Tudor Deptford

Henry VII established a Royal Dockyard at Deptford in 1513, which became the largest dockyard in the country due to its proximity to the Royal Palace of Greenwich. Although Deptford is now considered Zone 2 in London, it was not considered part of London during the Tudor period.

Establishing the dockyard and Royal Ordnance at Woolwich resulted in developing a large naval industrial complex, which broke significantly from the past. Henry VII spent a lot of money on his ships and had a permanent Navy, unlike medieval kings who constructed ships for specific campaigns and decommissioned them afterwards.

Deptford Docks

Henry VII constructed the first dry dock in Portsmouth and built one at Deptford and another at Willard in 1513. This was a significant development because ships had previously been repaired by dragging them as far up the riverbank as possible. Dry docks were more convenient and made repairs easier, but they were expensive and could only take one ship at a time. Additionally, Henry established a bureaucracy for the Navy and created the Council for Marine Causes in the 1540s. The naval complex at Deptford, which included the Royal Ordinance at Woolwich, became the largest concentration of industrial activity in early modern England. The eastern part of the complex was where ordinances were made, while the western part housed the dockyards. Over time, the naval complex continued to expand and included the building of docks and repair facilities at other locations along the river.

Why did Henry VIII build Deptford docks?

The key factors were the proximity to the Royal Palace of Greenwich and the convenience of the Thames River for moving ships and supplies. The Thames provided the ideal location for importing timber, sailcloth, pitch, tar, and ropes; only London could provide navy vittles. Deptford became the largest naval dockyard in the 16th century, although Portsmouth was the forward base during war. However, the Thames had disadvantages, such as freshwater timber rot and navigating against unfavourable winds. Ships required regular maintenance due to wood rot, worm damage, and other factors, and London was home to skilled shipwrights. Henry VIII recognized the importance of having a well-maintained fleet and was heavily involved in the Navy due to his permanent navy.

Listen to episode 101: Henry VIII’s Navy
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