Sunday, 19 September 2010

Open House: Master shipwright's house

There's nothing I like more than a good snoop round someone's house, and when it's a house on this scale and in this kind of location, so much the better! Luckily Chris and Willi, the owners of the Master Shipwright's House in Deptford, kindly welcomed us nosy types into their private house this weekend as part of London's Open House weekend. The house was built in 1708 by Joseph Allin, who was the master shipwright for the royal dockyard next door.

I've visited the house before for an art exhibition, but it was about five years ago and the restoration work has advanced in leaps and bounds since then - and continues to do so. I notice that they've even given the front of the house a lick of paint since I had a peek at it from Convoy's Wharf last year.

Quite aside from being a significant structure in both Deptford's history and in the history of England's royal dockyards, the house is truly beautiful and serene. The restoration work has been painfully sympathetic - William explained that they were careful not to invent any period detail for the restoration, and stuck rigidly to this philosophy throughout. As a result the story of the restoration is incorporated into the house itself - traces of its history are visible in some rooms while very little remains in others.

Visitors can enter the main door of the house and enjoy the two enormous rooms that face out to the river on the ground and first floors. Adjoining the house is the single-storey garden room where archive photographs and historical documents relating to the house and to the royal docks can be seen, as well as information about the new garden house that has been built on the water's edge.

The garden structure was inspired by the idea of a 'banqueting house' and it is made entirely of leftovers from the restoration of the house, unsympathetic items that were removed, recycled timbers from skips etc, and even the old doors from Deptford Station. It perches on the river wall and offers a peaceful and sheltered outdoor retreat that makes the most of the vista (although not particularly peaceful during open house!). Each elevation is markedly different - the west end is clad entirely in slate and rises much higher than the rest of the building, while the red doors from the station contrast with the various windows and timbers making up the main elevation. I'm not entirely won over by the rather jumbled visual appearance of the structure, but given its starting point and the materials to hand, I accept that the intention is more important than the aesthetics. The garden house was built by Robert Bagley and Roo Angel.

Visitors were free to wander the grounds, which are dotted with tables and chairs taking advantage of every sunny corner. The south-facing vegetable garden round the back also made me feel very envious - and it is groaning with ripening tomatoes, squashes and so on.

At this stage I felt it necessary to leave before the urge to fetch my sleeping bag and set up home in one of the quiet corners became too strong.


Anonymous said...

Dearest Dame,

If you would like further information on the summer structure and some pretty pictures of the garden please check out



Deptford dame said...

Thanks BB, I'll put the link in the post.

Brockley Nick said...

I love the garden house! Thanks

Anonymous said...

Hi Dame,

Do you have any contact details for Chris and Willi? Or could you pass on my details? I would love to know if their home will be open again this year.

Thank you!


Anonymous said...

I wonder whether this place will be open again for Open House? Some people I have spoken to say it should become a museum. Is this what will happen? It seems like a good idea given its important history.

Anonymous said...

I visited on saturday morning, and was truly stunned by the way in which the house has retained its original interiors. It is a wonderful hidden gem - I had a surreal moment when some small ships with their sails passed by behind the small house structure on the river front. It could have been the 18th century. Well done to the people who have restored such a beautiful house!

nic said...

Did they recently sell Master Shipwrights house? I wish the community could own it.. It's priceless. said...

We have some tibetan gongs possibly taken from the Shipwrights House by mistake, when we were clearing up after a function there last month.
Would anyone like to claim them?

Deptford Dame said...

@duncan I suggest you have a better chance of getting a response if you go direct to your contact at the house.

Unknown said...

My great great grandfather built it Jacob acworth