Jack Wood on Shooters Hill is a triangular section of the woods on Shooters Hill. The western boundary is Stoney Alley alongside Castle Wood and the eastern boundary is the lane to the Oxleas Woods car park and Oxleas common.
Brief history of Jack Wood
James Wilde, Baron Penzance, leased 21 acres of the woods to the west of Crown Woods Lane from the Commissioners of Woods (the Crown Estate) in 1861. He obtained a 99-year lease. Ewan Christian designed the house. He was a prolific architect, particularly of churches, but not regarded as particularly imaginative. The house was originally known as Mayfield but renamed Jackwood House by 1888. Wilde landscaped the hillside below the house with lawns, woodland walks, a stream and a pond. He also cultivated roses and the current rose garden was the site of the house.
Wilde and his wife lived there until 1874 when he relinquished the lease. There were different occupiers for a few years and then the Crown Commissioners put the estate up for sale in 1888.
By 1926 the house was empty and the LCC bought the property. The house was demolished, but the lodge remains and the building used as staff quarters. The latter is used by the Council.
Gardens of Jack Wood House on Shooters Hill
The kitchen garden was on the west side of the house and linked to the orchard. A wrought iron gate leads into the rather hidden orchard garden. This is a beautiful part of the site, with benches and plaques of remembrance. It is peaceful, with two magnificent magnolia trees.
Jack Wood in spring
Today the landscaping has gone and the woods have matured. Trees are mainly oak – sessile oaks and pedunculate oaks – and there is a magnificent red oak near the site of Jack Wood House. But there are also beech trees, chestnuts, holly and blackthorn. Three main paths run through the woods and have been gradually widened by walkers, but still the woods feel secretive. It feels as though the trees are watching you, waiting to see what you will do, or say. It feels as though they want to talk…
Jack Wood in summer
The name Stoney Alley on the western boundary is derived from the gravel and pebbles which top the hill. Under that are layers of clay which are porous and which allow springs to issue down the sides of the hill. There are signs of rivulets which means springs, but in summer these seem to dry out.
Stoney Alley is clear on the OS map of 1862-73 and Tom Wareham suggests it is Mediaeval in origin.1This is plausible as the lane looks like an obvious route over Shooters Hill, linking industries in Woolwich on the Thames, with Eltham. The lane crosses the Dover Road over Shooters Hill opposite The Bull, a pub of ancient origin. The lane can be difficult to find but becomes clearer as it descends the hill with a wall on one side. There are two old lamp posts in the lower part of the hill and one which has fallen down near the exit on to Crookston Road.
Jack Wood on Shooters Hill is a wonderful place but it highlights the difficulty of maintaining the wildness of such site while allowing the general the right to access its pleasures. Do we need more woodland volunteers? And more public education about how to care for these wild areas?