Tucked away in ancient woodland, is Greenwich borough’s latest attraction. Sarah Trotter discovers more at Shooters Hill’s newly-restored Severndroog Castle.
An 18th Century gothic tower built by a heartbroken widow is set to reopen its doors to visitors after 25 years of neglect.
The dramatic 60-foot Grade II listed building offers breathtaking views across London and seven counties from atop its 360 degree viewing platform above a bluebell wood.
Severndroog Castle was built by Lady James in 1784 as a memorial to her late husband Sir William James whose most famous exploit was destroying a fleet and stronghold of ‘pirates’ on the island fortress of Severn Droog in India.
But the castle fell into disrepair in the 1980s and there was graffiti, smashed windows, and around 40 dead pigeons littering the derelict building when work first began to restore it in June last year.
The revamped castle reopens on Sunday (July 20) after a group of residents set up the Severndroog Castle Building Preservation Trust and successfully campaigned to save the building.
Heritage manager Dr Laura Allan said: "It is amazing what they [the residents] have done, all in their spare time.
"We want to get local people involved and teach them the history. We want to make the community feel it is as much theirs as ours. It’s got a long history of that sort of thing."
The castle was opened as a tea rooms in the 1920s and welcomed visitors until the 1980s when the Greenwich Council-run building was closed.
Severndroog Castle Building Preservation Trust was set in 2002 up to preserve the site for the public after there was talk of turning it into offices.
They gained a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £595,000 in 2010 towards the restoration work and the site hopes to be self-funded through visits, weddings, events and activity days.
Lady James, who lived in Park Farm Place, Eltham, could see the tower from her window and never lived in the castle, but set it up as a museum to her husband’s work who was a commodore of the East India Company’s marine force.
The wealthy friend of author Laurence Sterne brought visitors to see the three-storey museum crammed with objects such as Sir William's sword and models of his ships.
Climbing up to the castle viewing platform, the panoramic view below includes the capital’s iconic venues around the Thames, as well as fields, houses, and leafy spots across News Shopper’s patch and into Surrey, Kent and beyond.
The platform has been used for ordnance survey mapping as well as being a look-out post for spotting planes during World War Two.
Visitors can enjoy views, historical tours, activity sessions and tea and cake at the castle’s tea rooms with tickets costing £2.50 for adults and £2.00 for children and concessions.
There will be also be falconry, storytellers and park rangers offering guided walks on Sunday's launch day between 10.30am to 4.30pm where visitors are told to expect queues.
It will then open Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays from 12.30pm to 4.30pm but staff are calling for more volunteers to allow it to open on other days.
To volunteer email email@example.com
The castle is often referred to as a 'folly' but the term refers to ornamental buildings of no purpose and Severndroog Castle was originally a museum or memorial.