London is full of interesting and bizarre curiosities, and if things like that are of great interest to you, here is one you really should go out of your way to see, and be amused by.
Tucked away in leafy Honor Oak Park, in suburban South London, One Tree Hill is one of London’s hidden gems. But let’s be upfront from the start. The name of the nature reserve seems a bit misleading, as there’s not a lone, graceful tree standing stark and solitary on a bare steep hill. In fact the hill is covered with hundreds of trees, and it’s only about 300 feet tall. The wooded area is a surviving fragment of the much larger Great North Wood that once stretched from near Deptford to Croydon. However, these hundreds of trees are all apparently inferior to one special tree in particular, found right at the summit. That tree is the Oak of Honor.
The Oak of Honor marks the boundary of the ancient Honor 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.
The current tree, planted in 1905, is actually the third to bear the name. The fate of the original oak is unknown, and the second was struck by lightning in the 1880s, leaving just a stump. You can’t miss the tree; it’s surrounded by a hexagonal railing with a small plaque retelling the Elizabeth story (read on).
But it’s the legends surrounding the Oak of Honor and the hill on which it sits which make it great. Legend has it that the tree really earned its name from the occasion when, on May 1, 1602, Queen Elizabeth I took a picnic under the oak while on her way to nearby Lewisham. Some continue the legend with the notion that the queen got drunk during her picnic and knighted the tree, bestowing upon it the title of ‘Honor’. Another legend tells how the hill was the site of the last, fateful battle between Queen Boudicca and the Romans in 61 CE. Rumour even suggests that highwayman Dick Turpin used to watch for potential targets or pursuers from the summit. Believe what you want!
The tree is not the only curiosity at the top of the hill. You will see an octagonal platform, in a somewhat poor state of repair. 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 apparently replaced by a ‘Seat of Peace’ after the war (whatever that was, as it too is long gone). Today, it’s just the somewhat ugly and decrepit concrete base that’s left, but well situated for you to clamber up onto and take in the views.
There’s also a tall beacon next to this platform. It was built to celebrate George V’s Silver Jubilee in 1935, and was last lit during the Queen’s coronation in 1953.
But the crowning glory of the walk up to the hill’s summit has to be the view of the London skyline. Indeed, on a clear day, many landmarks of Central London are all easily visible; there’s also a helpful information board nearby to help you identify the skyline’s landmarks, and there’s some seats right in front of of the view so you can relax awhile. The panorama of London’s contemporary skyline framed by leafy trees really does make it one of the best views of the city, to the point that 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 see.
Come here for some of the best views of the city and some rather curious tales about that tree. The site is relatively easy to get to, a 10 minute walk from the Overground and National Rail station of Honor Oak Park. The paths up the hill are quite steep so may not be suitable for those requiring mobility assistance.