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!

Pitmaston Pineapples, Jambs’ Owls and Skinner’s Rats

Basket of autumn produce at Woodlands Farm stall
Autumnal basket at Woodlands Farm

The atmosphere at Woodlands Farm Apple Day on Sunday was brilliant. The combination of a large, happy crowd, a perfect crisp, clear autumn day, the folk music of Skinner’s Rats and an appealing set of stalls made for a great afternoon. Not to mention more than 15 varieties of apples to try; 15 different varieties of English-grown apples, supermarkets take note.

The apples were obtained from Pippins Farm in Pembury who grow about 50 varieties of apple, and they included a few that I hadn’t tasted before. The most unusual was the Pitmaston Pineapple, much smaller than most apples and looking like a miniature Egremont Russet. It’s an apple that was first bred in the 1780’s but was presented to the Royal Horticultural Society in 1845 by a Mr Williams of Pitmaston. They tasted sweet and nutty, a little like a Russet, and I could only just about taste the pineapple flavour claimed in the farm’s description. It could be that the name refers to the warm yellow colour and shape, rather than the flavour. I added some to my bag to take home, together with some stripy red and yellow Cameos, some Cox-like Jupiters and some of my favourite apples, Egremont Russets.

One of Jambs Owls, possibly Eastern Screech Owl
One of Jambs Owls

Jambs’ Owls have become quite a regular participant at woodlands Farm events recently, but they still draw a queue. The well-trained birds sit patiently on their perches, or allow youngsters to pose with them for photographs, and accept gentle stroking. There was also a crowd sitting in the sunshine listening to Kent-based folk band Skinners Rats, who also play and call the steps at the Farm’s energetic and slightly chaotic barn dances. There were opportunities to join in on the (rather complicated) choruses, but most seemed happy to enjoy the music.

The Farm is right next door to the area where it is proposed that the controversial Equestrian Centre will be built. The problematic planning process for the Centre is covered very well in the 853 blog, but it was interesting to learn that before the Equestrian Center was announced the Farm had been negotiating with the Council for some time to lease the field, with the aim of using it for a locally-grown food project. This seems like a much better use for land that is designated as Metropolitan Open Land, and which is also part of the South East Green Chain described in the 2011 London Plan. This Plan gives such land the same level of protection as the Green Belt. Meanwhile the Blackheath donkeys who currently live on the land drew a small crowd as well, presenting themselves for grooming across the fence

Blackheath Donkey Foal 23rd October 2011
Blackheath donkey, may be moving home soon to make way for the Equestrian Cantre

The next Woodland Farm event is the Christmas Fair on Sunday 27th November.

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?

The End of an Era

The title of Frances Ward’s next talk is “The End of an Era”, and it takes place at the Heritage Center, and also her last talk for the Centre before she retires at the end of the year. It really will be the end of an era for those of us who have been entertained and educated by Frances’ talks on the history of Greenwich, and her excellent walking tour of the Woolwich Arsenal site.

The latest Activities and Events Listing from the Greenwich Heritage Centre announces the talk and Frances’ retirement:

The End of an Era

Saturday 3rd December 2pm at the Greenwich Heritage Centre
A talk by Frances Ward on Greenwich in old postcards. £3 including light refreshments. Booking recommended.
Call 020 8854 2452 to reserve a place.

This will be the last talk by Frances for the heritage Centre, as she will retire on 31st December 2011. She will be sorely missed by everyone who enjoyed her talks, sessions for schools, or visited the search room as well as her colleagues in the council.

There are seldom any spare seats at Frances’ talks, so I suspect this will fill very quickly.

Frances mentioned at her last talk, The Peopling of Greenwich, that she plans to continue her historical research in retirement, and also to return to the Heritage Centre to talk about it. I’ll certainly look forward to that, and would like to wish Frances a long and happy retirement.

Orange Wins Mast Appeal

Former fire station and telecommunications mast in Eaglesfield Road/Shrewsbury Lane
Former fire station and telecommunications mast

The well-supported opposition to the mobile communications mast next to the old fire station in Eaglesfield Road received a setback recently with the decision by the Planning Inspectorate to allow the appeal by Orange PCS Ltd against the Council’s decision to refuse consent for retention of the existing equipment on the mast.

This means that Orange can keep their dishes on the mast.

As discussed in previous posts, many local people opposed the application, led by SHAM (Shooters Hill Against Masts). There were 89 objections to the original application, and a substantial number signed a petition demanding removal of the mast completely. However removal of the mast wasn’t really within the scope of this appeal; it was just about the specific Orange dishes. And it was always going to be tough to defend the Council’s decision to refuse permission to keep this existing equipment, especially as they had previously granted permission for the TETRA-based equipment that also adorns the mast.

Telecomms mast in Oxleas Wood from Shooters Hill Road
Oxleas Wood telecommunications mast

All seats were full at the appeal meeting, back in September, and a number of people spoke against the mast. They were supported by local MP Clive Efford and Councillors Jagir Sekhon and Danny Thorpe. Objectors spoke passionately about the impact of the mast on the Shrewsbury Park Conservation Area and the grade II listed former fire station, and concerns that installation of additional equipment on the mast would result in an eyesore like the nearby Oxleas Wood mast. They also pointed out the disparity in treatment between the mobile operator putting dishes on the mast, and householders in the Laing Estate who face restrictions on installation of satellite dishes because they live in a conservation area. The Planning Inspector, John Papworth, was scrupulous in ensuring that everyone had a chance to state their case, but in his report concluded that the appearance of the mast wasn’t significantly changed by the equipment that the appeal was considering, and that it could even be considered that the mast had an historical association with the former fire station.

Safety is the one of the prime concerns of the objectors, who spoke persuasively about the need to adopt the precautionary principle, erring on the side of safety, when considering the potential impact on health. The Health and Safety Manager representing Orange initially reduced his credibility by admitting that he had taken his radiofrequency emission readings at 3.00pm, far from a peak usage time for mobile phones. However he had taken readings from a number of places, including flats in the Fire Station closest to the mast. His readings had shown that the radiofrequency levels are less than 1% of World Health Organisation approved guidelines, and he stated that at peak times this would only increase by a fraction of a percent. The Inspector concluded that given “…current advice relating to the likelihood of harm from these installations, the health objections raised are outweighed by the benefits of telecommunications”.

Safety of radiofrequency emissions is subject to some dispute, with current scientific evidence in disagreement with anecdotal evidence of harmful effects. Without getting into the details of the debate, one thing is clear: many people are very concerned about potential health impacts of mobile phone masts. I’m sure I would be if I lived very close to one. It’s surprising that more is not being done by telecommunications and government organisations to allay fears, and where necessary adopting the precautionary principle and ensuring masts aren’t too close to homes.

What next for SHAM, I wonder?

Friends of Shrewsbury Park AGM on Saturday

The Friends of Shrewsbury Park Annual General Meeting will be held this Saturday, 22nd October from 2.00 to 4.00pm at the Slade Community Hall, Pendrell Street, Plumstead, SE19 2RU which is off Garland Road. We are all invited to find out what the Friends have been doing and how we can be involved in Shrewsbury Park. The Friends’ website has all the details and a link to a map showing the location of the meeting.

There will also be a talk by David Waugh, an amateur astronomer and member of the Flamsteed Astronomy Society, about “Stargazing”. His talk will cover what can be seen in the skies of south-east London, what you can observe with binoculars and small telescopes and how stargazing relates to the broader subject of astronomy. The Flamsteed is an amateur astronomy society named after the first Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed, who laid the foundation stone for the Royal Observatory in 1675. The Society is based at the Greenwich Royal Observatory and National Maritime Museum.

Changing Views

I’ve been a fan of e-shootershill for several years, so it’s a little bit daunting to be taking on the job of chronicling happenings on the hill and the surrounding areas. Producing a repository of “Hilliana” as my predecessor so succinctly expressed it.

Learning the technology involved in blogging is also a little daunting, and my initial posts may not be as technically sophisticated as some previous ones!

Why did I offer to take on e-shootershill? Well, I agree wholeheartedly with the aim of maintaining a journal of record of Shooters Hill – and there’s plenty to record. One of the many things I love about living here is the tremendous sense of community and local involvement. For example there are so many volunteer-led events and activities. Volunteers run the friends of Eaglesfield and Shrewsbury parks organisations. The latter organise the fabulous dog-show at the Shrewsbury Park Summer Festival which has become an essential item in the calendar. And then there are all the people who help at Woodlands Farm – from managing the charity through to mucking out the pigs, not to mention organising large-scale events such as Apple Day (coming up next Sunday, 23rd October). And many more that I haven’t come across, yet, though I’ve seen hints of their activities.

View from top of Brent Road towards Olympic Stadium and O2 Dome
View from top of Brent Road towards Olympic Shooting and Archery Stadium on Woolwich Common and O2 Dome

I was also seduced by the unexpected and sometimes uncelebrated architectural gems that ornament the hill and its surroundings, and the intriguing glimpses into history that comes with them. There aren’t many places in London where you come across a Bronze Age burial mound as you walk down the street. Blogging about the area will be a strong motivation to find out more about local history.

Of course the stunning views from the hill, over Kent, Essex and the panoramic London horizon from Wembley’s arch to the London Eye justify the inclusion of topics slightly further away from home, and give me an opportunity to experiment with including some pictures in this first blog. For the view isn’t static, for example the 2012 Olympics have imposed themselves, with the shooting and archery stadium rapidly rising on Woolwich Common.

View towards the (incomplete) Shard in August 2011
The Shard at sunset from Shooters Hill

And the Shard has also been rapidly rising, further away on the horizon. The Shard has come in for criticism from some commenters, but I feel a kind of affinity that started when I used to walk past the building site on my way to work, often pausing to watch the long, slow work of boring and excavating the foundations and then, later, astounded at how quickly it grew.

Like previous bloggers on this site I welcome comments and suggestions.


Dear e-shootershill and readers,

Preparations are currently being made to handover the e-shootershill site to some new bloggers, please watch this space.

Yours in anticipation,

Hedgerow Liqueurs and Wild Wines at Woodlands Farm

Harumph, just when you thought you were winding down, Woodlands Farm ask for a mention…oh well, can’t really refuse them of all people…plus, I recently noticed they had some fine looking blackthorn bushes brimming with sumptuous looking sloe berries, which reminds me to get foraging myself. Sloe berries can also be found in Oxleas Woods and Shrewsbury Park, and now is probably as good a time as any to collect some, although some people wait until after the first frost, which sweetens their taste a little.

Hedgerow Liqueurs and Wild Wines

Saturday 8 October 2011
£10 (£6 for Woodlands Farm Trust members)
Over-18s only
Pick your own fruit to make exciting hooch for Christmas using wild damsons and sloes.
Bring your own gin or spirit of choice, together with a container of at least 1 litre capacity with a wide neck (larger than 2.5cm).
Please dress appropriately for outdoor activities.


Dear e-shootershill and readers,

The time has finally come to say goodbye…Goodbye. After two plus years, the current webmin is winding down involvement in this site in order to concentrate on new projects.

The site is now looking for new Webmins/Bloggers to pick up the reigns. If you are interested in Shooters Hill, Writing, Blogs, Social Media, or Web Design, you are invited to email the site (see bottom of page). If you are interested, please bear in mind the following: Running the site is free, independent, and educational; you get instantly connected to South East London’s vibrant Hyperlocal scene; you get your work syndicated by the Guardian (courtesy of their excellent London correspondent Dave Hill); plus there’s money to be made, courtesy of ongoing attempts to marketize the Hyperlocal network (if you can handle that sort of thing).

One final post is planned under the current webmin, which will be released late on Sunday the 9th of October.

As the site goes quiet, if you find yourself looking for local information on the web, then please check the Shooters Hill Forum, or the Shooters Hill Neighbourhood Watch sites.