Once a major port city, Deptford is now an area of south-east London where a modern renaissance is blended with historic roots and character. The street market alone is worth a visit, but the area also offers stylish bars and cafes, creative hubs, and local historical sites.
In 2009, the New York Times profiled DePreford in its travel section, much to the bewilderment of south-east Londoners. The article says it’s a “raucous mix of blue-collar aesthetics and intermittent hipsterism” that some locals find worrying about the crime rate and poor living conditions, but ignore. Ten years from now, we may want to forget terms like “hipsterism,” but the early trends identified have evolved enough to balance out that part of it. Art galleries, food destinations and quirky cafes now define Deptford as much as greasy spoons and council estates. All of this is set off by a maritime heritage and a strong community atmosphere.
The intact anchor at the foot of High Street, Deptford, leaves one wondering. Today, it may not look like it, but this London neighbourhood has a history of more than two thousand years and has long been a gathering place for fishermen, dockers and seamen. The original settlement stood on the moorland where the River Ravensbourne flows north into the Thames, forming a deep fork in the road that also gave birth to the village’s name. Since 1513, Deptford has been a Royal Dockyard and for centuries, as a port city, its activities have ranged from shipbuilding to making biscuits for the Navy.
Across from the anchor, a large fresco hints at an earlier era, reminding visitors that the nearby road was originally paved by the Romans. Other murals brighten up the staggered houses on the high street. One of the prominent murals depicts Henry VIII’s satiety and even claims that the king once had a hearty English breakfast here. It is so outrageous that one has to wonder about its benefits.
St. Paul’s Church is an architectural masterpiece of the street. This magnificent baroque building is where the architect Thomas Archer put his notes from 17th century Rome into practice.
Another church worth visiting is St Nicholas Church on the east side of the High Street. A plaque half hidden in the courtyard marks the resting place of Christopher Marlowe, whose untimely death is often wrongly attributed to a tavern brawl. Instead, the Elizabethan playwright was killed in a nearby upper-class house, and the cause of death was never fully figured out. Involving romance, religion, politics, and espionage, there are many theories about the cause of his death, which is also an unsolved mystery for Deptford.
Dating back to 1872, Deptford’s is an old-fashioned street market where visitors can meet the local community. Stalls are set up on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, along with a permanent shop on the High Street, offering double the amount of fish, produce, clothing, fabrics and household items. The situation is even weirder in the adjoining Douglas Way, which is haphazardly littered with bricks, junk, antiques and oddities. The impromptu exchanges between vendors and passersby are likely to distract you from finding hidden treasures.
Douglas Way is also home to The Albany, a historic London theatre, film, comedy and music venue. The arts centre once stood on nearby Creek Road until it was destroyed by a suspicious fire in 1978. At the time, social conflict and violence accompanied the process of integration between new and old neighborhoods, and the Albany Theatre took a strongly progressive stance, hosting several socialist programs dedicated to fighting racism. That these views have prevailed over the long haul seems to be evident in today’s multicultural Deptford, and there is nothing like a walk on market day to experience that.
From the 19th century onwards, the development of the city and the gradual closure of the dockyard loosened the connection between Deptford and the water. Now, the settlement is far from the river and there is almost no shadow of the once bustling harbor on either bank. However, a walk along the River Thames still gives a glimpse of the area’s marine heritage.
At the mouth of the Derpford Brook, a strange little figure of a head overlooks the U-bend of the River Thames. The owner of the statue is Tsar Peter the Great of Russia, who learned shipbuilding in the Royal Dockyard in 1698. Peter was a heavy drinker, and during his three-month stay he didn’t let his work get in the way of any more ridiculous activities. Reports of misconduct included target-boarding paintings and frantically racing on unicycles late at night, which resulted in losses worth ￡300. Perhaps in keeping with this debauchery, the monument was supposed to include the buttocks of several court dwarves! However, the only court dwarf that actually makes an appearance is on the monument. But in reality, the only courtier was awake with a boat and a globe, while the six-foot-eight Tsar looked distantly at St. Petersburg, the city he had founded five years after leaving Depewford.
Downstream, the next landmark to look for is the stone steps to the foreshore with an iron gate. Wherever the exact location is, the famous private navigator did receive the knighthood of Queen Elizabeth I of England at Deptford on April 4, 1581. A replica of the Drake, the HMS Golden Hend, is moored near London Bridge and is a popular tourist attraction, but the original is said to still be buried at the bottom of the Dupont Brook.
The arched building at the rear is also the remains of Old Deptford. The main purpose of the shipyards was gradually replaced by shipbuilding, and the warehouses of these periods were once warehouses for the storage of rum barrels, which were common supplies for sea exploration. The warehouses are now part of the Pepys Estate, a 1960s residential project topped by the 29-storey Aragorn Building. Over its 50-year history, the estate has experienced successful social housing, decay and controversial redevelopment, reflecting changes in the region’s communities and the ongoing urbanization process.
Restaurants and cafes
Isla Ray (37 Deptford High St) is an all-day cafe that brings a tropical flair to the High Street. The menu covers everything from breakfast and brunch to evening snacks, including a variety of bagels, sandwiches, salads and more. The baked goods and craft beer are locally sourced, and wine and cocktails are also available. More importantly, the store’s tree-lined, colourful interiors are home to cultural events, from art exhibitions to musical performances, making Isla Ray a vibrant creative hub in the heart of Deptford.
Alla Salute (2 Indiana Building, Deals Gateway) is a restaurant from the Puglia region of southern Italy that promotes healthy and authentic Mediterranean cuisine. As a result, the kitchen revolves around seasonal ingredients, local suppliers and traditional methods, from pasta to desserts made from scratch. If pizza is at the heart of the menu, the shared platters and hearty entrees cannot be ignored, conveying the spirit of a true Southern Italian restaurant. The wines here are also centered in the Puglia region, featuring some of the best Italian “heels” to offer.
Manze’s (204 Deptford High St) is one of London’s best choices for traditional pies and mashed potatoes, and in 1902, Michele Manze opened his first shop near Tower Bridge, and by 1930, his family business had peaked at 14 outlets. While current eating trends suggest that the days of these old-school diners are numbered, the Deptford location continues to offer crispy mince pies and fluffy mince pies with the typical parsley sauce, white wine. White tiles, marble tables, wooden benches, and neighborhood service round out this authentic cocktail experience.
Festa Sul Prato (222 Trundleys Rd) means “party on the lawn” and the lawn here is that of Folkstone Gardens. This park-side cafe and restaurant attracts people from the local community with its Italian-inspired menu and carefully selected vendors. There are salads, sandwiches, entrees and desserts, and an ever-changing array of pasta dishes, both big and small. Drinks include classic aperitifs like negroni and aperol spritz, as well as local craft beers and Italian wines. This friendly neighborhood restaurant is a 15-minute drive from Deptford Station.
The Waiting Room (142 Deptford High Street) is a vegetarian and vegan coffee shop. There’s everything from Brick Lane’s bagels to burgers and hot dogs to sweet treats like brownies and pancakes. The coffee here is also well known among the locals and the prices are very affordable. Patrons sitting at the front can enjoy the view of the High Street, while the back garden is a more secluded spot.
Bars and bars.
Craft gin and quality Belgian beer sound like a good combination. At Gin and Beer (Resolution Way Unit 2), they focus on a combination of the two, with a design concept that blends a laid-back brewpub with a chic cocktail bar. Drinks and bottled beers range from sour to maverick, with both rare and well-known beers. The cocktail menu may be more inspired, designed to please purists and adventurers alike, and Negroni lovers will find that there are classic versions and multiple variants, and the ingredients chosen show an excellent eye for quality and detail.
Little Nan’s (Arches 13 – 15 Deptford Market Yard) opened in Deptford in 2013 as a tribute to the owner’s late nanny, and then became a pop-up pub after a few years on the streets of London, and in 2016 it found its way home and became an institution in Deptford, located under the historic carriage ramp in Deptford Market Yard. Afternoon tea rubs shoulders with the clink of the iconic teapot cocktails, while bottomless brunch, musical events and private rentals are also offered here.
The Job Centre (120-122 Deptford High St) is named after its old location and is now a watering hole overlooking the High Street. In the spacious interior, the local scrap market provides a constant supply of goods, and the vintage décor and antique furnishings create a charming and relaxed atmosphere. Whether it’s beer, cider, wine or cocktails, the bar’s menu offers plenty of options, while the food includes snacks, small plates and stuffed bread. There will be regular musical events on the weekends.
Operated by Hop Stuff Brewery, Taproom (2 St.) is a modern beer shop with a light and spacious interior, and tastings take place in a relaxed atmosphere. The abundant taps serve both signature and guest beers, while the gourmet menu lists a variety of tempting sourdough pizzas. It’s a great stopping point while wandering the corner brick and mortar market.
iyouall (3 Carriage Way, Deptford Market Yard) is a creative studio and design shop specialising in quality lifestyle products. The store features a selection of brands from Scandinavia to Japan, including products by renowned London designers and the studio’s own creative team. The store’s products include cards, prints, home furnishings and stationery, reflecting the studio’s more than a decade of creative design experience.
Rag N Bone (140 Deptford High Street) is a vintage shop selling quality second-hand items just across the street from the train station. From chic accessories and casual wear to silk scarves and elegant dresses, the items on display have been carefully selected by a family-owned recycling company with over 100 years of experience. In addition, they specialize in the sale of period clothing and accessories.
Music lovers passing through the market yard are naturally drawn to the underground atmosphere of AAJA (Arch 2, 4 Deptford Market Yard). It’s home to a vibrant bar and record store, as well as a live radio station. Check out the event listings for musical performances and vinyl record sales.
Two stores at the Deptford Market Yard are dedicated to green thumbs.Forest (Arch 133, Deptford Railway Station) has a variety of plants and flowers in the store, as well as pots, vases, household items and spa products. They also hold monthly workshops that focus on flower arranging, pot making and wreath making. A few steps away, The English Flowerhouse (Arch 5, Deptford Market Yard, Deptford Market Yard) specializes in seasonal flowers, foliage and plants, creating bouquets and floral arrangements for every occasion and budget.
Enclave (50 Resolution Way) is an artist-run infrastructure that promotes critical art practice through an experimental rent-controlled economic model. Eight rolling spaces host mid- to long-term projects, including performances, workshops, site-specific exhibitions and immersive sound art.
As a recently established gallery, SEAGER (Distillery Tower, 2 Mill Ln) focuses on the connection between art and digital technology, seeking to reflect on the impact of digitalization on society and the contemporary world. The exhibition programme includes solo exhibitions, group exhibitions, live events and guest exhibitions.
Art Hub Studios is a community-led company that runs artist studios in South East London. Their gallery in Deptford (5-9 Creekside) offers exhibition space for members, outside artists, students and community groups.
Two galleries are located on High Street, BEARSPACE (152 Deptford High St) promotes emerging talent that reflects contemporary culture and philosophy, while Gossamer Fog (186a Deptford High St) features art and technology themed work.