Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Trip to One Tree Hill, that ‘beautiful and commanding eminence’

It’s frankly embarrassing that it’s taken five years since we moved south-east to visit One Tree Hill in Honor Oak, but I finally took the kids up to one of the area’s summits (not as high as the Horniman and Canonbie Road area, but a different aspect). We go up via the trusted P4 singledecker and walk up Honor Oak Close off Forest Hill Road, and the steps immediately to the right, already to groans about the walking required.

Reaching the central feature of 1TH in the moderne has an immediately cheering effect, stopping the moans and energising them as there’s enough to climb on, jump off and wonder round without it being a playground. I could leave them to it. Most of the park is overgrown wood with almost reclaimed paths and steps but at the top is a clearing and the fenced in Oak of Honor tree itself, an old podium which could have been a bandstand (no! regular One Tree Hiller Jon points out it was a gunpost) and through the gap between two sets of trees hazy, grey but panoramic views to the centre of London. The first shows how the Strata building has claimed the focus while the other captures more of the city north and east, including the ongoing Shard, the ex-NatWest, the Gherkin etc.

One Tree Hill was finally incorporated into a park by Camberwell borough in 1905, but judging from this pamphlet (which also gives us the blog headline) about a great 'Agitation' in the area, this followed a nearby golf club fencing off what had been common land. As the calls to make it a public space grew louder, great crowds descended on the area to break down the fences and reclaim the area. Thereafter it was no doubt promoted as excellent healthy 'perambulatory' fare for post-Victorians living in the mix of properties nearby. It’s frequented a lot less in these more sedentary times, and more of a illicit wood now. There also used to be visitors coming from another train station nearby, the original Honor Oak which was part of the branch line to Crystal Palace, whose tracks beyond Nunhead are untraceable now. But it’s nice to see the park’s original infrastructure being allowed to be slowly absorbed by nature. This was a beacon to commemorate King George’s jubilee in 1935, if the wiki's right, but now it’s toppling and decaying.

Ok, apparently it’s not the actual Oak of Honor tree that Elizabeth I would have seen here but a replacement, apparently.

The path south leads to St Augustine’s church, the back of which is here.

But we went the other way as I thought it might lead to the most southerly part of Camberwell New Cemetery which would be handy for us, but it only leads down to the Brenchley Gardens exit unless you want to go off-track. There’s a triangle of entrances – the church, the Close and Brenchley, but not at its base. So it was time to take flak for the extra walking and parade through most of the cemetery. And in the toilets by the entrance I must say I was enormously emboldened by this instruction, as I’d just forgotten how to urinate all over a urinal.

We’ve walked through the grounds en route from the park many times but I have never before outlined why there’s people buried in the ground (the crematorium next door shows us the other option). I read out badly the masses of Polish and Italian, and Irish names in some sections and thought the star on the memorial denoted a pleasing internationalist/socialist flavour but was actually the military star of the Salvation Army people. Couldnt see the date but imagine it's the 1940s.

There’s also a good friends group with much more detail on this joyous little nook which, like Sydenham Woods and other smaller green spaces in the area, we should really spend more time in. One Tree Hill, not just a shite U2 song and a US young adult TV drama.
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