Honor Oak

Honor Oak, Southwark/Lewisham

A hilly, socially diverse locality situated between Nunhead and Forest Hill

geograph-4927799-by-Ian-Taylor - Honor Oak Reservoir

Ris­ing to about 300 feet (just above 90 metres), One Tree Hill has been claimed as the site of Boudicca’s defeat by the Roman gen­er­al Sue­to­nius Pauli­nus, but this almost cer­tain­ly occurred in the south Mid­lands.

Eliz­a­beth I is said to have pic­nicked beneath the hill’s crown­ing oak on May Day 1602. The sto­ry is of ques­tion­able authen­tic­i­ty but, unlike oth­er such tales, it seems rel­a­tive­ly like­ly to be true. Either way, it is high­ly doubt­ful that the queen got drunk and knight­ed the tree, which has been sug­gest­ed as the rea­son why it became known as the Oak of Hon­or (an old spelling of ‘hon­our’). In fact, the tree prob­a­bly marked the south­ern bound­ary of the hon­our of Glouces­ter’s Cam­ber­well estate.

The present-day Hon­or Oak Road was the orig­i­nal ‘For­est Hill’, defor­est­ed in the 1780s and laid out with homes for pros­per­ous Lon­don­ers. A few of these late-Geor­gian homes sur­vive to the present day, as do some ear­ly Vic­to­ri­an Ital­ianate vil­las.

In the 1790s the East India Com­pa­ny set up a sem­a­phore posi­tion on One Tree Hill (often then known as Oak of Hon­or Hill) to sig­nal the arrival of its ships in the Thames. The posi­tion was com­man­deered by the gov­ern­ment dur­ing the time of the Napoleon­ic threat.

Cam­ber­well ceme­tery board laid out the bur­ial ground now called Cam­ber­well Old Ceme­tery on For­est Hill Road in 1855–6.

Hon­or Oak sta­tion opened in 1865 on the Crys­tal Palace and South Lon­don Junc­tion Rail­way, stim­u­lat­ing house­build­ing for the mid­dle class­es.

The church of St Augus­tine, Hon­or Oak Park, was built in 1873 and (pre­sum­ably uncon­nect­ed­ly) the Oak of Hon­or was destroyed by a light­ning strike a few years lat­er.

In 1896 a pri­vate golf club enclosed One Tree Hill, prompt­ing an ‘agi­ta­tion’ last­ing sev­er­al years, which was said to have drawn 10,000 or more demon­stra­tors on some days.

The Oak of Honor, One Tree Hill

Cam­ber­well coun­cil even­tu­al­ly bought the hill for £6,000 and opened it to the pub­lic in 1905, when a new Oak of Hon­or (shown in the pho­to above) was plant­ed at the sum­mit. The slopes of the hill are wild­ly wood­ed and the park is one of the hid­den gems of south Lon­don.

Europe’s largest under­ground reser­voir was con­struct­ed in 1901–9 on a site for­mer­ly filled with slop­ing crick­et pitch­es. Its four brick-lined tanks can hold up to 56 mil­lion gal­lons of water, pumped here from the treat­ment cen­tre at Hamp­ton. Beechcroft Reser­voir’s flat, grassy roof and valve house is shown in the pho­to­graph at the top of the page.* Click here for a Bing bird’s eye view of the church-like pump­ing sta­tion and the (slight­ly crazy) Aquar­ius golf course, which is laid out above and around the reser­voir.

Cam­ber­well New Ceme­tery opened in 1927. Most of the site had pre­vi­ous­ly been a golf course and for sev­er­al decades the Hon­or Oak and For­est Hill golf club con­tin­ued to use the ever-dimin­ish­ing part that was not tak­en by the expand­ing ceme­tery.

Hon­or Oak cre­ma­to­ri­um and its gar­den of remem­brance opened in the north-east cor­ner of the ceme­tery in 1939.

Some of the land orig­i­nal­ly des­ig­nat­ed for buri­als has nev­er been used for the pur­pose (though the pos­si­bil­i­ty remains that it even­tu­al­ly will be) and is present­ly a sports and recre­ation ground.

The Hon­or Oak estate was a major devel­op­ment of the late 1920s and ear­ly 1930s by the Lon­don Coun­ty Coun­cil, with 27 brown-brick blocks of flats cov­er­ing 25 acres. The estate, which is real­ly more in Brock­ley than Hon­or Oak prop­er, is locat­ed near the top-right cor­ner of the map below.

Hon­or Oak sta­tion and its line were closed in 1954. In the mid-1970s the Greater Lon­don Coun­cil built more hous­ing to the west of the Hon­or Oak estate, where the rail­way line had run.

What was once the LCC’s Hon­or Oak school (and lat­er Waver­ley school) became the Har­ris Girls’ Acad­e­my, East Dul­wich in 2006.

Legendary London footballer Ian Wright lived on the Honor Oak Estate for much of his childhood.

Postal districts: SE23, SE22 and SE4
Further reading: John Nisbet, The Story of the One Tree Hill Agitation, with a Short Sketch of the History of Honor Oak Hill, Michael Counsell, 1997
Twitter: SE23Life
See also: Honor Oak Park and Newlands


* The picture of Beechcroft Reservoir at the top of this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Ian Taylor, at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. The picture of the Oak of Honor, One Tree Hill is adapted from an original photograph by Dudley Miles at Wikimedia Commons, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of those licences.