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St Nicholas's (part one)
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St Nicholas's (part one)

Deptford is steeped in English maritime history. Rotherhithe, Deptford and Greenwich were all chiefly known in past centuries for their maritime connections, but of the three, Deptford was by far the most important. It was the site of a royal dockyard from 1513 to 1869. Many eminent naval men lived there, as their successors would tend to live near Portsmouth or Devonport. Lord Howard of Effingham, the commander against the Spanish Armada, lived at Deptford Green. His deputy, Sir Francis Drake, received his knighthood from Queen Elizabeth I at Deptford in 1581, after returning from his circumnavigation. Sir John Hawkins at one time lived in the house of the Navy's Treasurer at Deptford. In 1638 another Treasurer paid to have the chancel of St Nicholas's Church extended.

St Nicholas's (part one)

The late mediaeval tower survived the rebuilding of the church by Charley Stanton in 1697. His is the south elevation seen here, surmounted by a Dutch gable.

Just a year after the royal dockyard was founded, there was established at Deptford the corporation of Trinity House, which still looks after lighthouses and lightships. The corporation's splendid full title is the 'Fraternity of the Master, Wardens and Assistants of the Guild or Fraternity of the Most Glorious and Undivided Trinity and of St Nicholas in the Parish Church of Deptford Strand in the County of Kent'. The parish church of Deptford Strand is, of course, St Nicholas's. Trinity House's property at Deptford used to stand east of the church. Since 1795 its headquarters have been in the familiar building at Tower Hill.

The Honourable East India Company, another pillar of England's maritime history, also had significant connections with Deptford. Many of the company's ships were built here, including the four that sailed on the company's first voyage in 1601. The Governor of the company lived at Deptford. In 1640 a north aisle was added to (old) St Nicholas's, mainly at the company's expense.

St Nicholas's (part one)

The Jacobean pulpit predates the remainder of the furnishings.

The major landed estate of the parish was that of Sayes Court, made famous as the home of John Evelyn. Towards the end of the 17th century, however, the mansion was rented to Admiral Benbow, and after him (in 1698) to Tsar Peter the Great, who had come to Deptford to study shipbuilding. The Tsar swiftly earned the reputation locally of a ruffian. He would have found congenial company a century earlier in Christopher Marlowe, the Elizabethan dramatist, who was murdered in a Deptford tavern and who is buried at St Nicholas's. There is a modern tablet commemorating him in the church.

In 1730 the ancient parish of St Nicholas was divided. The old church kept the heart of Deptford by the Thames and the rest was handed over to the new parish of St Paul. In 1900, the parish of St Nicholas was placed in the new Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich, whereas St Paul's was placed in that of Deptford. St Nicholas's, therefore, was no longer in what one might properly term its own borough: a curious situation.

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