Avery Hill

Avery Hill, Greenwich

A Victorian mansion, park and mid-20th-century housing estate, situated east of Eltham

Avery Hill Park hothouse

It is possible that this place’s name refers to an aviary that may have existed here in the early 19th century. A map of 1805 calls the area Pollcat End.

John Thomas North was nicknamed ‘the nitrate king’ for the wealth he accumulated dealing in sodium nitrate from Chile and he devoted a large part of his fortune to building Avery Hill House in 1891. He dismissed the architect for going 50 per cent over budget in creating what was virtually a small palace. North died only five years after the house was built and the London County Council then acquired the building and its 86 acres of grounds, which in 1903 were opened to the public as Avery Hill Park.

In 1906 Avery Hill House became the nucleus of Avery Hill College of Education, which was enlarged soon afterwards with the purchase of two nearby properties.

The Crown sold 68 acres of neighbouring farmland for development in 1936. Several builders collaborated in laying out a set of streets, which were named after the fields and woods that they replaced. After the war the LCC took over and completed the estate, building a school and blocks of flats, to the annoyance of some early residents. The GLC added a final phase, which included a nursery and retirement flats, before handing the estate over to the London Borough of Greenwich in 1980.

Avery Hill winter garden
Leopoldo Ansiglioni's 'Galatea Reclining on a Dolphin' at Avery Hill winter garden

Avery Hill College merged with Thames Polytechnic in 1985 and is now part of the University of Greenwich. The campus is situated in on either side of Avery Hill Park. The library, once the great hall of North’s mansion, is a listed building, as is the adjacent glass-domed winter garden, which is open daily from 10am to 12 noon and 1pm to 4pm. Admission is free.

Student social facilities are centred on the recently opened second phase of the student village – a courtyard development of flats for 1,300 occupants. The village includes the Dome, a purpose-built venue with capacity for 1,000.

Postal district: SE9
Further reading: William Edmundson, The Nitrate King: A Biography of “Colonel” John Thomas North, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011
and Keith Wells, The History of Avery Hill Housing Estate, self-published, 1995

 

* The picture of Avery Hill Park hothouse at the top of this page is slightly modified from an original photograph, copyright Matt Brown, at Flickr, made available under the Attribution 2.0 Generic licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.