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Inventory Site Record

Severndroog Castle (Greenwich)

Brief Description

Severndroog Castle, a Gothic folly, was erected by the widow of Sir William James (d.1783) in the grounds of Park Farm Place, which he had purchased in 1774. Sir William had worked for the East India Company and the name recalls his capture of a pirate fortress on the island of Severndroog off Malabar in 1755. By the C20th it was part of the grounds of Castlewood, whose last owner's will offered the estate to the LCC for public use. The grounds opened as a public park in 1922, with Severndroog Castle retained although the main house was not. Castle Lodge remains at the entrance of the driveway, which leads through remnants of landscaping to the Castle, crossing the Ha-Ha.

Practical Information
Previous / Other name:
Park Farm Place; Castlewood
Site location:
off Shooter's Hill Road in Castle Wood; Crown Woods Way
Postcode:
SE18 3RT
Type of site:
Public Park
Borough:
Greenwich
Open to public?
Yes
Opening times:
unrestricted to grounds; check www.severndroogcastle.org.uk for visits to Castle
Special conditions:
Facilities:
car park off Shooters Hill Road
Events:
Has opened for London Open House
Public transport:
Rail: Eltham then bus. Bus: 161, 122, 89, 178, 486
Research updated:
01/05/2011
Last minor changes:
19/07/2023

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.severndroogcastle.org.uk; www.royalgreenwich.gov.uk

Full Site Description

Shooters Hill was a beacon site in the C16th and used for semaphore in the C18th, and in 1797 Severndroog Castle was used as one of the trigonometric points linking the Royal Observatory in Paris and the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. Severndroog Castle was built in 1784 for Lady James to commemorate her husband, Sir William James (1720-1783), particularly recalling his capture of the pirate fortress on the island of Severndroog off Malabar on 2 April 1755. Son of a Pembrokeshire miller, he went to sea at the age of 12, was serving under Captain Edward Hawke at the age of 18, and later worked for the East India Company suppressing pirates and protecting the property of the Company of which he became a director. He was also Deputy Master of Trinity House. He returned to England in 1759 and married Anne Goddard; he was awarded a baronetcy in 1778. In 1774 he had purchased the Park Farm estate on Shooters Hill and rebuilt Park Farm Place. He later died following a stroke and was buried in the family vault in St John the Baptist Church in Eltham (q.v.).

Lady James laid the first stone of Severndroog Castle in 1784. It was designed by architect Richard Jupp and modelled on Isaac Ware's Shrub Hill at Virginia Water, Windsor. It was built as a free-standing triangular folly in the grounds of Park Farm Place. Used as a belvedere, it was set on a raised lawn, retained with substantial walls; the approaches were well-graded and planted with laurel and other shrubs, and from the entrance on Shooters Hill the driveway led to the Castle, crossing the Ha-Ha.

Lady James died in 1798, and was buried in Eltham Parish Church; since her husband's death she had given £500 to the parish each December to provide coal to the poor. By 1816 Severndroog Castle was owned by John Blades, a former sheriff of London; in 1848 it was used by the Royal Engineers who were conducting a survey of London and there appears to have been public access to the Castle through the woods until the mid C19th. In 1869 a ship-owner called Barlow leased Castle Wood and terraced the slope to the south of the house. The property was leased in 1874 to Thomas Jackson, a railway and docks contractor at Eltham Park, whose his son John Jackson then occupied it until it was leased to Mr E Probyn Godson, who later acquired the Castlewood Estate (q.v.) with Severndroog Castle as part of the grounds. Godson's will stipulated that after his death the estate should be first offered to the London County Council, desiring that it should be preserved for public use. The proposed market price of £21,000 was too high for the LCC who eventually negotiated a lower price with Godson's trustees and purchased the estate for £6,000, with the Poulter Trust contributing £1,000 and the Metropolitan Borough Councils of Bermondsey, Deptford, Greenwich, Lewisham and Woolwich also contributing sums. The grounds were transferred to the LCC as a public park in 1922. Severndroog Castle was retained and adapted for park purposes although Castle Wood House was demolished. The neo-classical Castle Lodge remains on Shooters Hill at the entrance of the driveway, which leads towards Severndroog Castle. During WWII the Castle was manned by special constables who reported directly to Whitehall on perceived threats from air raids. The viewing platform on the roof was a popular public attraction since, at 30ft higher than St Paul's Cathedral, it provided fine views over the surrounding area. Access to the roof had a small admission charge, the viewing platform reached by numerous stairs. There was a tea-room on the ground floor, where a plaque provided information about the history of the tower. It was eventually closed to the public after the abolition of the GLC in 1986, when responsibility was passed to LB Greenwich.

A proposal for the Castle to be restored by LB Greenwich and leased for office space was later dropped and in 2003 the Severndroog Castle Building Preservation Trust (SCBPT) was set up to save the building from being sold off to private developers. It gained charitable status in 2008 and was granted a 30 year lease of the building by LB Greenwich. Its aims are 'to promote the education of the public by preserving for the benefit of the people of the London borough of Greenwich and of the nation the historical, architectural and constructional heritage that may exist in the building known as Severndroog castle and its environs, it being of particular historical, architectural or constructional interest'. A Heritage Lottery fund grant of £595,000 was awarded in March 2010 for restoration works, which will cover around 70% of the full cost of £840,000 needed to restore and open up access to the building. Plans include restoration of the viewing platform on the roof; re-opening a café/tea room on the ground floor; restoration of the 1st floor room so that it can be used for functions, events, exhibitions, history talks, and guided tours; restoration of the 2nd floor room as a multi-functional space for activities and visits including educational visits, ecology and nature watch activities, exhibitions, interpretation, history talks and other activity programmes. One of the Turret rooms will be used to for the administrative and office functions for the building.

There remains good lime, horse chestnut and beech by the approach from Shooters Hill and a stand of oaks on the lawn, with remains of the Ha-Ha within the woodland; beyond this is oak and beech with holly understorey. To the south of the Castle are the terraces of Castlewood. A small picturesque shelter with seat and moss-covered roof is by the side of the road near the entrance Lodge, erected c.1895 in memory of Samuel Edmund Phillips (1848-1893).

Sources consulted:

The London Gardener; Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 2: South (Penguin) 1999; Spurgeon, D, Discover Eltham, 1992 p83; Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993), LB Greenwich website; London Parks and Open Spaces; information on Severndroog Castle Building Preservation Trust website

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ431761 (543220,176370)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
RB Greenwich, Castle leased to Severndroog Castle Building Preservation Trust
Site management:
Grounds: Parks and Open Spaces Department
Date(s):
1784; 1922
Designer(s):
Listed structures:
LBII*: Severndroog Castle; neo-classical Castle Lodge on Shooters Hill (LB). Local List: Memorial Seat of Samuel Phillips
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

No
Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

No
Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:

No

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:
No
In Conservation Area:
No
Tree Preservation Order:
No
Nature Conservation Area:
Yes - Metropolitan Importance (with woodlands)
Green Belt:
No
Metropolitan Open Land:
No
Special Policy Area:
Yes - Area of Special Character of Metropolitan Importance
Other LA designation:
Green Chain

Click a photo to enlarge.

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