This is the second guest contribution for this blog, written by Garry Lengthorn. I met Garry’s dad and wife at one of the Friday lunches for pensioners at the Armada Community Hall. I was speaking to them about Deptford’s regeneration, and Garry’s wife, who used to accompany her father-in-law to the Armada, suggested that I speak to Garry as he was born in Deptford. This contribution to my research came out of this conversation. Text and images by and from Garry Lengthorn.
My Deptford Story
My name is Garry Lengthorn and I was born in April 1965 in Watergate Street Deptford. I can truly say I am Deptford born and bred because, being the second of two children born to Maureen and John Lengthorn, my mum was allowed to give birth to me at home! No 4 Rowley House in Watergate Street!
Here is an early picture of me in the Pram basking in the outdoors!
Bordering on the edge of the Royal Borough of Greenwich it would be all too easy to say that I was a Greenwich child, but I have always been proud of my Deptford roots; an upbringing that was tough for my Dad, as we lost our beautiful mum to cancer when I was only 7 and my brother 12!
In December 1969 we moved to Chester House overlooking Sayes Court; with shops below and a fantastic park in front of us it seemed a step up from Watergate Street; it was a shame that we lost my mum within a few years and she never had the chance to enjoy our modern flat and childhood life.
My early school life at Hughes Field was largely a pleasant experience, albeit interrupted by my mum’s passing. I had a great set of friends who all lived either local in Watergate Street or the surrounding streets of the Dacca Street and Sayes Court estates.
We were always looked after; when I was about 9 or 10 I got collared by the Sayes Court park keeper for being in the park playing run outs when the park was closed; one of the older teenagers politely asked the keeper to let me go when he was threatening to call the police; it seemed polite at the time!
Football started to become a big part of my life playing 20 a side football every Sunday in the gravel pit at the end of the park with all the lads from the area, playing football in Sayes Court with my Dad and brother, as well as going Millwall with my Dad, brother and Uncles; fantastic memories I will never forget!
As I developed in to my teens and attended West Greenwich boys school, it become clear that Deptford was a much tougher place to grow up as a teenager; avoiding fights and trouble was something you learned very quickly; an instinct I hope I still have today. Unfortunately, many of my friends at West Greenwich did not have that solid home life behind them and I am sure are now either in prison and or struggling to cope with what life threw at you; I consider myself very lucky, but also realised early on that a solid family background was a key part of why I survived these early years.
Once I left school with a solid, but uninspiring set of qualifications I attended South East London College after qualifying for a paid computer course; from this I got my first job as an IT engineer and this has kept me in work to this day.
Deptford was a tough area to live during those early 80’s, as I left school and started working life; the community spirit was there in patches, but families were struggling under the cloud of a Thatcher government, the real threat of a nuclear war and a general mood of depression; cars regularly being broken into and the threat of burglary real, as I found to our cost on at least 3 occasions. Deptford High Street and the market were in decline and pubs were not nice or safe places to drink.
Most of my close friends left the area and started to live in the surrounding areas or the Medway towns. Deptford was certainly not somewhere you choose to live, and it was only getting worse.
During the early nineties I met with my wife and, as she come from South West London, it was inevitable that we moved out. It is fair to say that I was not sorry to leave.
My Dad to his credit remained in Deptford (my brother had already moved out to Kent during the eighties) and never had a bad word to say about Deptford going about his usual way of life; if he ever felt threatened he would just give someone a piece of his mind; something he continued to do in to his eighties!
During the nineties and noughties, we continued to regularly return to Deptford to see my dad with our kids and stay over; this typically coincided with a family party, a game at Millwall or just a visit to see my Dad and enjoy Manze’s Pies and Mash (of course with Liquor)!
But then we started to see the changes; gradual at first with the old Surrey Docks being redeveloped and then parts of the Pepys Estate, as well as the Deptford Market and station areas. Now Deptford was being touted as the new Shoreditch; edgy, but the place to be seen! The old job centre that I had visited on one or two occasions become a cool bar and all of a sudden, a number of the original pubs become Kitch or Hip to be in. Little Nan’s became a hip cocktail bar to go to and suddenly Deptford was becoming popular again.
It is easy with all this going on to look back and say what a shame Deptford is changing! It is easy to say that with rose tinted glasses if you don’t remember the bad old days of the eighties when it started to become a very unsafe place to be.
Deptford has always had a fantastic community spirit; this started in the war when people’s houses were bombarded by German bombers, but it continued in the sixties when the council decided to demolish some fantastic properties and build a concrete jungle, as well as the eighties when parts of the UK and South London were becoming very gloomy places to live.
People were proud through all of this to come from Deptford; to think they had survived their childhood and come through it. They always looked after the old folk; even today the community spirit is amazing.
Do I think Deptford is better for the changes we are now seeing? I have mixed views; as I said earlier Deptford was a dangerous place to live in the eighties and certainly you had to be very lucky or have a good solid family background to survive this; today the developers are all over the area and no doubt property prices will go up and people will be forced out; it will be very bad if this happens, as once again this will put a huge strain on the community spirit.
I have confidence that no matter what happens that Deptford will remain a great place to live, as it has seen many changes since the turn of the 19th century and it has always survived. Yes, it will see a whole new community enter the area, as it has done in the past, but I suspect the mix of old and new folk will ensure that the underlying spirit continues.
I also personally would like to see Deptford prosper again and I hope this includes its rich heritage of ship building and dockers. With the plan to re-generate Convoys, it is likely that the rich heritage of shipbuilding will be celebrated once again, so Deptford should become the home of this historic boat craft rather than a popular estate agent!