Horticultural Skills Centre Planning Application

Entrance to the proposed Horticultural Skills Centre
Entrance to the proposed Horticultural Skills Centre

An application for planning permission to demolish some of the buildings at the Parks and Open Spaces Depot site on Shooters Hill and create a new Horticultural Skills Centre has been added to the Royal Borough of Greenwich planning web site. However it isn’t open for comments at the moment, and it doesn’t give any timescales for when we would need to make any comments.

This is the next step in the council’s joint project with Hadlow College to develop the Horticultural Skills Centre. Hadlow College also run the Equestrian Centre further down the hill.

The planners will need to consider policies on Metropolitan Open Land and the Green Chain in making their decision about this application. A comparison of the plan of the existing buildings with the proposed Horticulural Skills Centre plan, below, suggests that the new buildings will have a smaller footprint than the existing ones which will help prove compliance with the policies.

Existing and Proposed Plans
Existing and Proposed Plans

The new buildings sound like a great improvement on the current constructions:

The form and massing of the building along with the detailing and proportions around the windows, doors and the large roof overhangs will provide a contemporary modern design. The façade materials however, have been chosen to complement the woodland setting so the scheme will relate well to its surroundings taking references from the local woodland context.
Cedar cladding will be a dominant feature of the façade, which is then broken up by window and door elements. Blue engineering bricks are proposed for the plinths. The timber boarding will be fixed vertically and will be naturally finished. Cedar contains natural oils that act as a natural preservative providing a long lasting low maintenance finish. The metal framed windows/doors and roof fascia will be finished in polyester powder coat aluminium with an agreed colour finish which will again provide a low maintenance finish.

My only concern at the moment is with the assertion in the Design and Access Statement that the site “does not contain buildings that are listed, or are of special architectural or historic interest. There is also a low potential for archaeology on the site.” The old coach house on the site may be of historic interest and I’m pleased to see that a building marked on the western edge of the site on both the current and proposed plans suggests that it is not going to be demolished. The latter statement about archaeological potential is contradicted by the council’s Areas of High Archaeological Potential document which is part of the current consultation on the Greenwich Core Strategy. It contains the map below, delineating the Shooters Hill Settlements area of high archaeological potential, which clearly includes the site of the Horticultural Skills Centre.

Greenwich Areas of High Archaeological Potential No 7 Shooters Hill
Greenwich Areas of High Archaeological Potential No 7 Shooters Hill

The archeological interest stems from various interesting finds over the years, such as those from the Time Team excavations. The Areas of High Archaeological Potential document mentions:

  • Bronze Age ditch and associated bronze working slag from the area east of Cleanthus Road
  • Ditch with Early Iron Age pottery sherds and 63 kg of iron slag
  • Prehistoric/Roman pits and ‘huts’ recorded from the Woolwich and District War Memorial Hospital site
  • Remains of a Saxon musical instrument from the roadside area of Shooters Hill Hospital
  • World War II evidence that identifies the area as being part of one of the ‘Stop Lines’ that ringed London

I think the council and Hadlow College need to think again about archaeological potential and allow for it in their development plans and activities. But the new centre still looks like a benefit to the borough.

Happy May Day

Blossom in Oxleas Woods
Blossom in Oxleas Woods

I’ve been wondering for a while about where Mayplace Lane got its name. One possible  answer is that it once led to a place where May Day was celebrated, but it has proven difficult to find any written records of May Days on the hill.

The first place I looked was in Neil Transpontine’s excellent booklet “May Day in South London: a history” which is a fascinating social history of May Day activities from medieval to modern times.  It includes the story of Henry VIII meeting Robin Hood  at Shooters Hill on May Day, which was followed by a procession to Greenwich accompanied by musicians, paste-board giants on carts and 25000 followers. It also mentions a tradition that May Day dew is good for the complexion, and quotes Samuel Pepys arranging a trip to Woolwich to collect the May Day dew, “which Mrs Tuner hath taught here is the only thing in the world to wash her face with”.

Shooters Hill does seem to have been a venue for May Day games, particularly archery and shooting, if the account in  “The Pictorial Guide to Eltham Palace by way of Charlton and Shooters’ Hill“, published in 1845 by Henry Viztelly is true:

Leaving this lane, we enter nearly at right angles into a fair highway, leading on our left over Shooter’s Hill, and to the right towards Blackheath and London. Our road is in the former direction; so bringing “a stout heart to a stone brae,” we prepare ourselves for the lengthened but very gradual ascent of the famed hill, where of yore, at the opening of the merrie month of May, all London, – man and wife, young and old, the small as well as great, – were accustomed to disport themselves. Here a party, clad in Lincoln green would be practising at the butts; some busily adjusting their long yew bows, others examining with jealous care their well-poised fletches, whilst an accompaniment of noisy shouts of officious boys or anxious partisans announced the result of each successive shaft, as it whistled part the ear on its errand of adjudicature as to the archer’s merits. In another direction, perhaps a crowd of amused spectators would be encouraging by their cheers some adventurous smock-frocked knight, to encounter another rough tumble from his heavy carthorse in a mock-joust at the quick revolving quintain. Here, also, around a tall flower-bedecked mast, surmounted by a gaudy popinjay, a circle of youthful dancers, of both sexes, leap joyously to the jarring  music of fiddles and tinkling dulcimers, or perchance to the less pretending strains of the humbler pipe and tabor. Warm with exertion and flushed with excitement, the party at length break up, retiring for rest to pleasant bowers or reclining at full length on the soft green turf. These have given place to a boisterous party of lusty competitors, each bearing a clumsy cavalier’s or long arquebuss, and who approach to contend for the prize given for the best shot fired at the popinjay. Not least among the entertainments prepared for the pleasure-seekers to Shooter’s Hill, was the opportunity thus afforded to braggart apprentices, or the sly foresters skilled in the gentle practice of woodcraft, to exhibit their dexterity as marksmen; and on this spot, no doubt, sulky discomfiture and saucy success have fretted their brief hour away.

So maybe Mayplace Lane did lead to May Day merriment.