This week, I’m delighted to welcome a guest blogger – Helena Russell, secretary of the Build the Lenox project. I’ve blogged about this before on this site, but have recently become one of the project’s ‘champions’, and with its prospects currently at a crucial stage, I’m very happy to be able to provide this platform for a really worthy cause. Over to Helena!

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When it comes to the nation’s shipbuilding and sea-going past, few would dispute the significant role played by Greenwich in south-east London, which today is home to the world-renowned National Maritime Museum, the Royal Observatory and the restored Cutty Sark.

But the contribution of its neighbour Deptford, where Henry VIII established his royal dockyard in 1513, and where more than 400 ships were built and many more refitted, has long been overlooked. Deptford played a significant role in the development of wooden shipbuilding, yet visitors to the area will find little sign of its maritime connections, and most of the slipways and dockyard structures remain buried.

The Lenox Project charity aims to change this, and we have ambitious plans to build a full-size replica of the Lenox, a naval ship which was built and launched from Deptford dockyard in 1678.

The Lenox, by Richard Endsor

The 70-gun Lenox represented the pinnacle of Restoration shipbuilding practice, being the first of Charles II’s thirty-ship programme to be built, under the direction of Samuel Pepys. By 1700, these magnificent and successful vessels were responsible for the Royal Navy becoming the world’s leading maritime power. A detailed record of the construction of the Lenox survives and has been painstakingly researched and compiled by the project’s historian Richard Endsor, as part of a 20-year study of the dockyard at the peak of its powers.

In the 17th century Deptford was second only to Chatham as a major centre for shipbuilding, and it was to Deptford that Tsar Peter the Great came for three months in 1698 to learn shipbuilding techniques. The yard’s proximity to the Navy Board Office in the City of London meant that it was frequently chosen for new or experimental construction.

The Lenox Project was formed in 2011, in response to proposals to redevelop the former dockyard site, now known as Convoys Wharf. We were inspired by the need to preserve and celebrate the heritage and character of Deptford and prevent it being lost.

As part of our ship-building scheme, we want to create apprenticeships and training in traditional and modern crafts, educate people about the area’s rich maritime past, and restore pride among residents in one of the city’s most deprived neighbourhoods. We have strong support in the local community and beyond, and having a base will give us the opportunity to build on this and expand our programme of events and outreach.

We are now crowdfunding for the first phase of the project, which will fund the establishment of a Deptford dockyard visitor centre and Lenox Project headquarters, bringing the disused undercroft of an historic riverfront building back to life.

The building where the visitor centre will be housed

The visitor centre will provide public space and workshops where volunteers and apprentices can get involved in building a scale model of the Lenox, alongside an exhibition focussing on the maritime history of Deptford. It will be a venue for a range of events, will host community group and school visits, and will enable people to find out more about the ship-building heritage that shaped this part of London.

It will bring into public use an historic premises which would otherwise be unused, and in a way which links directly to its history. We are working with the building owner to preserve and restore this listed building and its location will enable us to engage directly with local residents as well as those using the Thames Path.

The undercroft

The building owner, Hyde Housing, has agreed to let us have the space at a peppercorn rent for up to ten years. But it has been out of use for more than a decade, so funds are needed to install toilet and kitchen facilities, to set up a model-building workshop and equip it with tools and materials, to create an exhibition space with display facilities, and to make it accessible to everyone.

We want to offer training and apprenticeships, particularly in ‘eye-to-hand’ skills and heritage crafts, offering new routes to employment for those in the local area who may not otherwise have access to such opportunities.

In June we launched our crowdfunding campaign on Spacehive, and have already been successful in attracting a pledge of £50,000 from the Mayor of London’s Crowdfund London initiative, as well as more than a hundred personal pledges from our supporters and contacts.

But we still need to raise a considerable amount of money to create a public visitor centre and attraction for Deptford; support skills training in woodwork and wooden boat building; fit out a new event space and curate a programme of events; create a display space for Deptford dockyard and ship-building artefacts, and put together our Deptford-centric maritime resource library.

We have until 12th August to meet our target – for full details and to pledge, please visit our Spacehive page.

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The project’s website contains more information – D

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