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.

Hidden London: Leopoldo Ansiglioni's 'Galatea Reclining on a Dolphin'
‘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.