Deptford Sunny Side Up; an Area 10 Minutes from the City and a New Favourite of Commuters Is Fighting to Save Its Naval Architecture, Says Jane Hughes

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FEW people are aware of the architectural treasures to be found along the waterfront at Deptford, south-east London - surviving evidence of the area's enormously rich maritime and industrial past.

But now SE8, for years considered a decaying backwater and one of London's least glamorous postcodes, is enjoying a property renaissance that local people are determined should not spoil Deptford's Thameside heritage.

William Richards and Chris Mazeika, two residents who are spearheading a campaign called the Seven Wonders of the Waterfront, say they welcome the new investment now pouring into the area, but they also want to save the area's finest buildings from being overwhelmed by Docklands-style housing copied on the south bank of the river.

"Deptford's old wharfs, warehouses and dry docks should be woven into the fabric of redevelopment to enrich the urban landscape for everyone," says Mazeika, 41, who has spent the past five years researching the history of the docks.

"Parts of docklands regeneration on the north bank have become characterised by bland design, but the success of Wapping shows how well things can work when old buildings are mixed with high-quality new architecture."

Richards and Mazeika live in, and are restoring, the Master Shipwright's House - a magnificent Queen Anne building that is the oldest remaining structure in what was Henry VIII's London naval dockyard.

The couple bought the dilapidated building after falling in love with it five years ago when they glimpsed it over a wall. The house has since become a venue for arts events and has featured in the film Sylvia, as well as the television series Tipping the Velvet.

The pair have also succeeded in getting the 19th century Paynes Wharf - a former engineering works with six elegant Italianate arches - listed to protect it from demolition. There are now imaginative proposals to turn it into housing and an art gallery.

However, the 1930s meat storehouse next door at Borthwick Wharf, designed by RIBA gold medallist Sir Edwin Cooper, remains under threat.

Despite the support of the Twentieth Century Society and other conservation groups, an appeal to list the imposing brick structure was turned down by English Heritage. Plans to replace it with an 18- to 22-storey housing block have already been on public display.

English Heritage agrees that the docks are "an exceptionally historic area", but a spokeswoman says that although Borthwick had seemed to be of interest initially, further investigation showed it to be of "less historical interest and more altered than thought".

Local campaigners, who now intend to lobby the Department of Media, Culture and Sport, could not disagree more. "People here see Bor thwick Wharf as an important link with the past and something of a jewel box architecturally.

It's both classical and Modernist and has been dubbed Deptford's Tate Modern," says Richards, also 41, and a personal communications coach for politicians and business people.

"We want to see it come alive again: the scheme for Paynes Wharf shows how creative developers can be when they work with an old building. …


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