Katie Gilman's Pink Anchor, Deptford X 2007 © Katie Gilman
© Deptford Is Forever 2013-18
© Ben Graville
© Phillip Dodds
The anchor is a symbol of hope and safety
... fidelity, stability, security, salvation, steadfastness, the sea, adventure, voyage, luck, and a hidden symbol of the cross...
Naval button found recently on Deptford foreshore
Local photographer Ben Graville snapped the anchor's removal in April (Click to enlarge). See his paeon to the anchor on his website.
© Ben Burtenshaw
The Deptford Anchor
Apart from a blown up photo of a 1757 painting by John Cleverley the Elder on a wall behind the high street (see below) – only seen by those using Frankham Street carpark – the anchor at the top of Deptford High Street has, for the past 26 years, been 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 1988 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, more than any other, Lewisham should be celebrating this history, not removing the last visible reminder of it.
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. This plinth was not only a convenient seating area within spitting distance of the shop selling cheap cans of Tenants Super but also in full view of drivers traversing the A2 and 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 Victorian underground public convenience many years ago that attracted a similar clientele, before the men's hostel Carrington House on Brookmill Road was converted into flats and renamed Meriton Mansions.
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 announced they were moving the anchor with a consultation back in October. They asked locals "Should the anchor stay in Deptford?"
84% responded that it should stay. Some then suggested alternative sites – outside the brand new station, or in either of the public squares on Giffin Street and Douglas Way. The excuse given for why the Anchor could not be situated elsewhere in the environs of the high street was that it was too heavy. Not too heavy to be lifted by an ordinary JCB when it was removed though!
The displaced street drinkers now gather in Brookmill Park, McMillan Park, or in the newly paved Giffin Square outside the new school and library! And the anchor has now gone into "storage" at Convoys Wharf. The council official in charge of the high street refurbishment suggested it would reappear as part of a 'new development'.
There was lots of talk among locals about saving the anchor for the high street, but no one has managed to get a campaign off the ground.
Since the anchor disappeared, drawings of anchors have appeared anonymously on the original site, and on walls in the area.
We were very pleased to hear from the landscape architect responsible for the Deptford Anchor's installation this month. Rosie Chard got in touch with us via our Facebook page :
"Today I was given a Deptford Forever T shirt by a friend who lives in New Cross. Out of curiosity I looked at the Deptford Forever website and was astonished to see a photograph of myself.
I was the landscape architect who designed the plinth and chose the anchor at the docks.
I moved away from New Cross (where I used to live) soon after and had no idea that the anchor had been held in so much affection by local people. I am thrilled to hear about its positive effect on the area.
This was my first built project as a young landscape architect and although the anchor has been removed I am delighted that the memory of it still continues. Good luck with your efforts to bring it back – it is certainly a beautiful thing."
We replied to Rosie: "How lovely to hear you approve! And to find out who the young woman in the photo is! The plinth was perfect as it was of course, but what do you think about the anchor returning without it? That could work, couldn't it? (Your professional opinion required!)". Rosie replied:
"The anchor was originally chosen for its size, sculptural qualities and condition. My idea back then was to find an anchor that was the right size in relation to the space at the end of Deptford High Street.
The placement at the junction was so that as many people as possible could see it. The oval plinth was designed as a strong but simple geometric shape that was not a traffic island but a shape that was defined by the anchor, not the cars and lorries going past it. The plinth height invited people to sit down. Sadly the tree has gone too but that was also part of the composition.
An anchor is so strong sculpturally I think there are many ways you could position it in a public space.
I don’t think a plinth is essential and you could argue an anchor without a plinth makes it feel more like a functional anchor in its ‘natural’ setting, sitting on the edge of a harbour, waiting to be used. However you decide to position it, I would just suggest that you keep it simple."
Anonymous anchors...appearing since August 2013...
After being removed from the high street in April 2013 the anchor was temporarily stored in the carpark of the old Tidemill school, before being moved to the Olympia shed at Convoys Wharf – spotted for a moment at London Open House in September 2013.
EVENING STANDARD 24th Oct 2013. Right, The only nod left to Deptford's maritime history, an 18th century painting by John Cleverley blown up into a back street mural by Artmongers. The picture is installed the wrong way round!