Shooters Hill

Shooters Hill, Greenwich

The ancient woodland of Shooters Hill and its accompanying residential locality lie between Plumstead and Eltham, while the road of the same name was part of Watling Street, the Roman road to Dover


At 432 feet, the sum­mit of Shoot­ers Hill is one of the high­est points in Greater Lon­don. Its name was first record­ed in 1226 and prob­a­bly derives from the use of the slopes for archery prac­tice – but some his­to­ri­ans have sug­gest­ed a link with high­way­men. Hen­ry IV ordered the clear­ance of trees bor­der­ing the road in an unsuc­cess­ful bid to pro­tect trav­ellers from ‘vio­lent prac­tices’.

In the 18th cen­tu­ry sev­er­al aris­to­crats and knights cleared parcels of wood­land to erect grand hous­es with land­scaped gar­dens, now all lost. In what is now Cas­tle Wood, Lady James com­mis­sioned the goth­ic fol­ly Sev­ern­droog Cas­tle in 1784. Her late hus­band, Sir William James, had led a naval force that cap­tured the fortress of Suvar­nadurg on India’s Mal­abar coast in 1755.

From the mid-19th cen­tu­ry a vil­lage began to devel­op on the hill­side, soon gain­ing a police sta­tion, church and school. Ear­ly 20th-cen­tu­ry ameni­ties includ­ed an ornate octag­o­nal water tow­er, a fire sta­tion that has been con­vert­ed into flats – one of which retains the firemen’s pole – and in 1927 the Memo­r­i­al Hos­pi­tal.

George Wim­pey laid out the Shoot­ers Hill estate in the 1930s but most of the high­er parts of the hill were saved from fur­ther devel­op­ment by the Lon­don Coun­ty Coun­cil, which made a series of acqui­si­tions between the wars to cre­ate a pub­lic open space that is now des­ig­nat­ed a site of spe­cial sci­en­tif­ic inter­est.

Oxleas Wood and Wood­lands Farm were threat­ened by plans to con­struct a link road to a pro­posed east Lon­don riv­er cross­ing but these were aban­doned in 1993, fol­low­ing a long-run­ning con­ser­va­tion bat­tle that end­ed with vic­to­ry in the Euro­pean Court.

Fol­low­ing a cam­paign organ­ised by the Sev­ern­droog Cas­tle Build­ing Preser­va­tion Trust Sev­ern­droog Cas­tle was restored in 2013–14. Its loca­tion is marked with a big pink pin on the map below (or beyond the left edge if you’re view­ing on a nar­row screen).

The demo­graph­ic pro­file of Shoot­ers Hill ward is clos­er to that of the coun­try as a whole than the rest of the bor­ough, except that its non-white minori­ties made up a third of the pop­u­la­tion at the last cen­sus, com­pared with 14 per cent for Eng­land and Wales in total.

Byron’s Don Juan (1823) includes these lines in the eleventh canto:

Don Juan had got out on Shooters’ Hill
Sunset the time, the place the same declivity
Which looks along that vale of good and ill
Where London streets ferment in full activity.

Postal district: SE18
Population: 13,433 (2011 census)
Further reading: Darrell Spurgeon, Discover Woolwich and its Environs, Greenwich Guidebooks, 1996
Websites: e‑shootershill (an excellent local site) and Friends of Oxleas Woodlands
* The photo of Severndroog Castle on this page is modified from an original photograph, copyright Marathon, at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is hereby freely permitted under the terms of that licence.