Inventory Site Record

South Hill Wood

South Hill Wood (Bromley)

Brief Description

South Hill Wood opened as a public park in 1959 but has remnants of ancient woodland and is the former grounds of South Hill Wood (now No. 1 South Hill Road), built for local philanthropist Sir Thomas Dewey. He laid out the gardens from the 1880s, which included lawns and flowerbeds, woodland walks, water garden, kitchen garden and orchard. During WWI he provided his Music Pavilion as a VAD hospital. In 1926 South Hill Wood became the family home of the King family until the 1940s. Canadian soldiers stationed in the area cut messages into the brickwork of the boundary wall and graffiti from that time was preserved when the wall was rebuilt in the 1990s. The estate was purchased in 1952 and the grounds converted as a public park, although the house is now separate. The park has remnants of earlier garden features and planting. Numerous improvements have been undertaken by the active Friends group since 2009. Its transformation was celebrated by the opening of the park's Diamond Jubilee Gates in 2012.

Practical Information
Site location:
Westmoreland Road/Tootswood Road, Shortlands
Type of site:
Public Park
Open to public?
Opening times:
7.30am weekdays/9am Sat/Sun/BHs - half hour after dusk
Special conditions:
Bowling green, tennis courts
Public transport:
Train: Bromley South. Bus: 138, 162

The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/03/2016
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news.;

Full Site Description

South Hill Wood was once part of ancient woodland known as Toots Wood or Tootswood, later part of the Langley Estate. The woodland was bordered by a Roman road, now Hayes Lane. By the 1880s fine houses were being built in the area and wealthy residents included Thomas Charles Dewey (1840-1926), who built what is now No. 1 South Hill Road. Dewey was later President of the Prudential Assurance Company, where he had started working at the age of 17. In 1887 he purchased an additional parcel of land comprising 2 acres, 2 rods and 35 perches that was part of the woodland. Dewey lived at South Hill Wood with his family until c.1920, also building houses on the estate for two of his children. A long-term church warden at Bromley Parish Church (q.v.), he was a staunch local benefactor, putting up the money to purchase land for St Mark's Church, was Charter Mayor of Bromley in 1903-04, a patron of Bromley College Hospital and supporter of numerous local youth, orchestral and other community groups.

The gardens at South Hill Wood were created from the late 1880s onwards but it is not known if Dewey engaged a garden designer. The original layout included a geometric sunken garden with stone paving, balustrades, urns and beds; a large conservatory of cast iron and horticultural glass; a rose arbour; lawns with a rustic garden shelter; and a rocky watercourse with ponds and a bridge. There was also a kitchen garden with orchard, green houses, frames and yards, which was near a pond that predated Dewey's garden. A fountain probably designed by architect Evelyn Hellicar was built in an area of cleared woodland with grass paths and views to the Music Pavilion with terrace and central steps that Hellicar had designed for Dewey in c.1902. Hellicar also altered the house and designed the stables. Most of these features have been lost or only remain as fragments, although a Giant Sequoia is still growing today that was planted in the late C19th or early C20th. Other trees planted in Dewey's time included plum and apple trees.

A supporter of the war effort and a member of the Cabinet's War Expenditure Committee, Dewey gave over the Music Pavilion at South Hill Wood as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) to provide a 12-bed hospital, together with his house in Devon, Peak House. Dewey was knighted in 1917 in recognition of his work helping soldiers; he was again honoured in 1922 by King Albert II of Belgium for his care of soldiers at South Hill, where c.2400 Belgian and British soldiers were cared for. South Hill VAD Hospital was part of the Kent 52 and is referred to in Creswick's book 'Kent's Care for the Wounded', published in 1915 to raise funds for the VADs.

After Dewey's death in 1926 the South Hill Wood estate was purchased by Arthur Chilton King (1886-1962), proprietor of Chiltonian Biscuits of Manor Way in Lee. King lived at South Hill Wood with his family until the 1940s and home film footage of 1933 shows his two children playing in the beautiful, well-kept gardens. This shows the garden full of spring flowers, its neat lawns, terraces, flower beds and shrubberies, paths through the woodland, the fountain, and the water gardens with bridge. In 1947 King, who was desirous of selling the land for housing development, began protracted negotiations with Beckenham Council who eventually compulsorily purchased the land in 1952 in order to provide a public park. The house itself was divided into apartments and it is now separated from the public park by a hedge.

The public park opened on 2 May 1959, and incorporated remnants of Toots Wood, the pond and features from Dewey's gardens. South Hill Wood Bowling Club, which was founded in 1958, used the refurbished Music Pavilion as the bowling pavilion. It later suffered subsidence and was demolished in c.2006 and replaced by today's bowling and tennis club building. The park's entrance gates had originally been intended for the Harvington Estate, but were installed at South Hill Wood instead. During the war many Canadian soldiers were stationed in the area on their way to the Front and messages that they cut into the brick boundary wall of South Hill Wood were discovered and preserved when the wall was rebuilt in the 1990s.

The Friends of South Hill Wood and Kingswood Glen (q.v.) were set up in 2009 to protect and develop their local green spaces. The Group has undertaken improvement projects, including new paths, planting and other works, receiving a People for Parks Award in 2010. In 2012 the transformation of South Hill Wood was celebrated with the opening of the Diamond Jubilee Gates on Westmoreland Road. In March 2013 a blue plaque was unveiled on No. 1 South Hill Wood Road celebrating Thomas Dewey.

The wood is important for its flora and fauna, and in spring there are fine bluebells. Information panels describe history, flora, and fauna of the wood and new planting encourages butterflies and birds.

Sources consulted:

Muskettbrown Design, South Hill Wood Park - A Landscape History, study commissioned by LB Bromley, 2011; information panels on site; L Hevey, The History of South Hill Wood Bowling Club; 'The King Family of South Hill Wood', DVD produced in partnership with Friends of South Hill wood and Kingswood Glen /London Borough of Bromley, (Footprint Productions, 2013)

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ393679 (539412,167991)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
LB Bromley
Site management:
Leisure Services; Friends of South Hill Wood and Kingswood Glen
Listed structures:
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:


Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
In Conservation Area:
Tree Preservation Order:
Nature Conservation Area:
Yes - Local Importance
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Other LA designation:
Urban Open Space

South Hill Wood

Entrance gates, South Hill Wood, March 2016. Photograph Sally Williams

Click photo to enlarge.

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