Oxleas wood is one of the few remaining areas of ancient deciduous forest in Eltham in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, London. It covers 77 hectares of oak, coppice hazel, silver birch and hornbeam and is at least 8,000 years old for some parts dating as far back as the last Ice Age, Younger Dryas. It is part of a large area of woodland and parkland on the south side of Shooters Hill that contains a folly called Severndroog Castle.
In 1311, the Royal Manor of Eltham was established which included the woods and leased to the 2nd Baronet, Sir John Shaw in 1679. From here, his family managed the area until 1811 when it was taken over by the War Department. London Borough Council then acquired the woods for use of public recreation in 1930 and opened it to the public in 1934. Ownership was eventually passed over to the Borough of Greenwich, who now to this day still have ownership. The woodland site covers most of the top of Shooters Hill, a district in South East London, and this branches out into other areas. Over half of the woodland has been identified as having SSSI (Site of Specific Scientific Interest) status, and parts are regarded as being Ancient Woodland. The woodlands are home to a wide range of woodland wildlife that inhabits the areas and provides a place for visitors to capture seeing the animals in their natural habitats.
Shooters Hills ancient woodland and its accompanying residential area lie between Eltham and Plumstead. At 432 feet, the summit of Shooters Hill is one of the highest points in Greater London. First recorded in 1226, many think its name was derived from the use of the slopes for archery practice, though this was never proven, some historians have suggested that there could have been a different link to highwaymen. Those travelling through Shooters Hill were often victims of the highwaymen and their dark deeds. In the 18th Century, Shooters Hill began being developed by aristocrats who cleared parts of the woodland to erect huge grand houses with landscaped gardens on both side of the hill, that only the rich could afford.
The gothic folly that is known as Severndroog Castle was then built and designed by architect Richard Jupp in April 1784. Although it was known to be commonly called a castle from its turrets, it never functioned as one due to its small size. It was built by Lady James to commemorate her late husband, Sir William James, who died in 1783. Severndroog Castle is agothic-style building that was popular in the 18th Century. The style used features from medieval churches, cathedrals and castles, including arched windows, stone carvings, turrets, and spires. Severndroog Castle is near to the top of Shooters Hill, and the site is 132m above sea level.
From the Mid 19th Century and onwards, a village soon began to take shape and was developed on the hillside, gaining property such as schools, a church, and a memorial hospital.
Although most of the Woodland at Shooters Hill had disappeared, London Borough Council managed to save the top of Shooters Hill from further development in the 1930s. It created a public open space that is now designated a site of specific special interest. Oxleas Wood was threatened later on by plans to construct a link road to an East London river crossing. Most of the grand houses had been demolished by this point and the London County Council managed to acquire areas to preserve, which abolished these plans in 1993, following a long-standing battle in the European Courts. Oxleas Woods was then in the possession of London Borough Council, who came to preserve the area so that the public could come to use it and admire its natural beauty.
What makes Oxleas Wood, so special are its ancient Oak trees which are vital habitats for many insects, birds and other walks of wildlife. The woodlands are also home to a wide range of birds including both the spotted and green woodpecker as well as the bright green parakeets that mysteriously appeared from across South East England. Other more common animals to see include foxes, hedgehogs, and squirrels. Covering over 200 acres of Woodland, Oxleas Woods is a pivotal forest area that has proved important in upkeep and protecting.