DEPTFORD, a town, in the union of Greenwich, partly in the E. division of the hundred of Brixton and of the county of Surrey, but principally in the hundred of Blackheath, lathe of Sutton-at-Hone, W. division of Kent, 4 miles (E.) from London; containing, with the manor of Hatcham, in Surrey, 25,617 inhabitants. This place, according to Henshall, was at the time of the Norman survey called Moreton, or "town in the marsh;" it was afterwards designated West Greenwich, from its contiguity to Greenwich, and Depeford Stronde, from a deep ford on the river Ravensbourne, the mouth of which forms the small estuary now styled Deptford Creek. Edward III. frequently resided here, in a place named the Stonehouse; but the town was of little importance till the time of Henry VIII., who, for the better preservation of the royal navy, established a dockyard, and, in the fourth year of his reign, incorporated the society of the Trinity House, by the title of the "Master, Wardens, and Assistants of the Guild or Fraternity of the most Glorious and Undivided Trinity, and of St. Clement, in the County of Kent," confirming to them the ancient rights and privileges of the Company of Mariners of England, together with their possessions at Deptford. Further grants were made by Queen Elizabeth and Charles II., which were confirmed by James II. in 1685. In 1671, an inundation took place here, by which a prodigious quantity of cattle was destroyed in the marshes; the cables of ships at anchor were broken, and the water of the Thames rose to the height of ten feet.

The houses in the upper part of the town are in general neat and well built; the streets are paved, and lighted with gas from extensive works near the Creek bridge, and the inhabitants are amply supplied with water by the Kent Water-works Company. The main support and consequence of Deptford arose from its excellent docks; and the recent removal of all business from the government dockyard for a short time caused a great loss to the town: it has, however, been partially restored. The royal dockyard includes a space of about thirty-one acres: here the ships of the royal navy were formerly built and repaired, and the royal yachts generally fitted and laid up. The remains of an ancient monastery were converted in 1513 into the old storehouse, which consisted only of the building on the north side of the present quadrangle. A spacious storehouse parallel with this, and of the same length, was completed about the year 1796; a long range of smaller storehouses having been previously built, in 1780, under the direction of Sir Charles Middleton. This yard contains three slips for building second and third rate ships, a double and a single wet-dock, a basin, and two mastponds. Here are also a large smithy for making anchors, &c., some mast-houses, sheds for timber, a mould-loft, various workshops, and houses for the officers. In the reigns of James I. and Charles I. the treasurer of the navy resided here. A short distance north of the King's yard, by the side of the river, and in the parish of St. Paul, stands the Victualling-office, built in 1745, on the north side of the ancient range of storehouses called the Red House; new storehouses have since been added. There are, besides, an extensive cooperage and brewhouse: slaughtering-houses for curing beef, pork, &c.; bakehouses; and other buildings. Near the Victualling-office is Deadman's dockyard, belonging to the Evelyn family, in which ships of 74 guns have at different times been built; and there are two other private docks in the parish of St. Nicholas. On Deptford Green is a very extensive iron and brass foundry and manufactory for anchors, chain-cables, iron-work for steam-engines, boilers, and railway-work, with machinery of all kinds. Another branch of manufacture carried on to a great extent is that of earthenware, known by the name of Deptford ware. There are also works for refining gold and silver, and a laboratory for making sulphuric, nitric, and oxalic acids, and other chymical productions, by a process which, though it had been practised for some years in France, was only introduced into England in 1827, by the proprietors of these extensive works. The buildings occupy an area of more than 15,000 square yards, and comprise a range 270 feet in length, containing, exclusively of other apparatus, from twelve to fifteen furnaces.

The Grand Surrey canal passes through the upper part of the parish of St. Paul. The bridge over the Ravensbourne, anciently of wood, was rebuilt with stone in 1628, by Charles I., and lately widened at the expense of the county; and another bridge has been erected over Deptford Creek, near its junction with the Thames, by a company called the Deptford-Creek Bridge Company, thus forming a direct communication between the lower part of Deptford and the town of Greenwich. The Greenwich railway passes through the centre of the town, crossing High-street, near St. Paul's church, by a handsome viaduct supported on fluted columns of the Grecian-Doric order, and also Church-street by a similar viaduct; and the Croydon railway, after branching off from the Greenwich line, runs through the hamlet of Hatcham, in the parish of St. Paul, near New Cross, where it has a station. In 1837 an act was obtained for the construction of extensive docks for steamvessels, comprising nearly the whole extent of the parish of St. Nicholas; and an act was passed in 1845 for making a railway, nearly a mile in length, from the Croydon line to the Thames at Deptford. The General Steam-Navigation Company have erected a wharf near the mouth of the Creek. The town is within the jurisdiction of the county magistrates, who sit daily, and hold a petty-session for the division weekly on Saturday. The banks of the Ravensbourne are under the superintendence of commissioners of sewers, whose jurisdiction extends from its source to Lambard's wall, near Greenwich. By the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 45, Deptford constitutes part of the borough of Greenwich, the right of election being vested in the £10 householders.

In 1730, the town was divided into the two parishes of St. Nicholas and St. Paul, the former of which, including the old town, is small, containing only 6991 inhabitants; the latter extends into the county of Surrey, and contains 18,626. The livings are both in the patronage of the family of Drake, the impropriators. That of St. Nicholas' is a vicarage, valued in the king's books at £12. 17. 3½.; net income, £750. The church, with the exception of the tower, was rebuilt, upon a larger scale, in 1697. The living of St. Paul's is a rectory not in charge; net income, £400. By act of parliament in 1730, £3500, arising from the duty on coal, were allotted to be invested in the purchase of land for the maintenance of the rector; and it was also enacted that the churchwardens, in whom are vested four acres of glebe taken out of the old parish, should pay the rector £70 per annum, in lieu of fees for vaults. The church, erected in the reign of Anne, under the act of parliament for building 50 new churches in and near London, is a fine structure in the Grecian style, with a tower surmounted by a spire; the roof of the nave is supported by a handsome range of pillars, and the east window is ornamented with painted glass. A church has lately been completed at Hatcham, forming a separate incumbency. There are places of worship for Baptists, the Society of Friends, Independents, Wesleyans, and Unitarians. The foundation stone of the Royal Naval school at Counter Hill, was laid June 1st, 1843, by Prince Albert: the building is in a quadrangular form of red brick, and was built by Mr. Shaw, after a design by Sir C. Wren. The school in Church-street was founded by John Addey, who, in 1600, left property then producing £200, for charitable uses. From the great increase of the funds, the trustees, in 1821, by direction of the court of chancery, erected a spacious building containing two large schoolrooms, with houses for the master and mistress; the school is wholly supported by the endowment, from which also 48 aged persons are paid £2 each annually. A school was founded in 1722, by Dean Stanhope, vicar of Deptford, and was subsequently endowed with various benefactions, now producing £212 per annum; it is conducted on the national plan. There are two almshouses belonging to the Corporation of the Trinity House, for decayed pilots and masters of ships, or their widows: one, which adjoins St. Nicholas' churchyard, was built in the reign of Henry VIII., and consists of 25 apartments; the other, in Church-street, was built about the close of the seventeenth century, and contains 56 apartments, forming a spacious quadrangle, in the centre of which is a statue of Captain Maples, who in 1680 contributed £1300 towards the building. Here the brethren of the Trinity House hold their annual meeting on Trinity-Monday, when they attend divine service at St. Nicholas' church.

The Gun Tavern, lately pulled down, is said to have been the residence of the Earl of Nottingham, lord high admiral in the reign of Elizabeth. Sayes Court, the ancient mansion-house of the manor of West Greenwich, and so called from its having been possessed in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries by the family of Saye, became, in consequence of his marriage with the daughter of Sir Richard Browne, who then held it under the crown, the residence of John Evelyn, the celebrated author of Sylva, who, after the Restoration, obtained a lease of Sayes Court and the demesne lands, for ninetynine years. The poet Cowley resided here while composing his six Latin books on plants, in which work the fine gardens belonging to Evelyn are supposed to have afforded him great assistance: Evelyn also lent the use of the residence to the Czar Peter, while pursuing the study of naval architecture, in 1698, in the neighbouring dockyard. The mansion was pulled down in 1728, and a workhouse erected on its site.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.