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...
© Ben Burtenshaw
Katie Gilman's Pink Anchor, Deptford X 2007 © Katie Gilman
© Ben Graville
© Phillip Dodds
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.
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!
© Deptford Is Forever 2013-19