One Tree Hill
One Tree Hill is a high point of land that lies about 300 metres east of Observatory Hill, which has been popular with artists and visitors for centuries. It provides a gratifying and atmospheric viewpoint across the River Thames to London, especially at sunset.
In the seventeenth century, it was called Five Tree Hill but has also been called Sand Hill, a reference to its sandy summit, which is now paved over. Since the eighteenth century, the name One Tree Hill was adopted because of the single prominent tree at its highest point.
The current tree is a London plane that replaced its predecessor, probably an oak, which was blown down in a storm on 22 August 1848, a year of dreadful weather. There was scarcely a summer that year, along with devastating crop failures throughout the country.
One Tree Hill was a popular venue for pleasure seekers during the Greenwich Fair, with a band often playing at the top. It was also deemed suitable for the main ‘sport’ of the fair – ‘tumbling’.
The view has brought many artists to it, most notably J.M.W. Turner, whose painting, ‘London from Greenwich Park’, exhibited in 1809, shows a view strikingly reminiscent of today. Louis Jules Arnout painted it from a balloon in 1845, showing a very different scene.
A poem was published about One Tree Hill in 1784, and a verse from it is carved into the seating along the southerly wall. This poem is ascribed to Thomas Nichols, a little-known amateur poet of that era. The ironic theme of the poem is that no famous poet has ever written about One Tree Hill, despite its worthiness.