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Shooters Hill

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The ancient woodland of Shooters Hill and its accompanying residential locality lie between Plumstead and Eltham. The road of the same name was part of Watling Street, the Roman road to Dover, and now forms a section of the A207. At 432 feet, the summit is one of the highest points in Greater London. The name was first recorded in 1226 and probably derives from the use of the slopes for archery practice but others suggest 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 Castle wood, Lady James commissioned the gothic folly Severndroog Castle in 1784. 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 (see image below), a fire station that has recently 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. 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 make up a fifth of the population, compared with less than a tenth for England generally.

The ornately decorated Shooters Hill water tower
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Severndroog Castle commemorates the capture of the fortress of that name on India's Malabar coast

Byron’s Don Juan (1823) has the short poem London from Shooters Hill. ‘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.’ Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities opens on Shooters Hill.

Postal district: SE18
Population: 12,854
Further reading: Darrell Spurgeon, Discover Woolwich and Its Environs, Greenwich Guidebooks, 1996

Brewer's London Phrase & Fable

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