Tracing The History Of Deptford Creek In Photographs

Kyra Hanson
By Kyra Hanson Last edited 25 months ago
Tracing The History Of Deptford Creek In Photographs

For the last year or so Janette Scott, a photographer and recent MA graduate has been hanging out in Deptford. Her final MA project Deptford Creek captures the objects people have left behind and the people who remain, despite the increasing construction of billboards and scaffolding which signal the onset of gentrification.

After discovering the Creekside Centre, a wildlife centre which offers low tide walks, Scott became captivated by the detritus produced by city living and the project became an unearthing of the "archeology of the creek".

In a rapidly changing landscape her images "record something of what's left" and what is left is oddly enchanting. A rusty laptop, a bank card stuck in its card reader, a muddy record, a lone slipper. Signs of our throwaway culture? Objects of nostalgia from a bygone era? Did they end up lost through carelessness or intention? We wonder...

The exhibition is accompanied by the Deptford Creek Compendium, a one-off publication made up of interviews with locals, intermingled with extracts from books by Dickens, Conrad, Booth and archival extracts from old newspapers, as well as contemporary fiction and non-fiction from authors Iain Sinclair and Paul Theroux. A selection of which is interspersed between the images below.

A rusty computer in its case. Photo Janette Scott (2015)

The detritus of human existence. Some of it is chucked into the Creek but most it comes downriver from Lewisham, Catford and even further upriver. Its always tempting to say nothing comes in from the Thames but it’s not quite true. If it comes in from the Thames it’s floating in. If it can’t float it’s not coming in from the Thames. — Nick Bertram, botanist, Creekside Wildlife Centre, Deptford, 2015

Vinyl makes a comeback. Photo: Janette Scott (2015)

That glint behind it was the river at Deptford, showing like a band of bright snake scales; but the snake lay hidden, and here when the wind was right on the creek it was a smell – a tidal odour of mudbanks and exposed pebbles, a blocked sink holding a dead serpent. — The Family Arsenal, 1976, Paul Theroux

Photo: Janette Scott (2015)
A lone shoe. Photo: Janette Scott (2015)

After setting up a makeshift studio on Creekside, an ancient street close to Deptford Creek, Scott engaged local people as they walked past and gradually got to know their stories:

"The sailors, shipbuilders, mudlarkers, lightermen, factory and dock workers, totters and vagrants who inhabited the area long ago are now succeeded by musicians, students, builders, artists, car mechanics, businessmen, office workers and pensioners alongside recent immigrants from the Caribbean, Africa, China, Korea and Vietnam."

Scott preferred to photograph her subjects on a level playing field, choosing a plain background rather than the urban landscape in which she set up her studio. The idea was to "focus on the person", and the shifting details which people brought inside with them. Notice the grit on the floor, the windswept hair.

Photo: Janette Scott (2015)

The origin of the name Deptford is not too far to seek. Indeed, the place was anciently called Depeford, from being a “deep ford” across the tributary Ravensbourne, near its influx into the Thames via Deptford Creek — The History of Deptford in the Counties of Kent and Surrey, Nathan Dews, 1884

Photo: Janette Scott (2015)

Self-consciously separate from the rest of Deptford this was a small Creekside world with its own rules and customs, fiercely defensive of its boundaries. — Turning the Tide: The History of Everyday Deptford, 1993, Jess Steele

Photo: Janette Scott (2015)

A news flash from yours truly. Look at me, look at me with my I’m-from-Deptford attitude. Blimey. People drift and leave their marks – traces of their history – dog’s droppings on the soul of the shoe. He’s left a few in his time. — from Justgone by Andrew Kötting in London: City of Disappearances (ed. Iain Sinclair), 2012.

Photo: Janette Scott (2015)

The MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography exhibition is on at the London College of Communication 15-23 January and is free to attend.

Last Updated 14 January 2016

John Gass

An interesting article and fascinating photographs, thank you. In the 1970s I worked for Zenith Carburettors, whose factory was in Creekside - all traces of it have, I think, long since disappeared. But this has rekindled memories and now I intend to view the exhibition and visit Creekside Centre.

Kathy Holley

This is fascinating stuff! I found it by googling Deptford creek; a recent Thames river trip reminded me of a presentation I saw years ago on the restoration of it for wildlife. Will certainly visit the Creekside Centre next time I'm in London.