Tucked away in leafy Honor Oak Park, One Tree Hill is one of London’s hidden gems. Come here for some of the best views of the city and some rather curious tales about that tree.
We have a confession to make.
Until recently, we’d been labouring under the misunderstanding that any reference to One Tree Hill was to that shoddy TV programme you couldn’t escape from a few years ago…it was only when we were researching a piece on the best views in London that we came across this, far more interesting One Tree Hill.
Intrigued, we started to read more, and finally went to visit.
It’s a beautiful spot – the panorama of London’s contemporary skyline framed by leafy trees really does make it one of the best views of the city.
Did we also mention there are a number of other historical sites within the park, each with their story to tell?
Highlights of Your Visit to One Tree Hill
Is this the best viewing point in London? It’s a close contender, that’s for sure.
Not that many people know about One Tree Hill.
That meant that there were only a smattering of people when we visited a couple of days ago – most of them more concerned with walking their dog or recovering from the arduous run to the top of the hill than soaking in the view.
And what a view…
Sorry to diss spots like Hampstead Heath and Primrose Hill in the North but this is way better, it just is.
Framed by the canopy of the trees below and to the sides, it feels like a real-life trompe l’oeil – as if someone’s painted the scenery, thinking as much about the presentation and the composition, then hung it up for all of us to appreciate.
You can see pretty much all of the highlights of the London skyline – The Shard, of course, and the cluster of The Walkie Talkie, Cheese Grater and Heron Tower etc etc in The City.
St Paul’s, for centuries the tallest building in London, is there, and you can peep at The London Eye, BT Tower and a lot more besides.
Move position and Canary Wharf reveals itself, providing yet more eye candy for your viewing delectation.
The Oak of Honour
Despite the name, One Tree Hill is filled with many trees (it’s a wood after all)… but there’s only one that counts. The Oak of Honour.
The Oak of Honour marks the boundary of the ancient Honour of Gloucester in the Norman times. This Oak, important because of its positioning at the top of the summit, was deemed so consequential that it gave the area, Honor Oak Park, its name.
Elizabeth I was said to have rested and picnicked under the oak in 1602 – the tree you see today is the third successive one from that oak and was planted in 1905.
The Bandstand & Beacon
At the summit of the hill, you’ll find an octagonal viewing platform. Handy as it is for making the most of the view, it was built in WWI to mount a gun for countering Zeppelin attacks.
That gun was replaced by a Seat of Peace after the war – now also gone – after which it became known as The Bandstand.
Today, it’s just the concrete base left, well situated for you to clamber up onto and take in the views.
There’s also a tall beacon next to The Bandstand. Used to celebrate George V’s Silver Jubilee in 1935, it was last lit during the Queen’s coronation in 1953.
Being a woodland there’s plenty for enthusiasts of nature to enjoy up here too. The best part of that comes in the form of the varied trees that really muddle with the name One Tree Hill.
That’s because on this hill you’ll actually find quite a diverse range of trees. Most of what you’ll find are species of ash tree and sycamore. There are many wild cherry trees growing in the area also.
Perhaps the most interesting tree you’ll find on one tree hill (other than the Oak of Honour that is) are the London Planes. Now that might not come as much of a surprise seeing as we are in London, but it’s more the story of how they got there that’s interesting.
The London planes were put there when the area was cultivated into a park in the early 20th century. That park has since overgrown and become the woodland of one tree hill. The trees that were put there by people nearly 100 years ago have become part of the natural ecology of the place. Pretty amazing right?
A Brief History of One Tree Hill
Much of One Tree Hill’s history is unknown (or rather, unproven) but we do know that it once formed a part of the Great North Wood, which stretched from Deptford to South Norwood. What we call One Tree Hill today was owned by the Abbots of Bermondsey until Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and it became the property of the Crown.
Other parts of the park’s history are less clear.
There’s the tale of how the Roman troops watched Boudicca’s army from the summit, their early warning enabling them to defeat the attack.
Another one riddles that highwaymen used the hill as a lookout for potential victims, among them Dick Turpin.
Then there’s the Elizabeth I story we referred to in the Oak of Honour section. The story comes up in several sources, although most were written over a century after the supposed event.
The original tree was replaced by another, which was struck by lightning. It’s now the third tree you’ll find, surrounded by a hexagonal railing and with a small plaque retelling the Elizabeth story, today.
Later, by the 18th Century, One Tree Hill was used as a beacon point in the Napoleonic Wars. During the same century, the East India Company built a semaphore station atop the hill in order to signal the arrival of their ships in the Channel.
People had been used to accessing the hill, using it as a shortcut at their leisure. There was considerable discontent when the hill was enclosed by a fence at the behest of the Honor Oak and Forest Hill Golf Club rented the land in 1896.
The disgruntlement fulminated in mass protests in 1897 and the creation of the Enclosure of Honor HIll Protest Committee who negotiated with the local councils until Camberwell Borough Council purchased the land for public use and reopened the park in 1905.
That was largely it for a century. The 20th century was largely uneventful for One Tree Hill, with the exception that the site was used as a gun base for shooting down zeppelins in WWI. In the year 2000 a Millennium Grant enabled the tree canopy to be lowered so visitors could see the views once more.
Practical Information and Tips for Visiting One Tree Hill
Address: 69 Honor Oak Rise, London SE23 3RA
Getting There: The nearest station is Honor Oak Park, you can also access it by local bus. It’s also on the wonderful Green Chain Walk – a 50 mile walk through South London’s greenest spaces.
Opening Hours: One Tree Hill is open 24/7.
- If you want to make the most of this incredible view, we recommend going there early in the morning. Not only does the morning light make London look especially beautiful, but there will be less people there to disrupt your enjoyment.
- The busiest time at One Tree Hill is usually around midday.