawes and Deptford Is Forever
Eventually the Council commissioned a feasibility study to evaluate how and where the anchor could be re-instated, but, as Sue writes, the battle was far from over, battles over who would fund the reinstatement and over where the anchor would be placed. With campaigners persisting, demanding the anchor be reinstated at its original location, not hidden behind rubbish bins, the anchor is now once again the iconic landmark it once was (The campaign was also recently covered in Time Out magazine: www.timeout.com/london/news/how-people-power-got-the-deptford-anchor-back-022118).
Fred says that “winning a campaign like this restores hope that some things can be achieved”. When I ask Fred why the anchor is so important, there is no hesitation. “It’s a symbol of Deptford’s maritime history, and we need to preserve that history. History is important because it gives you roots, it connects you to the past to help you understand where we are now. It’s another big achievement that the Lenox Project and Sayes Court are now part and parcel of the Convoy’s Warf development because otherwise all the significant history of the Royal Dockyard would just be ignored. All the archaeology under the concrete, the timber beams from the old dockyard, and they even found evidence of the Romans in Deptford under the dockyard! Ship building can be traced back to the Romans; this is 2,000-year-old history, it’s fascinating! But all this will be built on because the buildings need deep foundations. But at least John Evelyn’s Sayes Court Garden will now extend into the yard, the Olympia building is protected, and there’ll be a place for shipbuilding once again. It’s interesting because the National Trust grew out of Deptford: in Victorian times a descendant of Sir John Evelyn together with Octavia Hill tried to raise the money to preserve the Manor House that once stood on the site where John Evelyn had lived. Unfortunately, it was too late to preserve it but it inspired them to create the National Trust. The Mulberry Tree in the garden is the only remainder of the garden’s history.”
© 2015 Anita Strasser; Convoy’s Wharf with archaeological findings and the anchor in the Olympia warehouse
Fred thinks there should really be a museum of Deptford that houses all the artefacts that speak of Deptford’s history, including the clocktower that once stood at the yard but is now in Thamesmead shopping centre. “The anchor”, Fred says, “and all the other projects mark the beginnings of preserving Deptford’s heritage.” Speaking to Fred it becomes clear that the anchor isn’t just about the anchor, it’s about the history of Deptford in general and about not allowing money-greedy corporations to do as they please.
When I ask Fred how he feels about the regeneration in the area in general, I’m surprised to hear that he likes a lot of it: the cafés, the art spaces, and the art and music scene in the area. “Some years back you couldn’t get a good cup up coffee or a nice meal anywhere, but now, it’s great. And you still have other places like Café Bianca and others where people can get cheaper food. We now have 6 -8 art spaces, that’s more than in Peckham, that’s great!” For Fred, the problem is the lack of affordability and space. “The problem is with high density and the lack of remaining space as they are building on every bit of land. And there are not enough amenities: schools, doctor’s surgeries, they are all over-stretched already and they’re not building enough to deal with the rising population. The whole regeneration process seems very short-sighted. There should also be more youth projects, more clubs for young people to go to.”
Another element Fred doesn’t like is that the new developments are sold on the back of the arts. “Deptford is being sold based on the arts and Deptford’s artistic community, but the local artists are being pushed out.” Luckily, Fred who has a background in Art and Design, lives in a council property in the St John’s conservation area with David where they don’t have to worry about their tenancy. However, David has had to move from music studios in cheap rented warehouses six times in the last 20 years because of increasing rent prices, and in order to be able to afford a space, 20 musicians have now formed a co-op and share a music studio called Silo Studio in one of the arches in Resolution Way. Fred is particularly concerned about the music scene. “Our local music scene is dying out – we’ve just lost the Montague Arms and now Vinyl is closing because of the increased rent prices. It’s going to become a cheese shop*. And opposite the Bird’s Nest Pub, they are developing all the empty spaces and as soon as people move in, there will be complaints about the music. The same happened in the Sail Loft pub – people moved into the expensive flats and then complained about the noise coming from the pub so now the pub has to shut its doors at 11pm.”
Given this context of current times, it’s not surprising the anchor’s return feels like such a victory. Let’s hope there will be further victories. The next urgent battle is to save the Old Tidemill Garden and Reginald House (more information here: www.facebook.com/oldtidemillgarden / www.facebook.com/nosocialcleansinglewisham).
*There seems to have been a U-turn on the closure. More info here: vinyldeptford.com/.
© 2018 Sue Lawes