|St Nicholas Churchyard, Deptford Green||Greenwich|
Deptford was originally a riverside village called Depeford and there has been a church on this site since at least 1183. In Tudor times Deptford developed into a small town largely as a result of the shipyard established by Henry VIII in 1513, and by 1730 had two parishes, that of St Nicholas at Lower Deptford and St Paul's at Upper Deptford. The diarist Sir John Evelyn (1620-1706) was a church warden of St Nicholas and lived at Sayes Court, formerly Deptford manor. The late C17th walled churchyard has a charnel or watch house, and contains many tombs. It was the burial place of Christopher Marlowe following his fatal stabbing in 1593.
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The ancient parish church of Deptford; there has been a church on this site since at least 1183. Deptford was originally a riverside village called Depeford (referring to a deep ford across the River Ravensbourne near junction of Deptford Creek with Thames), by Tudor times Deptford was thriving, developing into a small town with two parishes by the C18th, when the parish of St Nicholas was divided into Lower Deptford and Upper Deptford for which St Paul's Church (q.v.) was built by 1730. Deptford's development was largely as a result of Henry VIII opening his shipyard, known as the King's Yard at Deptford in 1513, although private shipyards had existed here since the Middle Ages. The East India Company built ships here from 1600 to the 1780s, its store shed nearby originally called The Storage, which is recalled in the street-name Stowage to the east of the churchyard. In 1440, the vicar of St Nicholas, Richard Wyche, was burnt at the stake for heresy. In 1581 Sir Francis Drake may have attended the church since his ship, 'The Golden Hinde' was moored here after he had circumnavigated the globe and this was where he received his knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II.
From 1066 the manor had belonged to the half-brother of the Duke of Normandy, Bishop of Odo; when he fell from power it was given to Gilbert de Maminot, and later came to be owned by the Say family. The manor then became known as Sayes Court (q.v.), which in 1652 became the home of the famous diarist Sir John Evelyn (1620-1706) who also became a church warden of St Nicholas. Evelyn lived at Sayes Court until 1694, during which time he entertained numerous important visitors including Samuel Pepys. Meeting the wood carver, Grinling Gibbons, then living in Deptford, Evelyn introduced him to Sir Christopher Wren and Charles II, a meeting which resulted in numerous commissions including carving for Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, and St Paul's Cathedral as well as for St Nicholas Church and for the Greenwich parish church of St Alfege (q.v.).
The present church tower dates from c.1500, the top of the tower reconstructed in 1903/4, but the main body of the church was rebuilt in 1697 by C Stanton. It was later repaired in 1956-58 after bomb damage in 1940 during WWII. It has a rare late C17th churchyard, complete with walls, gate piers, and brick and stone-quoined charnel or watch house, and contains many tombs. The gate piers are topped with skulls and crossbones crowned with wreaths to symbolise rather gruesomely victory over death. Christopher Marlowe, the dramatist, was buried here after his fatal stabbing by Francis Frezer in a Deptford tavern brawl in May or June 1593. Trees in the churchyard include planes, holly and flowering shrubs. A stone path runs from Deptford Green to the gate near Stowage, with some landscaping outside. Elsewhere in the churchyard are gravel paths and a perimeter shrub bed along the wall near the plaque for Christopher Marlowe.
Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 2: South (Penguin) 1999, p402; Robert and Celia Godley, 'Greenwich: A history of Greenwich, Blackheath, Charlton, Deptford and Woolwich', 1999; Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993)