04 July 2012

A Vast Prospect

In 1697 Celia Fiennes returned to London on (probably) what is now Shooter's Hill Road and the Old Dover Road. She wrote:

"...Shuttershill, on top of which hill you see a vast prospect ...some lands clothed with trees, others with grass and flowers, gardens, orchards, with all sorts of herbage and tillage, with severall little towns all by the river, Erith, Leigh, Woolwich etc., quite up to London, Greenwich, Deptford, Black Wall, the Thames twisting and turning it self up and down..."

I recently moved to this area and decided to explore a bit. I ended up at the top of this hill quite by accident and while the orchards and tillage have been consumed by urban sprawl, you can indeed still see quite up to London.

Click to biggify

Way back in the hazy background on the left you can see the Shard, and in a larger view you can see the London Eye, the dome of St. Paul's, the Gherkin...pretty incredible. This area was once part of Kent, which is known as the 'garden of England', so just imagine what this view would look like with all those orchards and gardens and gibbets, herbage, &c. It's enough to make one sigh with nostalgia, isn't it?

(Wait, did she just say 'gibbets'?) Oh, yeah. This area was also notorious for being a preferred hangout (pun alert) for highwaymen. Such criminals were hung and left out to dry as a deterrent to others. It evidently worked for Samuel Pepys, who passed this way in April 1661: "Mrs. Anne and I rode under the man that hangs upon Shooter's Hill, and a filthy sight it was to see how his flesh is shrunk to his bones." Rather makes one wonder if that had anything to do with this choice of site for a cemetery. Hmmmm....

The area's name, I feel assured in saying, most certainly had everything to do with the choice of putting the Olympic shooting venue on Woolwich Common just outside the picture frame to the right, since the name Shooter's Hill comes from the Medieval practice of archery that took place here. That was reinforced by the anti-aircraft guns that were situted here during the Second World War. Pretty crafty of those Olympic people, what-what?