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How do histories of decolonisation and the welfare state meet at the Pepys Estate in Deptford?

The Pepys Estate in South London is an astonishing place where two historical moments intersect: decolonisation and welfare state housing.

The project set out to explore traces of the history of the British Empire, decolonisation and the welfare state through a collaboration between a historian and a film maker centred on the Pepys Estate in Deptford, south London. The Pepys Estate was the site of a naval victualling yard often visited by the celebrated diarist Samuel Pepys. 

From 1783, the Navy Board created a huge victualling yard on the site, storing food and rum for Britain’s navy. In the early 1960s the yard closed and London County Council redeveloped the site for housing.

When it was completed six years later, the three newly built Pepys Estate towers were amongst the tallest in London. Some of the navy buildings were retained, including former warehouses which, despite what the London County Council press bureau described as “a powerful aroma of navy rum”, were converted into flats.


This project was a collaboration between historian Dr Tim Livsey and film maker James Price, responding to memory and the past in evocative and engaging ways through exploring this remarkable site.

Together they documented the Pepys Estate, by visiting archives and talking to local residents. Their approach was to experiment in bringing together historians' and film makers’ research methods towards a new approach. One of the outcomes of the project is a short film that was shown on the Pepys Estate, used in history teaching and King’s and available to view online. The film explores how the end of empire and the rise (and fall) of the welfare state have left their mark at the Pepys Estate.  

The film, created by Tim Livsey and James Price, is available here:

Project Team

The project was devised by Dr Tim Livsey, Lecturer in Imperial and Commonwealth History, Department of History, King’s College London. Tim's recent research has centred on buildings and development in twentieth century Anglophone West Africa (Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Liberia). His research considers the ways in which buildings illuminate how development worked in theory and practice, with a particular focus on transnational interactions between West African nations, and between West African nations and the ‘west’.

Tim collaborated  with James Price, Director of Field Studies Ltd, whose films include ‘Chandigarh Corrections Omissions’ and the ‘People in Order’ short film series. His vimeo is available here.

Pepys Estate Project is a collaboration with the Department of History at King's College London and Field Studies Ltd. It was supported by the university's Culture team.

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