Forest Hill overview
What’s it all about?
With a world class museum, picturesque Victorian houses, a swift commute into the City and acres of green space, it’s no wonder that Forest Hill is one of London’s most up and coming areas. While this neighbourhood was already very popular with young families, the extension of the Overground here has cemented this pocket of South East London as a desirable location for City workers, with journeys to Canary Wharf now taking just 20 minutes. Nestled in the south west corner of the borough of Lewisham, Forest Hill has also begun to make a name for itself as a place buzzing with creative energy, as a number of exciting new art galleries have opened, and local artists regularly exhibit their work to the public. This is further enhancing the area’s strong community ethos, and residents can often be found catching up over coffee in one of the cafes on the High Street, or taking in the iconic views over London from the top of One Tree Hill. Residents with children are rarely short of anything to do, but a quiet afternoon could always be filled with a visit to the Grade II listed Horniman Museum.
- The Centre for Understanding the Environment (CUE) at the Horniman Museum was constructed from sustainable materials, is insulated with recycled newspaper, and even has a grass roof.
- Actor Timothy Spall is a long time resident of Forest Hill.
- American novelist and screenwriter Raymond Chandler is thought to have lived with his mother in Devonshire Road for a time.
- Legend has it that nearby Honor Oak is named because Queen Elizabeth I picnicked in the area in 1602 and a nearby tree was renamed the Oak of Honor after the event.
Architecture and property
At one time, ‘Forest Hill’ was an accurate description of the surroundings, and until the early 1800s there were only about 15 large houses in the area. In 1810 the Lewisham Enclosure Act was passed and the rate of development started to increase. Hastened by the arrival of the Dartmouth Arms (now Forest Hill) railway station in 1839, more spacious houses were built for people who, much like today’s residents, desired a rural lifestyle with easy access to the city for work, hence the predominance of Victorian architecture in Forest Hill. As train fares became cheaper, some more modern homes were built to satisfy the increasing demand. Today, Victorian homes remain in the majority, but there are flats in areas such as Eliot Bank and some contemporary brownfield developments including live/work units.
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Eating: Babur restaurant was recently named London’s best Indian restaurant by Zagat and runs group tasting sessions for keen foodies. For Sunday roasts, locals head to The Dartmouth Arms. Canvas & Cream is an eclectic and artistic art gallery and restaurant and the team there also offers various alternative therapies such as laughter yoga and life coaching.
Drinking: Blythe Hill Tavern has an excellent array of real ales, while The Hob’s packed schedule lures locals on weekends. Its regular comedy nights, live music and pub quizzes have secured its status as a Forest Hill institution. A younger crowd head to The Capitol, a Wetherspoon pub occupying a beautiful 1920s cinema building.
Theatre: The St George’s Players is an amateur dramatic society formed in 1934. Its members put on two full length plays annually, as well as hosting readings and various other community events.
Art: The DoopoDoopo art gallery and boutique, founded in 2012, encourages unusual artistic experimentation and showcases the works of exciting and innovative new artists.
- The Forest Hill Pools recent renovation turned the venue into a Fusion leisure centre, boasting two swimming pools, a cafe and a spectators’ viewing area. It hosts a number of classes ranging from high intensity spinning to relaxing yoga sessions.
- Young mums and kids love the Forest Hill Library, which hosts events as diverse as film clubs, badger spotting trips and origami classes.
- After a successful Christmas pop up, The Butchery has now opened permanently in Forest Hill, and is already popular with locals looking to buy sustainably sourced, quality meat.
- There’s a handy Sainsbury’s next to the station, complete with 98 parking spaces, as well as a smaller Tesco Express on London Road.
- Forest Hill station has a small car park, and there are several streets with pay and display parking options.
- The quirky Horniman Museum has a world famous taxidermy collection and a mix of objects ranging from Asian puppets and Haitian voodoo altars to musical instruments and a giant stuffed walrus. If you prefer your wildlife moving, there’s also an aquarium in the basement.
Forest Hill locals are spoilt for choice when it comes to outdoor space: not only is the area leafy and picturesque, but it also boasts several parks, gardens and even two nature reserves. The Horniman Gardens in the grounds of the museum offer 16 acres of award winning formal and natural landscapes. Strolling through sunken gardens and taking in the enchanting wild flower displays, it’s easy to forget you’re only 20 minutes from the heart of London. Mayow Park is a hive of activity come summer, as locals gather to watch weekend cricket matches and play tennis on the park’s two courts. For a more relaxing afternoon, residents might wander over to Dacres Wood and Devonshire Road nature reserves to marvel at the protected wildlife, or take in the panoramic views of London from the top of One Tree Hill.
A visit to the local Horniman Museum is a rite of passage for Forest Hill schoolchildren. Now, the museum plans to renew public interest with a £4.4 million redevelopment, which will take three years and involve architectural restoration, new exhibitions and the creation of a flexible studio space.
Rail: The extension of the Overground has provided a new service from Forest Hill station. Just five stops from Canada Water, it’s possible to reach Canary Wharf in 20 minutes. Regular trains also run to Victoria and London Bridge.
Road: Forest Hill has great road connections, mainly thanks to the South Circular, which passes directly through the area. The M25 is less than an hour away.
Bus: Buses from Forest Hill serve a large part of South East London, and there are also a couple of more central routes. These include 122 (to Plumstead), 176 (to Tottenham Court Road), 185 (to Victoria), 197 (to Peckham), 336 (to Upper Sydenham) and P4 (to Lewisham).
Getting away: To travel further afield, Gatwick is only an hour’s drive away.
There is a wide variety of schools in Forest Hill and the surrounding area. Parents looking for primary schools can try Eliot Bank and Fairlawn primary schools, or for secondary education, options include Forest Hill School for boys and Sydenham School, a school for girls with a focus on science, mathematics and technology. There are several good independent schools, such as LIFE in London School (Learn In a Friendly Environment), which aims to provide support for students at risk of being excluded from mainstream education.
Please see our schools tab for more information on schools in this area.
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