The summit of Hilly Fields stands 175 feet above sea level and commands excellent views over Lewisham and the City.
The park has a children's playground, cafe, enclosed picnic area, cricket pitch, three tennis courts and a converted basketball court. A walk down the slope brings you to the Francis Drake Bowling Club.
To mark the millennium, a stone circle of twelve large granite stones and two tall shadow-casting stones were erected in the park.
Hilly Fields Crescent
History of Hilly Fields
Octavia Hill, one of the three founders of the National Trust, had a passionate interest in the housing conditions of the London working classes. In 1884 she had assumed responsibility, on behalf of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, for 133 homes in Deptford.
In a poorly furnished room in one of the Deptford homes, she noticed on one occasion a vase of freshly picked wild flowers. On being told they had been picked on Hilly Fields, she set off the same day to see the place; she was concerned not only with the housing of London’s poor but also with the overall environment where they lived. For this reason she campaigned vigorously against the loss of the open spaces that were enjoyed by Londoners, especially the poorest members of society.
Hilly Fields, at that time, was mostly farmland, with an area of game shooting to the south. The latter had already been leased to developers for building, and Deptford Common, just to the north, had also disappeared.
When plans were announced to build over Hilly Fields, Octavia Hill was instrumental in helping local people set up a campaign, and also raise funds, to save the land as a public park. As a direct result of the campaign, Hilly Fields was purchased by the London County Council with substantial donations from a number of sympathetic charities and City companies. Part of the site had been used for brickmaking and this area was levelled and the swampy sections were drained. On 16th May 1896, Hilly Fields was dedicated to the public.
Nature and conservation
Tall hawthorns more or less form a woodland canopy, with an understorey of blackthorn and an occasional elder. The ground flora consists of bramble, nettles and cleavers, with a few clumps of stinking iris. This plant, typical of damp ancient woods, has probably colonised here from nearby gardens.
Although its pale yellowy-brown flowers are less spectacular than those of other irises, it is a popular garden plant for its bright orange seeds, which show through the split seed pod throughout the winter. Since 1995, an area at the foot of the hill, alongside Adelaide Avenue, has been managed as a meadow, with a single annual cut in autumn.
This area contains a particularly high diversity of grasses; at least twelve species can be found here, including meadow barley, smaller cat’s-tail and tall fescue. Common wild flowers, such as autumn hawkbit, smooth hawk’s-beard and white clover, have flourished.
More surprisingly, several clumps of prickly sedge, a very rare plant in Lewisham, have also appeared. It may well be that other parts of the park would be found to be equally rich if the vegetation was allowed to grow.
For its size, the reserve supports surprisingly large populations of butterflies. Speckled woods are particularly abundant, meadow browns can be seen in a tiny patch of rough grassland on the edge of the scrub, and the black, hairy caterpillars of the small tortoiseshell can be seen on sunny nettle patches.
Good numbers of common birds nest in the scrub, the songs of robin, blackbird and Mistle thrush bringing delight to park users and to local people whose gardens the birds frequently visit.
Despite the idyllic, rural-sounding name, the majority of Hilly Fields consists of short-mown grass with a few, mostly exotic, trees, and is of little nature conservation interest. However, on the southern edge of the park, at the end of Eastern Road, a teardrop-shaped patch of mature hawthorn scrub provides an oasis for wildlife on the edge of the green desert.
The nature reserve is managed by our nature conservation section with assistance from Prendergast School, which has occupied buildings in the middle of Hilly Fields since 1880.
The gates of the reserve are kept locked for security reasons (the reserve backs onto private gardens), but keys are held by the school and by several local residents. The site is regularly used for environmental education, and groups of people with disabilities frequently visit.