Ghosts of Shooters Hill

The Midnight Hearse and More Ghosts
Elliott O'Donnell's book The Midnight Hearse and More Ghosts which contains the story of the Vanished Suitor of Shooters Hill

Elliott O’Donnell, one of the most famous ghost hunters of his day, wrote a very detailed and dramatic true account of a ghost in Shooters Hill in his story “The Vanished Suitor of Shooter’s Hill”.  This took place in Veremont House, Shooters Hill on January 3rd 1911.

Like all good ghost stories, after examining the haunted house with his pet fox-terrier, he decides to lock himself in ….

“Then I locked the front door, bolted all the windows, brewed myself some coffee over a spirit-kettle, gave the dog some milk and biscuit, and meditated where I had better sit for my vigil.”

And then, shortly after 12 o’clock had struck ….

“The scratching of an insect made my heart stand still; my sight and hearing were painfully acute. Presently a familiar sickly sensation gradually crept over me, the throbbing of my heart increased and the most desperate terror laid hold of me. The dog uttered a low, savage snarl. The house was no longer empty. Something was on the landing overhead, preparing, so my senses told me, to descend.

I could not stir, nor close my eyes—I could only sit there staring at the staircase, praying that the horror would soon emerge and that my ordeal would quickly be over. Down, down, down it came, until at last I could see it — a white, evil face surmounted by a mass of black hair. The eyes were the most alarming feature — large, dark, very lurid, very sinister—and they were fixed on mine with a mocking leer.”

The ghost turned out to be Bertha Rungate, who led Elliott to an old well where she had disposed of the body of Philip Rungate who she murdered after finding he was planning to elope with her governess. No-one knows where Veremont House was, or if it is still standing on Shooters Hill today  under another name.

Other supernatural manifestations in Shooters Hill include the white lady of Shooters Hill reputed to haunt the junction of Shooters Hill Road and Well Hall Road on 24th July each year, and the  ghostly footsteps which are said to haunt the Bull pub.

The Royal Herbert Hospital has hosted a number of ghostly occurrences, including spectral victorian nurses, a tolling death bell foreshadowing deaths on Ward  G4 and more ghostly footsteps…

“At about 3 am, as I was quietly reassuring a young soldier recovering from a collapsed lung, we both heard soft footsteps approaching the ward. I promised him a cup of tea once the visit from the expected Captain was over, and left his bedside to greet her.
As I reached the ward door, I saw that it was closed, but the measured tread seemed to pass me and continue into the ward itself. I`d love to claim that I bravely followed, but I stood rooted with terror to the spot. The spell was broken by the young soldier’s strangled yelp, and I ran to his bedside (disobeying, of course, every rule about running, except in Fire or Haemorrhage!) The unfortunate young man, gasping for breath told me that “The Sister” had come to his bed, but was “now vanishing”…His distress was acute, and I feared for his condition. The noise awoke the patient in the next bed, who put his light on, and my young soldier was able to draw long, if rasping breaths.”

Even after the hospital was converted into flats and became the Royal Herbert Pavilions there has been a sighting of a ghostly nurse.

Algernon Blackwood, spiritualist, short story writer and novelist, one of the most prolific writers of ghost stories in the history of the genre
Algernon Blackwood, supernatural story writer born in Shooters Hill

No post about the supernatural in Shooters Hill would be complete without mentioning Algernon Blackwood. He was born at Wood Lodge, a large house which used to be sited at the top of Oxleas Meadows, near where the Oxleas café is currently located.

Blackwood wrote over forty books including atmospheric gothic fiction, tales of the supernatural and stories about a psychic detective, Dr John Silence.  H.P. Lovecraft wrote about Blackwood “He is the one absolute and unquestioned master of weird atmosphere” and Everett F. Bleiler called him “the foremost British supernaturalist of the twentieth century.”

He led an erratic and interesting life, and at different times was a farmer, a journalist and a British spy in the First World War. He also met the mystics Ouspensky and Gurdjieff.

He later appeared on Britain’s first television show, Picture Page, in 1936, and in the late 1940’s broadcast a regular Saturday Night Story programme on television in which he read a series of his supernatural tales, making  him a household name. He was awarde a CBE in 1949.

So look out for spectral nurses, supernatural footsteps and ghostly white evil faces with large, dark, very lurid eyes if you are out trick-or-treating this Halloween.

And hope that  you don’t hear the ghostly tolling of the death bell!

Grinitch and Owilige

Proof-reading and correcting issues of Charles Dickens’ weekly magazines may not be everyone’s idea of fun, but I’m finding it very satisfying, and absolutely fascinating. I’m one of many volunteers contributing to the Dickens Journals Online’s project to create a complete online copy of Charles Dickens’ weekly magazines, Household Words and All the Year Round which were first published between 1850 and 1870. Some of Dickens’ books, such as Great Expectations, were originally published in weekly instalments in these magazines, but they also covered many other topics, including travel writing, politics and general interest articles.

The journals have all been scanned and converted to text files using optical character recognition. The task of the volunteers is to correct any errors from the OCR and tidy up the formatting. I’ve found some journals quite easy, just correcting occasional words, though a couple of pages of my first issue had the columns of text merged into one another and took some time to disentangle. There are some 30000 pages to correct, and the target is to finish in time for the Charles Dickens’ bicentenary in February 2012. Progress has been good so far – 41% of the journals corrected – and all of them allocated to someone to correct.

One great result of the project will be that the journals become searchable, and I couldn’t resist searching for local place names. There weren’t many mentions of Shooters Hill; the most interesting was from September 1851 where Shooters Hill is seen as a haven to escape from the odours and perils of London:

HEARING and seeing all we do of London, with its Thames water, odorous, sewerage, precipitous wooden pavement; its Smithfield, its Guildhall balls to Royalty, its earnest and liberal patronage of dirt and filth, few strangers, whether provincial or continental, would dream of the existence of such places as Shooters Hill, Kew, Hendon, or Hampstead, at but a few miles of omnibus or steam-boat distance.

Nowhere near as engaging as Dickens’ marvellous, murky and muddy description of the 1775 ascent of Shooters Hill in A Tale of Two Cities.

Woolwich and Greenwich are mentioned many more times, including an interesting Eye Witness Account of work at the Woolwich Arsenal in 1859, and a multitude of whitebait dinners at Greenwich!

One that particularly caught my eye, and which resonates with 21st century discussion about the pronunciation of Greenwich, was an article entitled “Valentines Day at the Post Office” from 30th March 1850. This concludes with a section on misaddressed letters that the postmen have to decipher:

Front page of Household Worlds Volume 1, 1850
Household Worlds Volume 1, 1850

For the next specimen of spelling there is some excuse. ‘In England,’ says a French traveller, ‘what they write “Greenwich,” they pronounce “Grinitch,” and I am not quite sure that when they set down “Solomon,” they do not pronounce it “Nebuchadnezzar.” ‘ ‘I much question,’ continued one of the amateur Post-Office inspectors, ‘ if either of us had never seen the name of the place to which the following superscription applies, that we should not have spelt it nearly similarly to the correspondent of —

Peter Robertson
2 Compney 7 Batilian
Rolyl Artirian

‘Although the writer’s ear misled him grievously in the other words, he has recorded the sound into which we render Woolwich with curious correctness.’

So it’s Grinitch, fine, …. but Owilige?

A party of women, armed with saws and hatchets

1876 photo of an enclosure riot on plumstead common

The 1876 riot that apparently saved Plumstead Common from enclosure, in the photo the people are digging up the enclosing fences (apparently).

Having recently run into something of a copyright challenge it was quite nice to pick up a book that has the following announcement inside its front cover: “Please reproduce, spread, use all or part of this text (so long as it’s not for anyone’s personal profit), but we’d like to know you are doing so.” The text that’s about to be reproduced, spread and used on this site was originally put together by past-tense publishing, and investigates a number of historic events connected to the preservation of green space in South London, including the one below: a riot that prevented the enclosure of Plumstead Common.


“A Series of Wild and Violent Riots”

Plumstead Common belonged to the Provost and Scholars of Queens College, Oxford. Freehold tenants had enjoyed rights of cattle-grazing, and collection of gravel, turf, loam etc for centuries. It was a wild and picturesque place, loved by locals, especially kids. Troops had been allowed to exercise here in the 19th Century, leading to “the present ruinous condition of the remoter half” (WT Vincent). In 1816 two plots of land were enclosed where Blendon Road and Bramblebury Road are now. In the 1850s an area between The Slade and Chestnut Rise was sold. There were “distant rumblings” in Parish meetings, but no more. Some small plots enclosed on the fringes of the Common were given to poor widows to keep them out of the workhouse, according to Vincent (more to cut expenses to the ratepayers than from generosity possibly). From 1859 however, the College aggressively pursued a policy of excluding freeholders, asserting they were practically the owners of the waste land. Various encroachments were made, reducing the Common by a third: in 1866 the whole of Bostall Heath and Shoulder of Mutton Green were enclosed.

This led to local outrage, meetings of residents of East Wickham, and the forming of a protest committee, led in March 1866 to the forcible removal of the fences around the Green, and also destruction of fences near the Central Schools around Heathfield and Bleakhill. In a legal challenge by Manor tenants to the College, the Master of the Rolls ruled the enclosures on the Common and Bostall Heath out of order.

“A party of women, armed with saws and hatchets”

‘Illegal’ encroachments continued though – often facing unofficial demolition by locals. The Plumstead Vestry even passed motions in favour of the demolitions! The main targets were the property of William Tongue, a rich local builder who had bought the land here and put fences up, & his crony, magistrate Edwin Hughes, Chairman of the Vestry (later Tory MP for Woolwich). Hughes was said to have “had the key to the Borough in his pocket” -a very powerful man locally. He had bought land off Tongue to add to his garden. Tongue had already been the focus for trouble in 1866 over his enclosing ways. On a Saturday in May 1870, “a number of the lower class, who were resolved to test their rights” demolished fences and carried off the wood. “A party of women, armed with saws and hatchets, first commenced operations by sawing down a fence enclosing a meadow adjoining the residence of Mr Hughes…” Fences belonging to William Tongue were pulled down. There was talk of pulling down Hughes’ house as well. Hughes called the coppers, and some nickings followed. The next day 100s of people gathered and attacked fences put up by a Mr Jeans. When the bobbies arrived many vandals took refuge in the local pubs.

From 1871, the military from nearby barracks took over large sections for exercises and drilling, as Woolwich Common was too small and swampy: the squaddies soon trashed the place, stripping all the grass and bushes and brambles. Protests followed, but nothing changed.

In 1876, Queens College decided to lease the greater part of the common permanently to the army for extensions to the Woolwich Barracks/parade grounds. Local people, including many workers from Woolwich Dockyard, objected to the plans; notices appeared around the town in late June calling for a demonstration. The main organiser of the demo was John de Morgan, an Irish republican & agitator, who had been involved in struggles against enclosures in Wimbledon (in 1875) & Hackney. De Morgan seems to have been a charismatic (or self-publicising) and provocative figure, a freelance editor, orator & teacher, who had been driven out of Ireland for trying to start a Cork branch of the International Workingmens Association (the First International). He had long been a Secularist and Republican, but fell out with some radicals and other Secularists. He had founded a Commons Protection League.

“I Never saw a Scene So Disorderly and Lawless”

On July 1st over 1000 people held meetings in the Arsenal Square and the Old Mill pub, marched up to the north side of the Common (around St Margaret’s Grove) and peacefully tore down fences. Again fences belonging to Edwin Hughes and William Tongue were destroyed – the crowds now had added grudges against them. Both had recently been involved in crushing an 1876 strike by local carpenters and bricklayers over pay and piecework, making then doubly hated. Tongue had brought in scabs to break the strike and Hughes prosecuted strikers for leaving work (under the notorious Employers and Workman’s Act.) A widely disliked Mr Jacobs, who leased a sandpit off the College, also had fences broken.

The following day (Sunday) a crowd returned to demolish the already rebuilt fences: a police attack led to a battle with stones thrown and fires started. Monday saw more rioting: according to a hostile witness there were 10,000 there on Monday and Tuesday, and “I never saw a scene so disorderly and lawless.” The furze on Tongue’s land was set on fire. While the cops brought it under control, enthusiastic meetings continued.

Although many rioters were costermongers, local coalheavers, labourers from the Woolwich Arsenal (700 men took the day off from one department here to hear a de Morgan speech), many more ‘respectable’ workmen were up there trashing the fences.

Hughes put pressure on, and John de Morgan and several other organisers were charged with incitement to riot (although de Morgan had not even been present after the July 1st events).

There was clear disagreement locally over methods of saving the Common: obviously the more respectable campaigners plumping for legal means and disapproving of the rioting. Local secularist Robert Forder (another defendant in the Riot trial) also bitterly criticised De Morgan, accusing him of pocketing defence funds. He had previous issues with De Morgan from the Irishman’s split with Secularist leader Charles Bradlaugh, who Forder supported.

At the trial, in October 1876 at Maidstone, 3 men including Forder were acquitted, but de Morgan was found guilty. Sentenced to a month in jail, he was unexpectedly released early: a planned 20,000-strong march to demand his release turned into a mass celebration with bands. Effigies of Hughes and Kentish Independent journalist (and later historian of the area) WT Vincent, who had given evidence against de Morgan, were burned on the Common at the Slade. Hughes also sued the liberal Woolwich Gazette and the Man of Kent newspapers for printing de Morgan’s ‘libellous’ speeches.

In the aftermath of the riots, the constitutional campaigners stepped up their negotiations with the Queens College, in an attempt to prevent further rioting. The upshot was that the Metropolitan Board of Works bought Plumstead Common for £16,000, and remains a public open space.

Rob Allen in his “Battle for Plumstead Common” reckons that the local structures of power were undergoing change, and that the struggle over the Common was also a focus for class resentment and other disputes. However, local gentry also opposed the enclosures (while not supporting the rioting) for their own reasons, it was not simply a division along class lines. This can usually be found in many of the anti-enclosure movements mentioned here: they were rarely unified in tactics, or even in their motives for opposition.

Robyn Hood

According to Hall’s Chronicle, Henry VIII met Robin Hood on Shooters Hill in 1516 — When it comes to outlaws, Dick Turpin’s is the name most commonly mentioned in association with the Hill, but he’s nothing compared to the greatest of them all.


The king & the quene accopanyed with many lordes & ladies roade to the high ground of shoters hil to take the open ayre, and as they passed by the way, they espied a copany of tall yomen, clothed all in grene with grene whodts & bowes & arrowes, to the nuber of. Amaiyn e. jj Q Then one of them, which called him selfe Itobyn hood, came to the kyng, de.syring him to se his men shoote, & the kyng was cotent. Then he whisteled, al the. ii.C. ar- chers shot & losed at once, & then he whisteled agayne, & they like wyse shot agayne, their arrowes whisteled bycrafte of the head, so that the noycswas straunge and great, & muche pleased the kynge the quene and all the company. All these; archers were of thekynges garde and had thus appareled them selues to make solace to the kynge. Then Kobyn hood de- syred the kynge and queue to come into the grenc wood, & to sc how the outlawes lyue. The kyngdemaunded of y quene & her ladyes, if they durst aduenture to go into the wood with so many outlawes. Then the queue sayde, that if it pleased him, she was content, then the homes blcwe tyl they came to the wood vnder shoters hil, and there was an Arber made of boowes with a hal, and a great ch7iber and an inner chamber very well made & couered with floures & swete herbes, whiche the kyng muche praysed. Then said Kobyn hood, Sir Outlawes brekefastes is venyson, and therefore you must be content with such fare as we vse. Then the kyng and quene sate doune, iSc were scrued with vcnyson and wyne by Robyn hood and his men, to their great contcntacion.

The above text from the 1809 edition has been reworked a bit for a robin hood blog:

The King and Queen [Henry VIII and Queen Katherine] accompanied with many lords and ladies rode to the high ground of Shooters Hill to take the open air; and as they passed by the way, they espied a company of tall yeoman, clothed all in green with green hoods and bows and arrows, to the number of two hundred. Then one of them, which called himself Robyn hood, came to the King, desiring him to see his men shoot, and the king was content. Then he whistled and all the two hundred archers shot and loosed at once, and then he whistled again, and they likewise shot again; their arrows whistled by craft of the head, so that the noise was strange and great, and much pleased the King and Queen and all the company. All of these archers were of the King’s guard and had thus appareled themselves to make solace to the King. The Robyn hood desired the King and the Queen to come into the green wood, and to see how the outlaws live. The King demanded of the Queen and her ladies, if they durst adventure to go into the wood with so many outlaws. Then the Queen said that if it pleased him, she was content. Then the horns blew till they came to the wood under Shooters Hill, and there was an arbour made of boughs, with a hall and a great chamber very well made and covered with flowers and sweet herbs, which the King much praised. Then said Robyn hood, Sir, outlaws breakfast in venison, and therefore you must be content with such fare as we use. Then the King and Queen sat down, and were served with venison and wine by Robyn hood and his men to great contention.

Henry the VIII grew up in Eltham Palace, and spent a lot of time in south east London, so it seems quite plausible that he would encounter some hoodies whilst out hunting in the undergrowth, but a chance encounter with Robin Hood seems to be the stuff of legend somehow, mainly as Robin Hood’s turf was so far away. According to the blogger, this was an early step in the cleaning of the myth…Still, it’s a nice thought, and whilst the reverie continues, wouldn’t it be nice to have someone of Robin Hood’s naughty-but-nice calibre around today…he could go on swashbuckling rides down into canary wharf to get our money back from those latter day Sheriffs of Mottingham, the Sir Freds of this world.

The Blitz

A new local podcast and blog has arrived in the form of a spin-off from the queen elizabeth hospital radio show, in the meantime. Matt the producer has kindly allowed me to re-host his initial show as it includes several reminiscences relating to the wwii history of Shooters Hill. This finely crafted bit of broadcasting comes complete with atmospheric sound effects and neatly connects together of a series of independent accounts. I have reproduced Matt’s credits below.

These accounts, which are voiced by actors, are from Emily and Florence Hunt, FW Condor and Len Perry.

I would like to thank June Balshaw at the University of Greenwich for her generosity.

Also the BBC historical archives, The Woolwich Firepower museum and Reg Weaver and Roy Wilson.

Finally, the producer stresses that In The Meantime is your voice in your local community so feel free to contact the show to express your views on local issues As I write the site is covering the work-in at ravensbourne, as students and pupils up and down the country ask david cameron to reconsider his massive cuts to education.

Time Team

Grimly contemplating the coming of the cuts and the hikes, I notice that plummy mummy and greenwich phantom both sought reassurance in the knowledge that times have been bad before, so I dug out this reminder of a time when a much more sinister force was advancing on Shooters Hill.

In November 2008 Channel 4 screened ‘Blitzkrieg on Shooters Hill[1. To watch the full 48 minute episode in the 4 on demand player, clickme]’ in which Tony Robinson and Andy Brockman conducted a rapid but fairly extensive survey of the area, finding some interesting items of wartime concrete, electrics, and military uniform, along with what turned out to be some highly significant remnants of early iron production activities dating back to 700-400 BC.

A Tale of Two Cities

This latest bit of hilliana, by Charles Dickens, was stumbled across in the Shrewsbury House Library, and since the copyright has expired it’s reproduced in part here. This scene takes takes places in 1775, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the serialisation of the story began in 1859, so it’s not necessarily a historically accurate account of the hill at that time, it is however Dickens at his (late era) best:

II. The Mail

It was the Dover road that lay, on a Friday night late in November, before the first of the persons with whom this history has business. The Dover road lay, as to him, beyond the Dover mail, as it lumbered up Shooter’s Hill. He walked up hill in the mire by the side of the mail, as the rest of the passengers did; not because they had the least relish for walking exercise, under the circumstances, but because the hill, and the harness, and the mud, and the mail, were all so heavy, that the horses had three times already come to a stop, besides once drawing the coach across the road, with the mutinous intent of taking it back to Blackheath. Reins and whip and coachman and guard, however, in combination, had read that article of war which forbade a purpose otherwise strongly in favour of the argument, that some brute animals are endued with Reason; and the team had capitulated and returned to their duty.

With drooping heads and tremulous tails, they mashed their way through the thick mud, floundering and stumbling between whiles, as if they were falling to pieces at the larger joints. As often as the driver rested them and brought them to a stand, with a wary “Wo-ho! so-ho-then!” the near leader violently shook his head and everything upon it—like an unusually emphatic horse, denying that the coach could be got up the hill. Whenever the leader made this rattle, the passenger started, as a nervous passenger might, and was disturbed in mind.

There was a steaming mist in all the hollows, and it had roamed in its forlornness up the hill, like an evil spirit, seeking rest and finding none. A clammy and intensely cold mist, it made its slow way through the air in ripples that visibly followed and overspread one another, as the waves of an unwholesome sea might do. It was dense enough to shut out everything from the light of the coach-lamps but these its own workings, and a few yards of road; and the reek of the labouring horses steamed into it, as if they had made it all.

Two other passengers, besides the one, were plodding up the hill by the side of the mail. All three were wrapped to the cheekbones and over the ears, and wore jack-boots. Not one of the three could have said, from anything he saw, what either of the other two was like; and each was hidden under almost as many wrappers from the eyes of the mind, as from the eyes of the body, of his two companions. In those days, travellers were very shy of being confidential on a short notice, for anybody on the road might be a robber or in league with robbers. As to the latter, when every posting-house and ale-house could produce somebody in “the Captain’s” pay, ranging from the landlord to the lowest stable non-descript, it was the likeliest thing upon the cards. So the guard of the Dover mail thought to himself, that Friday night in November, one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five, lumbering up Shooter’s Hill, as he stood on his own particular perch behind the mail, beating his feet, and keeping an eye and a hand on the arm-chest before him, where a loaded blunderbuss lay at the top of six or eight loaded horse-pistols, deposited on a substratum of cutlass.

The Dover mail was in its usual genial position that the guard suspected the passengers, the passengers suspected one another and the guard, they all suspected everybody else, and the coachman was sure of nothing but the horses; as to which cattle he could with a clear conscience have taken his oath on the two Testaments that they were not fit for the journey.

The above is just a snippet of the chapter although subscribers will have got the thing in their email/syndicator, to read the whole book, click through to project gutenberg ebook #98.

People Against the River Crossing: Were You There?

people against the river crossing
People Against the River Crossing

July the 8th 1993, central government withdraws the Oxleas Woods section of its infamous Roads to Prosperity scheme. The hill is saved!

I’ve been asked whether I’d like to investigate this, and since this is quite possibly one of the most significant things to ever happen here, it seems like a good idea for this site to cover this part of the Shooters Hill story.

Since this is a relatively recent episode, and an example of people power, I’m hoping to include some thoughts from those who participated in and observed the saving of the woods. So, if you were there, and would like to reminisce, I would like to hear from you. If you are interested please get in touch via the email address at the foot of the page.


The map shows how the bypass would have run right through woodlands farm, oxleas wood, and sheperdleas wood to meet the a2

At some point this year a post on this will appear, but for the time being, here’s the oxleas section of an alarm uk publication from 1995 (taken from the limited online information I’ve found so far):

“Whenever I used to visit Oxleas Wood I would visualise the proposed road cutting through it. It’s hard to believe that the woods are now safe. But safe they almost certainly are!

My involvement in the campaign against the East London River Crossing began in earnest in the late eighties. By this time the road had been scheduled for construction for many years and had already been approved by the longest Public Inquiry ever held into a road scheme. That inquiry had lasted 194 days; the transcripts of the proceedings contained 9.5 million words!

Local people, in the form of People Against the River Crossing (PARC) and Greenwich & Lewisham FOE, were fighting a determined and exhausting battle against a scheme which would not only cut a swathe through 8,000 year old Oxleas Woods but would also take out several hundred houses in the quiet and pleasant suburb of Plumstead. But with approval in principle granted, and with the Government, developers and some socialist local authorities strongly supporting the scheme, the odds against stopping it were getting bigger all the time. To achieve victory, a concerted strategy was needed to make Oxleas Wood a big issue locally and give it wider significance – a strategy to make it a symbol of the environmental damage that the road programme was causing and a rallying point for the environment movement. If that could be done, then, given Oxleas Wood’s proximity to Westminster, it might force the Government to back down rather than risk confrontation with a united community and environment movement, in its own “back yard”.

Like all the best campaigns we fought on every level. There were letter-writing stalls at the popular Greenwich market, politicians were systematically lobbied and a well-presented public transport alternative was drawn-up. We organised an “Adopt-a- Tree” scheme; the aim here was to get every tree in Oxleas Wood adopted. As well as bringing in funds and publicity, it would give supporters a real stake in the campaign. And if the worst came to the worst we could invite tree adopters to turn up to defend their tree.

In order to make Oxleas a “line in the sand” for the environment movement, we got some of the large environmental non-government organisations (for example the Wildlife Trusts and World Wide Fund for Nature) to take part in an Oxleas Strategy Group. This helped lock them into a campaign that was ultimately run by local people, but which made the best use of the resources of the national campaigns.

A couple of legal lines of last resort helped propel the campaign into the national news. The Government had failed to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment for the scheme, as required by European Community law. The heroic European Commissioner for the Environment, Carlo Ripa di Meana, took up this complaint causing Prime Minister Major to hit the roof and interrupt a Commonwealth conference to condemn the EC’s action. The complaint was never seen through by the EC, but the publicity was invaluable, as was that which resulted from a High Court case where the “Oxleas 9” (nine local people) put their assets on the line to take the Department of Transport to court over their failure to provide adequate land in exchange for the damage to Oxleas woods. The case was lost, but Oxleas had caught the public imagination and the pressure on the government was intensifying.

Meanwhile, campaigners were preparing for the worst. A “Beat the Bulldozer” pledge was launched, with the aim of getting 10,000 people to pledge to be there if the bulldozers went in. With the TV pictures of direct action at Twyford Down fresh in their minds, as well as the vivid pictures we had painted of what would happen if they violated Oxleas Wood, the Government backed down.

For me the Oxleas campaign had meant hours of hard work in meetings held in draughty halls on dark, rainy nights trying to get the best campaign that I could. For hundreds of local people it had been years of struggle. Was it worth it? Definitely. Oxleas was a turning point. We’d shown how people power could stop roads, a lesson that was quickly learnt right across the country. We’d shown that the environment movement, when it’s focused and working in harmony with local communities, could win. And of course the peace and beauty of OxleasWood has been preserved.

Jonathan Bray, founder and convenor of the Oxleas strategy group


East London River Crossing Trunk Road

From the oxleas woodland management plan:

The Hedgerow on the eastern side of the meadow is composed of mainly hawthorn (Crataegus spp) with some self-seeded oak. This hedgerow is rather special as it contains some examples of butchers broom (Ruscus aculeatus), which is used as an indicator of ancient woodland, as it rarely grows in regenerated woodland. It was the presence of this plant that aided the campaign to stop the East London River Crossing putting a road through Oxleas Wood. This hedgerow was re-laid in 2004 by the GLLAB New Deal project.

Eaglesfield Park: The changing landscape

Coat of Arms of John Lidgbird Sheriff of Kent, 1741
Coat of Arms of John Lidgbird Sheriff of Kent, 1741 - from which the park takes its name

The modern name for Eaglesfield is derived from the coat of arms of John Lidgbird, who was made High Sheriff of Kent in 1741 and owned the site. His coat of arms displayed two eagles. The current play park there has seen a number of changes over the years, but as features go, it possibly started out as a dew pond, formed to collect drinking water for the Oxen grazing on deforested areas (hence the name Oxleas)[1. From the Eaglesfield Park management plan (2008 draft).].

At some point it became the yacht pond, as seen in the postcard pictures below, and later still a paddling pool, before being transformed into a play park around 1994.

There’s also pictures of the (hopefully) soon to be reinstated Lily Pond.

Update – sent me another nice one of the park, can’t quite figure out whereabouts it is though:
eaglesfield park

A link to the excellent social history plumstead-stories website has recently been added, apparently the author is now preparing a further book to add to the existing two volumes currently in print, and welcomes stories and photos from residents of the hill. Unfortunately I didn’t get this in before christmas as it would have made an excellent present. Shooters Hill features quite a bit on this website, and I actually found the photo of the prefabs on oxleas meadow that adorns the header of this site whilst rummaging around the stories there. Amongst many other interesting things there’s also a nice photo of the ve day celebrations on donaldson road, which looks quite spacious without all those cars cluttering up the place, and a rather astonishing aerial photo of the destruction caused by four V.1 bombs around Wrottesley Road, Adamston Road, Barnfield Road and Eglinton Hill/Herbert Road.