Ghost stories, highwaymen, and gallows

On 14 March 1869, English writer Algernon Blackwood, most noted for his ghost and horror stories (in particular ‘The Wendigo’) was born in Shooters Hill. The hill (at that time part of Kent, but now southeast London) is said to be the highest point in South London, providing a splendid view of the City of London. Celia Fiennes, a 17th-century English traveller who wrote her notes as a memoir for her family, not intending it for publication, referred to it in 1697 as “Shuttershill, on top of which hill you see a vast prospect”.

Shooters Hill may have taken its name from the practice of archery, but is also likely to have be named because of its early remoteness, making it a favourite spot for footpads and highwaymen. One of its less attractive attractions was a gallows at the bottom of the hill. Pepys mentions with some distaste that he “rode under the man that hangs upon Shooters Hill and a filthy sight it was to see how the flesh is shrunk to his bones”.

There is also a Shoot Up Hill in Kilburn, a northern continuation of the Edgware Road. Despite the sound of urgency in this name, it would seem to be little or nothing to do with speed. (And it is nothing to do with syringes.) It is not even a steep hill, as some people might think, though that is given in some cases as the explanation for the name. (Presumably, then, it would be Shoot Down Hill.)

A field of this name is mentioned back in the mid 16th century; one theory is that it comes from a landowner’s name, one most likely ending in ‘op’. It could also have been from ‘Shut up hill’: one that had gates across the road.

It has also been suggested that the name derives from the fact that Henry VIII’s shooting estates were at the top of the hill; it may be the case, but he had been dead for 20 years before the name appeared.

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